Ti­mothy Watson

Ti­mothy Watson is the gor­geous-voiced ac­tor who’ll be ap­pear­ing at Chip­ping Cam­p­den Lit­er­a­ture Fes­ti­val this month. He’s a fa­mil­iar fig­ure from film, from TV screens and the­atre, and from Ra­dio 4 plays. And Katie Jarvis might just get round to ask­ing him

Cotswold Life - - CONTENTS -

Katie Jarvis talks to the ac­tor bring­ing Os­car Wilde to Chip­ping Cam­p­den, tries very hard not to men­tion the ‘Titch­ener’ word, and fails mis­er­ably

Ti­mothy Watson has one of those – oomph! - gor­geously dis­tinc­tive voices that stops you in your tracks. (Well, me in mine, any­how.)

Could be you’ve heard him do­ing a Ra­dio 4 play; could be on a video game (the role-call of stars on video games is stel­lar – scroll to the cred­its and be amazed). Could be on film, stage or TV.

Or it could just be you’ve heard him play­ing the Archers’ arch-en­emy *cue boo­ing* Rob Titch­ener.

Aha! The dreaded Rob Titch­ener. Hold that thought.

Right at this mo­ment, his voice is hav­ing an ef­fect on me. And on Stan­ley, too.

“I’ll lower my voice,” Tim says, dis­creetly, as over the phone-waves comes the sound of im­pa­tient bark­ing.

Stan­ley is an eight-week-old whip­pet, who has brought to the Watson house­hold (Tim, He­len, plus chil­dren aged six and 12) the kind of un­al­loyed joy Archers fans felt when they heard that woman-abuser Rob Titch­ener was fi­nally buzzing off to the States. (The States? No com­ment.) “My wife [the ac­tress

He­len Grace] was beg­ging to get a cat; we had two who’ve both passed. I said, ‘If there’s to be an­other pet, it has to be a dog!’; so we’ve com­pro­mised in as much as a whip­pet is as like a cat as a dog can be. They just want to snug­gle up on the sofa.” Err. Aren’t they pretty nippy, though, too? “I’m al­ready get­ting tiny glimpses of the turn of speed and bursts of ac­cel­er­a­tion,” he says, rue­fully.

Their older dog, Biddy, (the two are col­lec­tively known as the Bax­ters. Clearly.) is the best-na­tured Labradoo­dle in the world. “Her favourite thing is to go down to the beach at West Wit­ter­ing and to find an­other run­ning dog – a whip­pet or a grey­hound – and just set off un­til she can’t keep up.

“So we got Stan­ley to try and keep her fit and well for as long as pos­si­ble.”

I’m just go­ing to point out some­thing ob­vi­ous, here… it’s not Biddy who’ll ul­ti­mately be re­spon­si­ble for catch­ing Fast Stan­ley.

“So we’re think­ing that through,” Ti­mothy Watson laughs. “What I don’t want is to spend the next 10 years of my life clean­ing up the car­nage that this dog causes.”

Car­nage. Ah. I don’t want to be too for­ward, but we’re head­ing ever closer to a con­ver­sa­tion about Mr Titch­ener.

‘The Cam­p­den event is An Evening with Os­car Wilde, sched­uled, in part, to mark the 50th an­niver­sary of the de­crim­i­nal­i­sa­tion of ho­mo­sex­u­al­ity’

So nei­ther do I want to de­press you all with might-have-beens. (No, not the Archers. Yet.) But Tim and He­len (the real one, not the Archer one. Don’t skip ahead) nearly bought a house in the Cotswolds twice. First in Bled­ing­ton. Then in King­ham. Both fell through and they ended up in Sus­sex in­stead. (Bet­ter beaches, I’ll grudg­ingly grant the win­ning county that.)

But Tim is back in the Cotswolds this month, es­pe­cially for Chip­ping Cam­p­den Lit­er­a­ture Fes­ti­val. He’s tak­ing part in two of the many (and fab) events – one of which has a par­tic­u­lar res­o­nance with his lat­est TV ap­pear­ance.

The Cam­p­den event is An Evening with Os­car Wilde, sched­uled, in part, to mark the 50th an­niver­sary of the de­crim­i­nal­i­sa­tion of ho­mo­sex­u­al­ity.

While Tim’s TV role – to be screened on BBC Two later this year – is as a crim­i­nal bar­ris­ter in Against the Law. It’s a fact-based drama which tells the story of Peter Wilde­blood, a gay jour­nal­ist who lived his life in a dis­creet way that might have re­mained under the radar. Ex­cept that the au­thor­i­ties got wind of it and pres­surised his lover, Ed­die Mcnally, to turn Queen’s ev­i­dence. The re­sult­ing Mon­tagu trial of 1954 – Wilde­blood’s friends, Lord Mon­tagu and Michael Pitt-rivers, were also found guilty of ho­mo­sex­ual of­fences – was des­tined to change the course of his­tory.

Not un­nat­u­rally, such a pub­lic and hu­mil­i­at­ing out­ing caused Wilde­blood dev­as­ta­tion both pro­fes­sion­ally and per­son­ally. But he was far from beaten: after serv­ing a year in Worm­wood Scrubs, he wrote a damn­ing book on the case, also de­scrib­ing the ap­palling con­di­tions he ex­pe­ri­enced in prison. What’s more, he went on to give in­flu­en­tial ev­i­dence to the Wolfenden Re­port which, in 1957, rec­om­mended the de­crim­i­nal­i­sa­tion of ho­mo­sex­ual ac­tiv­ity.

