“It Was a Bunch of Fun”

Graham Kibble-White interviews Mike Reid

First published August 2007

I met Mike Reid in May 2006, to talk to him about UKTV Gold’s EastEnders: Secrets and Lies weekend. The interview took place in an upmarket hotel, in the middle of London’s Soho. When I arrived, Reid was sat with his equally bullish-looking, sovereign ring-sporting manager David Hahn. Both had fags on the go, and both were munching their way through a silver platter of bacon sandwiches. The press officer in attendance – Zoe Clapp – was, naturally, referred to as “princess” …

OTT: How did UKTV Gold lure you back to host this weekend?

MIKE REID: With money.

OTT: Is that it?

MIKE REID: That’s it.

OTT: Has it been fun?

MIKE REID: Erm … Yeah. I’ve always enjoyed doing things for EastEnders. Since I’ve left I like going back there again. It brought back a lot of memories, walking around the set. I haven’t been around there for a long, long time. And the Queen Vic. I roll me own cigarettes, and I used to leave dog-ends – butts – all over the place in the Vic. And Barbara Windsor used to find them. They used to stay there, and they were there – believe it or not – until two or three years ago. So what I’ve done, I’ve dotted the whole place. When she comes in on Monday, she’ll know I’ve been there.

OTT: You were back in the show at Christmas.


OTT: Did you film in the Square at all then?

MIKE REID: No, everything was location. It was all done in hotels and car parks. We never actually went to the set, apart from the morning for make-up and costume.

OTT: Does it always bring back a lot of memories when you return?

MIKE REID: Yeah. I was so long there. It just feels like I’ve come back again. It’s nice to walk down there. I got a bit of reminder – because I did spend 12 years there – and a lot of my life was there. So I did miss it, I have missed it. But I still enjoy going back to do bits and pieces.

OTT: So you don’t feel a pang to return for a long stretch?

MIKE REID: No. I’m very happy. Unless I was getting some massive financial reward – I know that sounds very … If I was getting a good financial award out of it, yes, I may consider going back. Other than that, at my age now, I prefer to play a bit of golf and have a beer with the lads. I haven’t got to work, thank you very much. And a lot of that’s got to do with EastEnders. With all due respect, the money that I would like, they would not pay. So I’ve got to say, at the end of the day, there’s no possibility of me going back to EastEnders for any prolonged period of time.

OTT: But you don’t feel frustrated about that?

MIKE REID: Oh, no, no, no, no, no! No, no, no! I’ve made a decision in me life. Unfortunately, I’m not bursting with O levels or anything like that. But I’ve planned my life and thank God it’s basically all fallen into place. You know, every bit of the puzzle is going in bit by bit. To pull a bit of the puzzle out and start an upheaval … Yeah, I’ve done it. I’ve done it. I’ve seen the film, I’ve read the book, I’ve dipped me bread in – I’ve done all that. I like the sun on me back – like a lot of people who are semi or retired, which I’m not. But I like the sun on me back, I like a nice game of golf and I like to live in warm weather. It’s time for me now.

OTT: You’re in Spain, is that right?

MIKE REID: Yeah, yeah.

OTT: How often are you back over here?

MIKE REID: Whenever a job comes up. You know, my manager rings me up with a job tomorrow, “Do you want to do it?”, I say, “Yes”. I go to the airport, there are so many airlines that fly in, I just get on a plane for 35, 40 quid, or 70 quid maybe. Drop back and do the job and get on the next plane back. It’s two and a half hours, so it’s nothing out of my life.

OTT: It’s a commute.

MIKE REID: Absolutely.

OTT: I want to talk about some of the episodes we’re going to see this weekend, which involve Frank. What are your memories of the one where Peggy finds out he’s alive and well and living in Spain?

