Ray Meagher, actor, 74
You’ve played Alf Stewart on Home and Away for 30 years, an Australian TV record. When the pilot was picked up in 1988, what did you think would come of it? I remember being with Judy Nunn and Norman Coburn in rehearsal and all of us thinking, “We’ll probably get three months’ work out of this before it crashes and burns”. They were the feelings of the older, more cynical actors!
You were getting lots of work in TV and film; why sign up for a little soap? I’d just done the ABC miniseries True Believers and had three weeks free. I thought there was nothing to lose; most pilots never see the light of day anyway. When it went to series I was asked to sign for two years and I said no. So they offered six months; a few months working in Sydney, my home town, had a fair bit of appeal for a vagabond travelling actor. Time flew and it was quite fun, and before you know it…
You’ve made the expression “Stone the flamin’ crows!” famous… Yes, that was mine. I grew up near Dirranbandi in Queensland, where there was a stock and station agent called Dick Backhouse who managed to fit “stone the crows” at least once into every sentence he uttered. As a kid I thought he was a really funny man, Mr Backhouse. It stayed with me for life.
What was it like growing up on a sheep and cattle station? My parents died when I was very young and my brother Col and his wife brought me up; I went to boarding school at eight, soon after mum died, and I’d go back in the holidays. I loved the bush and I idolised Col; he taught me many things. The big one is: “Never, ever think you’re better than anybody else. But never think any other bastard is any better than you either.”
You played rugby for Queensland in the late ’60s – how did that lead to acting? Some rugby guys were in a show at Brisbane’s Twelfth Night Theatre; someone pulled out, so they said, “Come on, you’re in.” I said, “What am I doing?” They said, “You’re a horse’s bum.” After that, it was a Brecht play…
Wait, your first role was literally playing a horse’s arse? Yes, I was the rear end of a pantomime horse. I tell you what, people talked about that performance for years. In 2010 you won a Gold Logie for most popular personality in Australia. What did that mean to you? Shock, for a start. But it was nice; a number of people must enjoy the work I do.
You haven’t had itchy feet? No, because the producers are good about letting us do other stuff as long as we give them enough notice. Christmas pantomime producers in the UK would take us over there because we put bums on seats. I did about 20 of those over the years and it was fantastic. More recently they allowed me out to do the Priscilla musical.
Are you a celebrity in the UK? At the height of Home and Away’s success in the UK we had 18 million viewers a day, so people know what you look like. During Priscilla in London, every night I set foot on stage the whole audience would just go up, you know. And the other actors are looking everywhere to see what the fuss is about. That’s pretty humbling…
Are you staying in Summer Bay? I’ve just signed to stay for another three years. I travel up to the Palm Beach set at least once a week. The charm never wears off… on a lovely day you look around and think, “This is our office. How lucky are we?” is on Seven, 7pm MonThur;