Michael “Atters” Attree:
Fame is a very extraordinary thing. You can become famous for being the bodiless voice of margarine, can’t you?
Could you please tell me what to ask regarding Carry On Screaming, so I avoid a cliché question. Oh, and do you mind if I smoke?
[laughs] No, I would love you to smoke!
Okay! What did Harry H. Corbett smell like?
I never got near enough to discover!
You of course also featured in Danger man, the Prisoner and countless other delights… was Patrick McGoohan as intense off camera, too?
All I can tell you is he was simply lovely. When I had to go and do the recording for the voice part of it, he just popped his head in before we did it and said “just don’t make it too sexy.”
Somewhat difficult for you… What exactly was The Prisoner about?
Do you know I’ve completely forgotten!
You’re most singularly stylish – a female Jason King, no less! Has any particular fashion designer influenced you sartorially?
Well I’m very keen on Vivienne Westwood.
You have a penchant for French silk-lined leather gloves, I’ve been told?
Oh I love them! Bring them on! I could happily wear them and nothing else!
Oh my GOODNESS me! [Atters stands up] Well… that’s a wrap, gentlemen! That’s all that’s needed. Oh alright then, I’ll be greedy and have a few more… In my opinion no alpha dandy male has been as quintessentially exquisite as the actor Peter Wyngarde (AKA Jason King). You’re good chums with Mr. Wyngarde – what’s the secret to his infinite style?
I am chums with him, yes. I don’t know, I think it is based on a fairly strong self-regard.
You have acted with all the Chap heroes: Leslie Philips, Le Mesurier, Irene Handl, Charles Hawtrey, Robert Morley and James Robertson Justice – which one made the best impression on you?
John Le Mesurier. A divine man. He could not have been more charming and courtly, and came to see me in my play after we’d been in a film, and he said wonderful things about me to other people not in my presence.
This is a personal question. You’ve never married; is this because you don’t believe in such shackles or has it just never happened?
No, I think it’s because basically I believe in love. But there was somebody a few years ago who I definitely would have married, but he went and had the cheek to die!
Have you ever had an Out-of-Body experience?
Do you know, the funny thing is, I think I have! I went to this sort of group, you know there was a lot of that going on in the 70s and 80s. We all sat on wooden chairs, and then quite suddenly, as I was sitting there, I felt that I was being drawn up out of my seat. I was going up and up and up until, suddenly, I didn’t actually physically come out of my body but my being came out of my body and I was floating in the air, and I could see… you know like when you look out of the window when you’re on a train, and all the houses are absolutely weeny?
That sounds 100% to me like an out-of-body experience! Did you feel that your body was paralysed?
I didn’t feel paralysed, I felt free! If you can imagine your front being in the front and the rest of you trailing behind like a sort of mermaid…
The really sickening thing was that after that bit was over, I went up like a kid to the guy who was running this thing, and told him about it, and he wasn’t the least bit interested!
A false prophet, no less! By the sounds of it, he was able to lead people to these things but it sounds like he didn’t quite understand them himself.
Perhaps he was in a hurry!
What’s the saddest moment in your life? That’s a weird one, I don’t even remember writing that! Don’t know if I want to ask that, but I’ve asked it now!
I think it was when my mother was very ill, and I was sitting with a friend and we were doing the I-Ching, and I said to the card ‘What is the future of my mother’s health?’ and the guy I was doing it with went very quiet, and I knew that it meant she was going to die.
Have you ever met Terry-Thomas?
I think I met him momentarily, and he was lovely.
Did you get to know all of the Carry On team?
Yes, I knew all of them!
Sidney James, was he a bit of a bounder?
I believe he was! I tell you what though, the really sweet person was Charles Hawtrey. I loved him. At some point in my life, I was having a bit of a rough time and he found out where I was living, found the phone number, and rang me up out of the blue, and I know it was to be nice to me, because he knew I was having a horrid time.
It strikes me he probably understood what feeling unhappy is more than most… I don’t know, but he may have had an empathy with such moments?
Absolutely, yes. I thought it was lovely. I didn’t think ‘Oh what the hell is he ringing me up for?’, I thought ‘Aaah’
I can imagine you just knew he was on that level of understanding. But he is possibly misinterpreted?
He’s a bit misunderstood. Because when you play extreme parts like he did, people think you must be a bit simple, but he was not.
What early evocative memories of aromas do you have? My father often referred to coffee, cough sweets and coal smoke wafting through London’s 1930s air.
I would say wet grass!
At school were you thought of as unusual or different?
I did find that I was thought unusual but I couldn’t quite work out why. It stood me in good stead, funnily enough, because it didn’t make people shrink from me.
Did you ever actually smoke?
Oh, well I did. I started smoking when I won a scholarship to RADA, you know the drama school?
Mmm, think I’ve heard of it…
But my parents were very anti-RADA and they made me have to leave. But I kept in touch with my drama school friends, and they were growing up and learning how to smoke, in film and on stage, and I thought, ‘I should do that, you never know, I might go on the stage in spite of my parents dragging me out of this! So I started smoking, it took me almost a year to be able to bear it!
What was the brand, do you remember?
I think it was Senior Service
For some reason I thought it would be.
I don’t know why! I think I liked the picture on the packet! I thought it was terribly classy!
And your favourite tipple? (These are just questions you must get asked a lot but…)
Well, I don’t really drink, but if I were obliged to I would choose brandy, but go really weeny. But the thing I really like is Angostura Bitters. I love it! The marvellous thing is, you can put it in a glass, it becomes pink, and nobody can say ‘Oh you are a bore, why don’t you have some alcohol?’ Because actually it is alcohol, but tiny! And it’s the only thing I can drink without getting drunk.
Do you like antiques at all? For instance, do you prefer period properties to modern? I like things that are a bit shabby and have a bit of life.
I like things that are shabby and have a bit of life too! But on the other hand, if one saw a most marvellous modern building. It can be just as wonderful in a completely different way!
I’ve been told you own the actual piano from Peter Cook’s renowned Establishment Club, which you regularly performed at during the 60s?
The Establishment? No, it’s from The Colony Room.
My response went from a sort of ‘Oh right’ to a ‘WOW!!!’ And so you would have mixed with dear Daniel Farson and Jeffrey Bernard? I LOVE that man! Did you wish to become famous, and is it as you expected?
Fame is a very extraordinary thing. You can become famous for being the bodiless voice of margarine, can’t you? I suppose that if you’re going to turn out to be very good indeed at what you’re doing, that will automatically bring fame, so if it did that wouldn’t be a terrible thing. I think any degree of fame due to something that is either simply part of you, or something that you do particularly well, I don’t think the fame need spoil you… I think it is entirely up to you, and also with whom you surround yourself.
Because there are a lot of vampires out there, aren’t there?
[Laughs] well there can be!
Now Fenella, it would be an honour to do the gift presentation now…. I’ve had some right rubbish lately so I hope it’s a good one.
Atters is handed a beribboned gift bag containing a book, The Line of Beauty by Alan Hollinghurst, inscribed “A good read! With love from Fenella”