MIKE REID: It was a bunch of fun. I mean, I’ve got to say that. It really was. We really did have a laugh. And the BBC have always looked after me. I’ve got to say that to them. It’s got nothing to do with this [interview], I genuinely mean they’ve always looked after me. They gave us a real top-class director. And one of the memories of that particular episode is, we were filming a romantic scene, me and the lovely Rula Lenska around the pool. And, in the place where I live, which is San Pedro, which is not far from where we were recording, they had a fiesta going on. Yeah, they brought the whole unit out to where I lived. It was wonderful, yeah. As a matter of fact I used to go to work – this is as God is my judge – I used to go to work in the morning and home when I finished, in me golf buggy. It’s true! So, anyway, San Pedro had a fiesta going on, and you could hear it in the background. The sound man said, “I can still hear it”. The director said, “Well, go down and buy them off”. And everybody looked at him, including me. Can you imagine? He’d be paying off half a million people at this fairground with this fiesta going on, and imagine someone going down there with heaps of money going, “Go home, go home, shut the lights off”. We had to work with it. But the director was uptight, because they wouldn’t shut up.

OTT: What about the episode where Frank runs over Tiffany? That was pretty infamous.

MIKE REID: Yeah. That was when I went back after 10 years. They asked me to go back after a two-year break. Basically – I’ll condense the story – before I left, Frank had a nervous breakdown in three months. I’m, really and truly … I’m a pretty staunch fellow, didn’t think it would worry me at all. But working on it every day – doing the lines every day – going home every night learning the lines for three months solid … oh, jeez. Really, at the end of it I was just … I felt quite low. So then I went away and they said, “Will you come back again?”. I went, “Yeah, all right, but under no circumstances …” – I’m not being blasé, don’t get me wrong – “… but under no circumstances do I come back under that cloud again. I just want to come back as the old Frank, doing the ducking and diving that he always does. I don’t want no more of that”. “Oh no, promise. Ooo, promise you”. Then the first thing I do, the first episode, I kill Tiffany. And back Frank goes again [blubbing]. I thought, “Oh Jesus”.

OTT: Had a job ever got under your skin like that before?

MIKE REID: Oh, no. But three months of your life, day and night, 24 hours a day, virtually … because, without boring you, my day would be, up at 6am every morning … Don’t forget, Frank had the pub, so I was always there. Wednesday, Thursday and Friday were pub days – and even if I had no dialogue, the director would want Frank behind the bar walking up and down. So I was always there. I’d get up at 6am, I’d be in the studio at the very latest by 9am. And then, you work 10, 12, 14 hours a day. Then I’d come home, the missus would give me my tea in the front room on the table. I’d sit and have that and sometimes read the scripts until 1am for the next day. That’s exactly how it was. I used to sleep at lunchtimes, or when I had a four or five scene break. I had a bed in me dressing room. That’s where I got my sleep, not my home.

OTT: How did your wife react? It must have been terrible for her.

MIKE REID: Oh yeah. She had no life. She had no life for 12 years. As such I made sure we went out three times a week, locally, around the corner to local restaurants and we’d grab a meal and then we’d dive straight home, because I was – and still am – interested in her life and what she’s got going on today. But that was it. There was no, “Oh, we’ll go away”. When I first joined EastEnders, it was seven years before I had a holiday. Seven years, before I could actually go away. It was on the lines two or three times for me to go and have a holiday. Booked it, and then EastEnders suddenly came up with this storyline. “Mike, we need you”. So I had to cancel the holidays.

OTT: Is part of that you having a strong work ethic as well?

MIKE REID: Yeah. People looking a me and think I’m a little bit “woah”, but I’m not. I may be here sitting here now, but I’m not. I sound like Mr Wonderful, but I’m not a person to wash cups up and all that game, but my function in life is to look after my family. I’ve done that ever since we got married. It’s 47 years I’ve been with the same lady. So, in essence, work runs my life. Everybody who knows me will tell you, for me life is … In fact, anyone can check with EastEnders, in 12 years I was late twice. And not by 10 or 15 minutes. I’ve run the hard shoulder on the M25. I’ve had police escorts in. Never got nicked. But about five times, police have run me in there. Come up in my rear when I was doing the hard shoulder. “Hello Mike”. “I’m late”. “Don’t worry about that”. So I got them all down the hard shoulder. I get panicky if I’m late.

