Life af­ter the Sum­mer Wine

EASY COW­BOY: Tele­vi­sion stal­wart Ken Kit­son is about to cel­e­brate his 40th an­niver­sary as an ac­tor. But, as he tells Tony Earn­shaw, he still has a cou­ple of am­bi­tions to ful­fil, not least a big-screen West­ern set in York­shire. Pic­ture by Ger­ard Binks.

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a chil­dren’s show called The Barmy Army. His abid­ing me­mory is play­ing to an arena full of 8,000 kids all chant­ing “we are the barmy army”.

Life for a fledg­ling ac­tor in the 1970s was ac­tive and fun. There was plenty of work around. Kit­son skipped nim­bly from one job to the next. Of­ten he was cast as thugs, cop­pers or sol­diers – in Dan­ger UXB with An­thony An­drews he was the faith­ful NCO who as­sisted An­drews’ cool-headed of­fi­cer to defuse Luft­waffe bombs.

But his break­through role was in A Wish for Wally’s Mother as Ruth Dun­ning’s sim­ple-minded son, be­ing dragged around the coun­try by his itin­er­ant 60-some­thing mother.

Look­ing back at the play to­day, it is rem­i­nis­cent of both Colleen McCul­lough’s Tim and Win­ston Groom’s For­rest Gump. As the adult with the mind of a nine-yearold, Kit­son emerged as a per­former of sen­si­tiv­ity and pathos. It was a mag­nif­i­cent en­try into char­ac­ter work.

“Wally was such a fan­tas­tic part,” re­calls Kit­son. “They were look­ing at really big names and I got it. I got fab­u­lous re­views in the press the next day – ‘gen­tle gi­ant’ and all of that. And that was it. Af­ter that I went on to Dan­ger UXB and loads of other stuff.”

The work came thick and fast. Kit­son’s 1970s re­sumé boasts a suc­ces­sion of hit shows from The Sweeney and The Pro­fes­sion­als via Van Der Valk, Get Some In and Michael Palin’s post- Python se­ries Rip­ping Yarns. In the Eight­ies he was in G.B.H, Mapp & Lu­cia, an all-star re­make of

When I went down to Lon­don I thought I was the Cock of the North.

Wit­ness for the Pros­e­cu­tion and Or­anges are Not the Only Fruit.

Then came Corona­tion Street (“I’m ac­tu­ally in the his­tory books for Corona­tion Street be­cause I’ve done four dif­fer­ent characters since the 1970s, the only ac­tor who’s ever done that. The last time was in 2005.”), Em­merdale and Last of the Sum­mer Wine. For the lat­ter he gets recog­nised 30 to 40 times ev­ery day in Scar­bor­ough.

One job he didn’t get was The New Avengers. “I was down to the last two on The New Avengers and Gareth Hunt got it. He was bet­ter look­ing. I even wrote to the stu­dios for James Bond. I said ‘You’ve had all the good ones. Do you fancy an ugly one?’ They sent me a let­ter back and said ‘no’.”

Kit­son has also propped up the cast lists of a string of movies. His pro­fi­ciency with a blade led to his ear­li­est credit as a fight ar­ranger on Barry McKen­zie Holds His Own. He made his de­but as a coalminer in Dis­ney’s Es­cape from the Dark, a drama about York­shire kids who res­cue pit ponies des­tined for the knacker’s yard. The film is no­table for its north­ern lo­ca­tions and for be­ing the fi­nal film of Alas­tair Sim, play­ing Lord Har­ro­gate.

“When I got that I thought ‘Dis­ney – Hol­ly­wood at last!’ It was Sh­effield, Durham and Pinewood!” laughs Kit­son. “It was a lovely film to work on and a really good cast. It was lovely to work with Alas­tair Sim. I’ve never been star-struck or in awe of any­body but to see him stand­ing there…

“Over the years I’ve worked with some fab­u­lous peo­ple. One of the big­gest stars I ever worked with was Deb­o­rah Kerr on Wit­ness for the Pros­e­cu­tion, a re­make of the Charles Laughton movie. She was an icon. But what a lovely, beau­ti­ful lady.”

The cast also in­cluded Don­ald Pleasence, Diana Rigg, Beau Bridges and Sir Ralph Richard­son.

“It was a closed set and mostly

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