But just think about it! There are more than 60 years be­tween those two points. More than 60 years be­tween that re­port, and the hang­ing out to dry of one of Bri­tain’s most pop­u­lar ge­niuses. Poor, poor Os­car.

What’s even more ex­tra­or­di­nary, in this sup­posed age of en­light­en­ment, is that it was only last Oc­to­ber that men con­victed be­fore 1967 – when the law was fi­nally changed – were in­vited to re­ceive a royal par­don.

“It’s easy to think it’s taken an aw­ful long time to travel not very far,” Tim says. “I didn’t know any­thing about the Against the Law story be­fore I worked on it, but it’s a very in­ter­est­ing set of events that has echoes of Wilde. As with his case, it was played out amongst the great and the good.

“What’s great is that the [BBC Two] film was in­vited to open this year’s Flare, the Lon­don LGBT film fes­ti­val. It won’t be screened on TV un­til later this year but I’ve seen some rushes and I think it’s go­ing to be very good.”

I’m seiz­ing my chances here. The thing is, I’m pretty sure Ti­mothy Watson – who is lovely and ac­com­mo­dat­ing – doesn’t want con­stantly to be heck­led with Rob Titch­ener ques­tions. (I’m as­sum­ing you are all avid Archers fans? I’m as­sum­ing you all fol­lowed the plot­line in which Titch­ener abused and ma­nip­u­lated his wife, He­len Archer, in a way that gripped the na­tion; so gripped the na­tion that it was partly cred­ited with a 20 per­cent in­crease in calls to the Na­tional Do­mes­tic Abuse Helpline.) So I’ve waited at least three min­utes be­fore I start. And I’m be­ing sub­tle. Sooo, ohhh, I muse, ten­ta­tively. Like Wilde, Ti­mothy Watson must know what it’s like to be some­thing of a pub­lic stooge. To be hated for some­thing he doesn’t de­serve. In Os­car’s case, it was his love-life; in Tim’s, it’s be­ing con­fused with a fic­tional char­ac­ter… His re­ply is gen­er­ous. “I can see the par­al­lel,” he cedes, kindly. “But the hon­est truth is that I took the [Rob Titch­ener] re­ac­tion in the spirit in which it was meant. I re­mem­ber tak­ing part in a Ra­dio Times event some time ago, when Rob was re­ally com­ing out in all his vil­lainy, and there was a sort of good-na­tured but fairly com­pre­hen­sive boo­ing when I walked on stage.”

What was slightly more galling was the series of ar­ti­cles that ap­peared in the event’s wake - Ac­tor who plays Archers vil­lain in shock at so­cial me­dia on­slaught! - claim­ing that so­cial me­dia abuse was so vir­u­lent, Ti­mothy Watson had banned it from the house.

In fact, the mis­ap­pre­hen­sion was the re­sult of an over-en­thu­si­as­tic jour­nal­ist who had cor­nered Tim after the event.

“What was printed gave the very strong im­pres­sion that I’d had to shut down so­cial me­dia ac­counts be­cause of what amounted to on­line abuse - and it was ab­so­lutely not the case.

“Un­like many of my friends and fel­low ac­tors and con­tem­po­raries, I can’t get on with Twitter and Facebook; I’ve never done it and that pre­dates the Archers. Still don’t.

“But it laid the foun­da­tions for a series of ques­tions about how I was deal­ing with the con­fu­sion be­tween char­ac­ter and ac­tor: the re­al­ity is that ev­ery­body un­der­stands – un­less they have got a slen­der grasp on re­al­ity – that I’m an ac­tor play­ing a part.”

It’s a role that has – in other ways – very much spilled over into re­al­ity, though. Be­cause, as a re­sult of the Rob sto­ry­line, Tim has been asked to take part in events about do­mes­tic abuse, such as one at the South­bank Cen­tre last year.

And he can’t pre­tend there aren’t mo­ments when peo­ple look at him twice.

‘Like Wilde, Ti­mothy Watson must know what it’s like to be some­thing of a pub­lic stooge. To be hated for some­thing he doesn’t de­serve. In Os­car’s case, it was his love-life; in Tim’s, it’s be­ing con­fused with a fic­tional char­ac­ter…’

“In fact, just yes­ter­day, I met a woman at Water­loo Sta­tion who came up and said, ‘Are you Rob?’ And she sort of looked slightly war­ily at me… But then she said, ‘I’ve been ab­so­lutely gripped by it! Are you com­ing back?’ And that’s the norm; that’s ab­so­lutely the norm.” And is he com­ing back? “I’m of­ten asked, what do I think should hap­pen next? And the sim­ple an­swer is, I’m just an ac­tor and my job is to try to bring to life the script. Rob Titch­ener is now in Amer­ica and he may or may not come back – and that is gen­uinely all I know.

“What I have said is that – as well as giv­ing greater pri­or­ity to look­ing after the vic­tims who suf­fer at the hands of these per­pe­tra­tors – we also need to try to work harder to un­der­stand how and why abuse like this hap­pens in the first place. And to try to stop it hap­pen­ing.” Agreed. Ab­so­lutely agreed. And what I also think to my­self, amongst all this talk of so­cial me­dia, is, blimey! What a pro­lific tweeter Wilde would have made.

Os­car Wilde (1864-1900) photo by Napoleon Sarony, 1882

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