A life­time of mem­o­ries: Ti­mothy West re­veals how travel helps his wife Prunella Scales cope with de­men­tia.

Award-win­ning ac­tor Ti­mothy West tells Kerry Har­vey about cop­ing with his wife Prunella Scales’ de­men­tia as they travel the world’s wa­ter­ways to­gether in Great Canal Jour­neys.

The TV Guide - - CONTENTS -

Veteran Bri­tish ac­tor Ti­mothy West has no plans to sail into the sun­set just yet.

For the past four years, the 83 year old and his wife of 55 years, Fawlty Tow­ers star Prunella Scales, 85, have been ex­plor­ing the world’s canals for the se­ries Great Canal Jour­neys.

The cou­ple had just re­turned from film­ing in Egypt when TV Guide caught up with Ti­mothy West at his home in Eng­land.

“When we started off, the idea was to make four pro­grammes about canals that seemed to be in­ter­est­ing with the idea it might go out on the sec­ond chan­nel that Chan­nel Four op­er­ates for mi­nor­ity view­ers,” West says. “Oddly enough, it took off and we can’t stop now. We’ve made 28 pro­grammes over the years.”

Trav­el­ling by canal barge and nar­row boat, the cou­ple ex­plored the man-made wa­ter­ways of Eng­land and Eu­rope be­fore ex­pand­ing their hori­zons to Scan­di­navia and now – in this lat­est se­ries – In­dia.

If tak­ing on such a big project at an age when most peo­ple are checking into re­tire­ment homes isn’t re­mark­able enough, what makes the pair truly in­spi­ra­tional is that Scales has Alzheimer’s, a form of de­men­tia.

“It has slowed us down but not so it closes up op­por­tu­ni­ties,” West says. “We both love do­ing the pro­grammes and it’s very im­por­tant for her to have things of in­ter­est that fas­ci­nate her that she likes do­ing other­wise she would slow up.

“That’s the in­evitable thing about that kind of de­men­tia. You could

just set­tle down and watch day­time tele­vi­sion and go to sleep.

“She loves meet­ing peo­ple, see­ing places, go­ing back – per­haps in her mind – to things that she re­mem­bers about her life.

“Her long-term mem­ory is pretty good – in fact, rather re­mark­able – whereas the short term is no good at all. She will re­mem­ber things about her child­hood or things that re­mind her of her early days and that is lovely for her.”

For West, whose act­ing ca­reer spanned ev­ery­thing from the Royal Shake­speare Com­pany to Corona­tion Street and Eas­tEn­ders, the se­ries al­lows him to in­dulge his love of trav­el­ling.

“Prue some­times com­plains about be­ing mar­ried to a travel freak but I al­ways have loved see­ing new places, find­ing out about new ar­eas and talk­ing to new peo­ple,” he says, adding his fas­ci­na­tion with canals was first sparked 50 years ago when a friend of­fered them the use of a nar­row boat for a two-week hol­i­day.

“We had the loveli­est hol­i­day, I think, of our lives” says West. “That got us in­ter­ested, fas­ci­nated about the whole his­tory and de­vel­op­ment of canals.”

For cen­turies, canals played a vi­tal role in mov­ing goods from one part of a coun­try to another. While to­day they are more of­ten used for re­cre­ation, most have fas­ci­nat­ing sto­ries to tell and West loves seek­ing out those tales.

The cou­ple’s ex­pe­ri­ences in In­dia are no ex­cep­tion.

West takes the helm to ex­plore the re­mark­able Ker­ala back­wa­ters, a 1600km net­work of palm-fringed lakes, rivers banked by rice pad­dies – and some very fa­mil­iar-look­ing Bri­tish-built canals con­structed by spice traders keen to ac­cess the ginger, car­damom and black pep­per that grow in the re­gion. “Dif­fer­ent canals were dug by the Por­tuguese, by Arab coun­tries, by the Brits, all sorts of dif­fer­ent peo­ple and the place is still an amal­gam of dif­fer­ent peo­ple which makes it fas­ci­nat­ing,” he says. “They all get on ex­tremely well and it has the high­est lit­er­acy level of any­where in the world ap­par­ently. You’ll bump into some­body you just want to say ‘Hello’ to and ‘Isn’t it a nice day?’ and they’ll come back with Spencer or Dry­den or some quote you didn’t know your­self.”

From Ker­ala, the cou­ple head to the other end of the coun­try to the un­known waters of the Brahma­pu­tra River, a trip that proves their most chal­leng­ing to date.

“It is a very sav­age river in that it changes its course all the time, par­tic­u­larly in the mon­soon sea­son.

“Ev­ery year, there’s con­sid­er­able loss of life but trav­el­ling on it was a very, very ex­tra­or­di­nary ex­pe­ri­ence,” West says, ad­mit­ting this was one time he was happy to sur­ren­der con­trol of the wheel.

“In other places, I en­joy learn­ing how to do it. All boats are dif­fer­ent but I love all boats. I love ev­ery­thing that’s on the wa­ter.”

Prunella Scales and Ti­mothy West

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