Doing the turn
I come from a place called Dunoon, a small seaside town on the Firth of Clyde, within the Highlands. It’s like that city that Dylan Thomas invented in Under Milk Wood – Llareggub – “fuck everything up” backwards. In 1960, I had just turned 17 and went to London to visit my father’s family. The Evening Standard published a center page with diagrams on how to make the turn because Chubby Checker was coming into town. So I bought the LP – Turn with plump checker – and took him home by steam train and steamboat and introduced the twist at Dunoon, long before it reached Glasgow or Edinburgh.
I was sitting on a bus a week later, and this boy sat behind me. I heard him say, “Oh look, that’s Kent”, that’s my real last name, “He’s the king of the Dunoon spin.” That was one of the best moments of my life. My God, I could turn, I could put the back of my head on the ground and up. I was the king of the Dunoon spin.
Between the ages of 12 and 16, I studied to be a priest at Blairs College, the seminary near Aberdeen. In elementary school, our principal, Rosie O’Grady, invited all kinds of people to give vocational talks: a garbage man, a doctor, and the captain of the steamboat. Afterward, he would ask if anyone would want to do that job. One day we had a priest and Danny Sweeney and I raised our hands. They gave us the afternoon off to go tell the priest that we would like to join the seminary. Having the afternoon off was great, but Danny lost his bottle. So my deep religious road to Damascus was simply to show that Danny Sweeney was a coward.
Blairs College was very monastic. We were woken up at 5 in the morning and sat on the bathroom sinks with our feet in hot water to keep warm. Once they took us to see La Bohème de Puccini and I was completely enthralled. I cried when Mimì died, because my mother had lost her mind and had spent four years in a Dickensian asylum.
I became so holy in Blairs that I decided I wanted to become a lay monk. I thought that if I became a missionary, I could go to South America. I dropped out of seminary and went home, but after completing all the forms, it turned out that I was a year younger. I had to be 18 to become a monk, so I had to go to school to finish my education.
The local school was Dunoon Grammar, a coeducational school. And very quickly, I decided that I didn’t want to wear a skirt, I wanted to go behind the skirt. And that was the end of my desire to become a monk.
Years later I was asked to write my autobiography, which I gave up, but when I got to that point, a lightbulb went on. Such was the power of the arts and theater that I realized that I had been following the life of a bohemian fresh out of La Bohème. I thought I was going to be Pope, but I ended up in Belsize Park in North London, surrounded by painters, artists, addicts, and prostitutes.
The world of Apu
In the 1960s there was an art cinema on Oxford Street where this wonderful woman with a streak of white in her hair used to play the grand piano for Buster Keaton movies. Satyajit Ray’s 1959 movie The world of Apu introduced me to India. It was peasant India. Until then, I had no idea what lay beyond the small Highland town I grew up in. Now I realized that there was a completely different world that I just wanted to explore and consume.
I have been to India several times and I loved it. I have traveled a lot. My most recent trip was when my granddaughter was about to come into the world in Bangkok. I finished a play in Edinburgh and went by train from Edinburgh to London, Paris, Moscow, Mongolia, China, Hanoi and Bangkok to meet my granddaughter. When I returned, I saw my friend Michael Palin and told him about my adventure on the Trans-Siberian Express. He said, “Did you do it all by yourself?” I said yes. He said: “I am very envious. I wish I could have done it without camera equipment stuck under my nose. “
The English class system
My real name is Percy James Patrick Kent-Smith. I only realized that I was classy when I was 11 and had to keep quiet, otherwise I would have been killed on the playground. When I first came to London at 18, I went to the youth employment office. This bored looking man in a suit said, “What’s your name?” And I said, “Percy James Patrick Kent Hyphen Smith,” and he said, “Script?” Then he said, “Education?” and I said, “I was in boarding school …” “In boarding school?” “So it was in Dunoon’s grammar.” “Grammar school?” He checked all these boxes and said, “And you are Scottish.” He called the London city offices and said: “I have a boarding / primary student here with a script Y He’s Scottish … “
So I got an insurance job with this wonderful Irishman named Liam Woods. He had a photographic memory and was clearly a genius, but he never got anywhere because they thought, “He’s Irish. It must be thick. “That’s where I discovered the English class system and realized how ridiculous and stupid it was, and still is.
The round house
A few years later, I got a job at the Roundhouse box office, when I was putting on a movie celebration with the Sunday Times. My job was to meet famous people like Marlon Brando, Faye Dunaway, Billy Wilder, King Vidor, Rudolf Nureyev, Richard Burton, and Elizabeth Taylor and take them to their seats. One day Gene Kelly went upstairs. I was a little older than I remembered, but he greeted me with that same sunlit smile. Years later, in 2007, he was touring the world, goofing around in King Lear with Ian McKellen. Gene Kelly’s wife came to see him in Los Angeles and invited us all to a party. Sadly, Gene was already dead by then, but she had a room full of his paraphernalia.
I got to know Brian murphy, of George and Mildred fame, because his wife, Carol, was an administrative assistant at Roundhouse, so she often came to help if she wasn’t working elsewhere. One day Ken Campbell came over and said, “’Hey, Brian, I have this new show, but some son of a bitch let me down. Do you know a young actor? Brian said, “Ask the boy at the box office. He is mad. “So Ken came over and said,” ‘Ere. Do you want to join my show? “And that’s how I became an actor. I toured Europe with Bob Hoskins, Jane Wood, Dave Hill and the Ken Campbell Roadshow. He was 26 by then, but mentally he was still a teenager. I still am.
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