OTT: Has you wife made sacrifices for you?

MIKE REID: Oh! Oh my God, a tremendous amount, you know. She brought up a family. When the kids were little, I’d go wherever the money was, so consequently she’s brought four kids up. Like a lot of people who is … how do I put the words? … successful in bringing up a family, she’s had to put up with it, because I’ve lived out of a suitcase. She’s brought four kids up, and I’ve suffered what a lot of people suffer in show business … I know I’ve got a close relationship with my family, and my kids love me. And I say that with pride. They’re not kids anymore, but they love me. Me and my son, all of us, and my daughters, we’re very, very close. But I never watched them grow-up because I was on the go all the bloody time.

OTT: Were you conscious of that at the time, or is it something you only realise now when you look back on it?

MIKE REID: I’ve looked back over the last eight or nine years and regretted that. But as a younger man, all I was concerned was going out and building a career for us, and looking after family. I suppose every night I thought, “Oh Christ, I’m leaving the kids again”, but the kids got used to it. I used to come home and they’d be in the yard playing a game of football. “Hello day, all right?” they’d say. “All right, darling, how are you? I’ll be inside”. And they wouldn’t … I missed it, but a lot of people do starting up their own.

OTT: Back to the weekend. The last episode features Pat and Frank plotting their getaway from Peggy.

MIKE REID: The main thing I remember about that one is Barbara Windsor – who I’ve known for a 1000 years, Barb – and as you know she’s only a tiny little doll, and she reads this letter that Frank left lying about. Funny enough, we had the same director as we did in Spain. And, Peggy’s got to hit Frank. She comes up and reads the letter, and she turns to Frank and she goes bash. And she’s got tiny little bony hands. I said, “Really hit me” and she said, “All right”. Then I said to the director, “Make sure everything’s in position, make sure everything’s right,” I said, “Because I’m not going to do this twice”. “Oh stop worrying, we won’t do it twice. Don’t worry”. Bash! She nearly bumped me head off. “Darling, do you think you could possibly find it in yourself to do it one more time?”. Once again, bash! She nearly knocked me bloody teeth out. That’s what I remember about that particular episode.

OTT: Was high drama what appealed to you about being in the show?

MIKE REID: I hear people – not too much nowadays, fortunately – I used to hear, “Oh, he’s a soap actor, he’s a soap actor”. It’s the best schooling for any actor at any stage of the game. We’ve had – no names, no pack drill – we’ve had many, many actors come in – well known actors – two weeks they’ve got their head in their hands crying. People have walked out, “I can’t cope!, I need rehearsal!”. EastEnders, without a doubt, you go up there, on the lot or wherever it may be, “Oh, by the way, we’ve changed this scene, we’ve rewritten it. You’re going to do it, out there”. “Right, okay’, [mimes frantically leafing through a script] and you go out and do it. There are no rehearsals. “There’s a new scene”. “But, I’ve already learnt it”. “Don’t matter about that, there it is again. There’s a new one, it’s been re-written”. It’s a tough, tough, training school. To answer your question, you go through every syndrome. From light comedy, to heavy comedy, to drama to dark drama, to murders – everything. You know, everything’s laid on in a soap if you’re in it all the time. It’s the best training ground any actor can have.

OTT: Was it a learning curve? Did you feel it would take a bit of getting used to when you first got into it?

