I don’t get star struck easily. In fact, looking back at my 30 years in journalism I can’t recall the last time I felt genuinely excited about a celebrity interview – I suppose I did experience something approaching a small thrill when my husband answered the phone and said: ‘For you. It’s Sylvester Stallone.’
Derek Griffiths however, was an exception to the rule. I grew up being entertained by shows like Play Away in the 1970s and when I heard his voice on the phone, the years melted away and for a moment, I was eight again – thankfully without the freckles and the PVC smock dress.
What’s more, he didn’t disappoint – it’s awful when you are a fan and discover that in reality, your interviewee is a right pain in the so and so. I am not mentioning any names. They know who they are and will be shamed in the book. I’m just kidding, there won’t be a book, not without a huge advance anyway.
Prior to the interview, I went on You Tube to look at old clips of Play School. As I did this, my 15-year-old son groaned theatrically in the background, rolled his eyeballs and thanked God for cable TV. Even so, I’d forgotten how good Play School was – or at least, how good Derek was. I was mesmerized as he demonstrated how to use a typewriter and not just because I haven’t seen one for so long.
I was interviewing Derek for TVTimes magazine as he appears in Coronation Street next week as Freddie, a pensioner who befriends Kylie Platt. We spoke about the soap at length, but what I really wanted to talk about was Play Away. And Brian Cant. And those toys.
Apparently, the Play Away team had a reunion last year. They were all there – Brian Cant, Toni Arthur, Johnny Ball. Most of the team turned up to celebrate the show’s 50th anniversary.
Derek revealed: ‘It was amazing to see everyone. They showed us clips of the show and it was great fun. All these stories came out – some were filthy.
‘I have such fond memories of those times. I was always the bad boy, cheating at games, laughing, falling about and telling the toys off. I used to knock them over, just so that I could do some ad-libbing. All the adults I meet who watched me as a kid, remember the cheeky stuff.’
Derek is 69 now and has aged well – much better than Hamble who I am told is even more of a shocker now. Poor Hamble. What was it with that malevolent face of hers? Surely there were sweeter dolls in the shops. Where was Tiny Tears when you needed her?
Derek is definitely still young at heart. Corrie’s Freddie rides a motorbike, because the show’s producer found out that Derek came to his interview in Manchester on his 1300cc. And when he’s not working, he takes the bike to France, the Lake District or Scotland. He is also a Master Diver and has been diving all over the world.
Although he has made a few guest appearances on TV, Derek has made a living doing voiceovers in recent years. ‘They are well paid and that gives me freedom. After throwing myself at the wheel for 40 years, I thought I would give myself some time off.’
Acting has served Derek well, but as a kid, his prospects didn’t look good. ‘I used to play truant,’ he revealed. ‘I was the school clown and the teachers hated me. I was beaten to hell for it.’
At secondary school, he was asked to be in the school play because he could play the recorder. ‘I was dressed as a pirate and my line was ‘Under a rum keg with a hole in it.’ I played this shanty on the recorder and said ‘Under a keg hole with a ram in it’ and as I tried to correct myself everybody fell about laughing and I thought ‘I quite like this.’’
The rest as they say…
You can read more about Derek in this week’s copy of TV Times, out today (Tuesday March 1st 2016).