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
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