MIKE REID: Nope. I was very happy, because when I joined it was very much in the early days, so we only did two episodes a week and we had miles and miles and miles and miles of rehearsals. We had rehearsal rooms upstairs, with tapes on the floor. We used to do that … I think that was a Saturday. Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, and Friday and Saturday were recording days. So you had so much rehearsal, it was so simple then, because you knew exactly what you were doing, you know, you was going to take four steps to get there, not three and a half, not four and a half. Four steps, the lights and ba-ba-boom, and everyone was clued up. It went like clockwork and it was very much easier. Fortunately I was there at the time. They only upped it to three episodes … and all of a sudden the rehearsals stopped, because you can’t have rehearsals and three episodes all at the same time. What most people don’t understand, or don’t think about, with Coronation Street, Emmerdale, any ITV soap, actually they do 22 minutes of transmission time, EastEnders do 29. So Coronation Street is doing four episodes a week, in essence, EastEnders is doing five. All of a sudden, all the rehearsals went out the window. And EastEnders turns over a far bigger contingent of actors than all the other soaps put together, because it’s never-ending. It’s never, ever ending. I couldn’t say to anybody, “Right, two weeks next Saturday, we’ll have a game of golf” because I might be told, three or four days before, “Oh, by the way, we’re a bit behind, so we’re working next Saturday”. So you couldn’t do anything. You couldn’t make any arrangements, any plans.

OTT: Why did you pack it in at the end? Did you get fed up with the character?

MIKE REID: No, no, no. I never got fed up with the character, I love him. It was easy for me because in the end, like all soaps – it doesn’t matter what soap it is – when you’ve been there a long time the actual writers write for you, because you have meals with them, naturally, and you go out and have a drink with them so all of a sudden they get to know you, so what they’re doing – every soap actor – what they’re doing is writing you. So, it’s easy. Tony Jordan, who’s a wonderful writer, and I knew him that well, I’d have a script with maybe 2000 words in it – a massive great speech – and I would read it two or three times and I’d know it. It was so easy, because he wrote for me. The reason I left is because – going back to what said – I’ve got a game-plan in life and enough was enough. I don’t want to be the richest man in the cemetery. I’m far from being skint. I’ve got a lovely home in Spain. And I know that sounds cocky, I don’t mean it to sound that way, because I’ve worked hard to get it, and, what’s the point … I genuinely mean this. I’m not … Hello, here I am, what we’re doing here today is boring the arse off me. I’m here, as you may have noticed, doing all this press. It’s going to bore the arse off me, I hate it. All I want to do is be home, mowing the lawns and all that game. Honestly, true, that’s my character. And I thought to myself, “No, enough. This is your game-plan, now you’re going to settle down a bit, pick and choose what you want to do”. I’m in the fortunate position to be able to do that, and that’s exactly what I want to do. And EastEnders now, as much as it’s given me a financial boost where everybody else was falling out of bed, everybody went through a bad period in show businesses. Notoriety, a face, another string in my bow – it gave me all that which I’ll never forget. But there comes a time where you’ve got to go, “No”, because I don’t want to fall over on set and someone ring my old woman up and go, “Oh, by the way you’ve got 2 or £3 million, and your old man’s just died on set”. I don’t want that to happen.

OTT: Are you in semi-retirement, then?

MIKE REID: I’m picking and choosing, to use the same terminology. I’m picking and choosing. Here’s my manager, he rings me up and says, “Do you want to do this, do you want to do that?” I’m open to all suggestions. I still do a bit of cabaret, which I still half enjoy doing, if it’s right. Only if it’s right. Of course, my first love, and it has been since I started in EastEnders, has been in acting. And if the right job comes up and the script is right, I would love to do it.

OTT: Is it acting before comedy, then? Because we first knew you through comedy.

MIKE REID: Oh, comedy came long before. But going back all those years before that I used to be a stuntman. And I’ve done hundreds and hundreds of cameo roles as coppers, toughies, mechanics and all that, with a few lines. So I never worried about the camera. I fell into it because it was a very natural thing for me to do, having worked in front of a camera for years and years and years. Not being shy to say to a director, “Piss off, you’re wrong here”. I wasn’t overpowered or in awe of anybody. If you get a good director on, I’ve got a tremendous amount of respect for someone who knows his job, but if I get a bad director, I’m not the easiest of persons to work with. It takes nothing for me to turn around and say, “You’re out of order, pal, I don’t want to do this now”. And the older I’ve got, the more I get that way, because I’ve seen a lot of people doing exactly what I am now, lots and lots and lots and lots of people. All of a sudden, you don’t want to suffer fools. “Just wait a minute, you’re doing this wrong. Not that I want to be a director, but I have got a good knowledge of it, and I know that you’re doing it wrong, because I know you’re going to say, ‘Oh, yeah, great, let’s do it again from this angle’.”

