THE CELTIC METHOD: From Oscar Wilde and Porridge to DeNiro and the Game of Thrones
‘I think the more experience you have of life, the better it is for an actor. In terms of the parts I played, I think my face had more to do with it. Clearly I wasn’t ever going to play romantic leads.’ (Peter Vaughan)
My poor wife really doesn’t have the easiest of lives. One of her greatest hardships though has to be putting up with the many (many) tenuous Celtic connections that I tend to make wherever we are or whatever we’re watching.
It happened again just last week. Watching the film of Oscar Wilde’s comic play ‘An Ideal Husband’ her eyes were popping at Rupert Everett’s various states of undress while I was more interested in the old boy playing his butler, who looked a little familiar.
“You know who that is, don’t you?” No reply was forthcoming, as per. “He played the main prison godfather in ‘Porridge’ in the 70s, Ronnie Barker always looked terrified of him. He’s a big Celtic fan.” “Pish” she uttered, in that delicate Airdrie accent of hers.
It says a lot of Peter Vaughan’s acting ability that he played Genial Harry Grout on only four occasions in Porridge, yet it’s the role most remember him for even after seven decades in the profession. As Grouty, his stare could be genuinely unnerving – even though it was a comedy role. He was a lot more sinister than Ray Winstone has ever managed (they’ve acted alongside each other on TV and big screen). Poor old Fletcher was always wary of falling foul of Grouty:
Peter’s acting career, which took off in 1959 in a remake of The 39 Steps, saw him take to screen and stage alongside some of the biggest names in acting and directing. He played opposite Frank Sinatra as a British secret agent in The Naked Runner in 1967. In the ’70s and ’80s, when he became a familiar face on TV shows like Citizen Smith, Fox and Porridge, he also starred with Dustin Hoffman in Sam Peckinpah’s violent thriller Straw Dogs. Alongside Robert DeNiro, Michael Palin and Bob Hoskins he appeared in the fantasy satire Brazil, directed by the Python Terry Gilliam, in 1985. A decade on, he had a memorable cameo in the Oscar-winning The Remains of the Day playing the father of Anthony Hopkins’ butler and three years on he was in The Crucible with Daniel Day Lewis.
He returned to television in the 1990s for an incredible performance as Felix in the BBC’s social-political drama ‘Our Friends In the North’. A decade later, now into his 80s, he was still making movies such as Death at a Funeral with Rupert Graves and Peter Dinklage in 2007.
But is this grand old man of stage and screen with no obvious Scottish or Irish connections really a Celtic supporter? It was rumoured he attended games occasionally in the 70s and 80s. He was sometimes seen sporting a Celtic shirt while knocking about in Langholm in the Borders, visiting his son-in-law Gregor Fisher of Rab C. Nesbitt fame (Vaughan played the Abbot of Buckfast Abbey in the uproarious episode when Rab and Jamesie Cotter visited the home of the holy tonic wine). But was that enough to appease a sceptical wife?
Not so. But then I remembered a supporter’s story from Celtic’s second European Cup final, against Feyenoord in Milan in 1970. For many who made the trip to Italy or watched it on television, the noise generated by the Dutch fans at the game took them by surprise as Celtic had the majority support in the San Siro. Former manager Davie Hay, who played for Celtic in the final that night, recently recalled: “There was a strange atmosphere in the ground. You could hardly hear our support because of the klaxons that were being used by the Dutch fans. I had never witnessed these things before and they just drowned out our fans.”
Celtic and Feyenoord fans in Milan before the Final
Ah, the klaxons. This is what reminded me of the supporter’s story of attending the Milan final posted on the CelticMinded forum a few years ago. One man made an indelible impression on him that night – and he wasn’t on the pitch:
Milan 1970. My Da promised me after Lisbon, that if we ever got to another European Cup Final, he would take me. Think the auld chunt didn’t expect us to get there again. But, true to his word he took me. We stayed in the Grand Hotel, Lake Como, which was about an hour and a half from Milan. What amazed me at that time was, a wee bhoy from Castlemilk, actually saw real fruit growing on trees. And the BEST ice cream ever.
In the San Siro we were sitting beside three Dutch supporters, who kept letting off they horrible aerosol klaxon horns. My Da was beelin’. Then Peter Vaughan, GROUTY in Porridge, sat beside us wearing a beige mohair coat, and believe it or not a CELTIC SCARF! The three chunts pressed the klaxons again, and he stood up, (huge man by the way) and said in his gangster type voice, “Do that again and you’ll be blowing them out your arses.”
My Da folded, and said he couldnae have put it better.
Peter Vaughan – Celtic fan: too good to be true? Not so. Back in 1980, when promoting the ITV series Fox in which he played the head of a London crime family called Billy Fox (known as King Billy in the show!), he revealed to the Daily Record that he was a long-standing supporter of the Hoops:
The great man and his illustrious career continued through to the grand age of 93 when he died in December 2016. He had found further fame in his 90s as blind Maester Aemon in the hit drama Game of Thrones (along with fellow Celtic fan Sean Bean ).
An acting legend who is sorely missed.