OTT: Is it true one of your first acting jobs was the Peter Cushing Doctor Who film?

MIKE REID: Yeah, that’s right.

OTT: Do you remember anything about it?

MIKE REID: No … Yeah. I remember I had to shave me chest ‘cos we was all, erm, we was all on this space world where we used to wear blonde wigs, and everyone shaved their chest. I think we got seven and six a day, every single day, but that’s really all I remember about it. That was a long time ago. And William Hartnell caused all amount of trouble.

OTT: Really?

MIKE REID: And rightly so, because he was Doctor Who on the television and it was massive. Hartnell felt that he should have got to play it in the film. Roy Castle was also in it. But that’s what I remember about that.

OTT: What about the Comic Relief Doctor Who skit in Albert Square?

MIKE REID: I don’t remember.

OTT: You had the best line in the whole thing.

MIKE REID: I did? No, I don’t remember, which is not unusual, because that’s the thing about EastEnders. People say, “Oh, what’s the funniest thing ever happened in EastEnders?”. I don’t know. “What’s one of the nicest moments?” I don’t know. I can’t remember.

DAVID HAHN: Can I ask a question?

OTT: Yeah, go ahead.

DAVID HAHN: When Graham asked you if you were never in awe of anybody where you worked, when you were called to America to host a show and you had to bring Frank Sinatra on, were you not in awe of him?

MIKE REID: Yeah, but that was long before I was on EastEnders.

DAVID HAHN: But were you in awe of him?

MIKE REID: Absolutely. But that was a different, show, and it wasn’t America actually … but it doesn’t matter. Yes I was, but I’m talking about in the business. In the acting business.

OTT: I always associate you with Runaround. How did that job come about?

MIKE REID: I was working for Pye Records and my recording manager was a fella called Terry Brown. And at the London Palladium, Sir Louis Benjamin was director – or the MD – of London Palladium, also at Pye Records. At the time, there was Tommy Steele running at the Palladium. It was Hans Christian Andersen. And Louis came round one day and got hold of eight of his record producers and put the scripts down in front of them and said, “Get one of your artists to do one of those”. Terry Brown come to me and said, “Do you want to do one of those?”. At the time I used to do Ugly Duckling when I was on stage, in the style of a fella called Terry Downs – he used to be the middleweight champion of the world. White Cockney, he sort of talked like that: [Hooks his nose to one side] “Yeah, gi’ us that” – he’s still alive. “All right, Tel?”. “Whass that? Yeah”. So I used to do it on stage – “There once was an ugly duckling” – but I’d do it as Terry Downs. Everyone knew who he was then. It used to get a laugh, so I said, “I want to do that”. “Are you sure?”. “Yeah”. So we got this guy, Kenny Woodman – Jesus! Well done for remembering that! – he arranged for the recording. When I went up, I said, “Can I do it my way?” It was the first take, and he said, “Yeah, do it your way and then we’ll kick it around”. One take and the only word they had to take out of it was right at the end, the swan walks around and says, “I’m going to give some of these Christmas dinners a kick in the old parson’s nose”, and they had to cut out “Christmas”, because it wasn’t Christmas. At the studio was a fella called Colin Nutley, who heard this and had just bought a thing from America called Runaround. Nobody knew anything about it, from director to producer, to buyers to head researchers, nothing. It was massive in America. They brought it over to England and he wanted a presenter. I was top of the tree with Ugly Duckling [UK chart hit in 1975], “Why don’t we try Mike Reid?”. So I went down there, and we done this Runaround. There’s a long story attached to it, but I won’t bore you with it. That’s how I got it, because Colin Nutley knew of me as the stand-up comedian Mike Reid. Knew I’d gone to number three, was trying to find a presenter for this, they wanted a new face and that’s exactly … I fell off the charts straight into Runaround – which was a massive hit. Massive hit! I was wipeout time. We had 74% – 74%! – of the viewing public.

OTT: Did you like working with kids?

MIKE REID: Yeah, I did, I did. I thoroughly enjoyed it. I was just working. You must understand that one of the reason Southern Television lost its franchise was that they just stuck with so many … they were a very staid … a very staid thing. The construction of the show was five kids from one school, five kids from another. Half the audience was one school, and the other half the other school. So, when the kids knew the answers, they used to shout out, “Wahheeey! It’s number one!” or “A, B or C” or whatever. And I had to keep them quiet, otherwise we wouldn’t have a show. I was aggressive. I was not nice to the kids, but that was just part of me being Mike Reid the comedian, because when I was growing up, there was all the skinheads about and everything, and as a compère I had to shut-up everyone in the audience before we could put the show on. So I became aggressive, which even nowadays I still am on stage. So it made me an individual, away from the comics who stand with their arms on the stand. And it spun off into EastEnders, where I used to get comments like, “Why do you let Mike Reid talk to kids like that?” and all that game. But most of the public loved it.

OTT: Kids love that too.

MIKE REID: I had a great deal of respect for those kids. And, of course, if I’m about here [in London] about every two weeks, at least, I’ll get someone coming up to me saying, “I was on Runaround with you”.

OTT: There’s a rumour that once the cameras stopped, the best prizes were taken back from the kids. Is that true?

MIKE REID: Bullshit. Total and utter bullshit.

DAVID HAHN: You’re getting mixed up with Crackerjack!

MIKE REID: That’s bullshit. It was the first programme ever to have … I mean, it was the forerunner of kids’ programmes nowadays. The forerunner. The first to have coloured balls, lights, big prizes.

OTT: Do you have any ambitions left?

MIKE REID: I think … I would like, before I get too old, I would like to do a series on my own. Actually star in a series on me own. I could commit to that, and I would enjoy doing it.

OTT: A drama?

MIKE REID: Yeah. Yeah. I can do comedy any night of the week. And I’d like to be stretched because on EastEnders, although we did everything, there was never time for … It was get the words in and get it out. Bang it in. As soon as I left EastEnders I went and did Snatch, and the very first opening scene is me sitting down with two actors, and they pick up the diamond and I go, “Can you get rid of that?”. And the camera turns to me and I go, “I might know somebody” and I turn to the phone. That was it. Six hours. Six hours to do that! There was no real dialogue, so no one messed their dialogue up. Do you know, “Can you get rid of that? I may know someone”, turn to the phone. You know, tracks, all the shoots, the master shoot. In that time, six hours, I would have done the least – the very least! – 12, major, major three or four-minute scenes in EastEnders.

OTT: Does that pace suit you better?

MIKE REID: No not necessarily. What I’m saying is, once you get a project that you’re given time to do – you know, 10 days to record it – then you’ve got time to play with it, you’ve got time to think about it, you’ve got time to slow down. Because, I never … I worked – like everybody else – I worked at a pace to get the episode in. So, there was no time for, “Let’s think about this”. Even today I feel when I’m doing bits and pieces, I’ve a got to answer too quick. I’m never allowed to think about what’s been said to me. And when I sit back and watch movies … and I love being entertained when I’m at home, I love the television, and with movies I sit down and watch it technically as well as to enjoy myself. On EastEnders, you have to chop down your reactions to one or two seconds. I think I might like to try that [pausing], but it’s, “Mike, please, can you just …?”. “But it don’t feel right!”. But, you know, we’re pushed for time. So I’m not given that freedom to think about what I want to do with it.

OTT: It’s been fantastic talking to you.

MIKE REID: All right me old son. You’re very welcome.