Friday, March 28, 2014

Martin Clunes: My family values

Camilla Palmer
The Guardian, Friday 28 March 2014 09.00 EDT

Martin Clunes
Martin Clunes: 'There’s no preparation for having children, and as soon as Emily was born, I adored it.' Photograph: Richard Saker for the Guardian

My earliest memory is a picnic in the park near our house, which was next to Wimbledon Common. Why on earth we went to a park when we lived so near the common is a mystery, but it had formal gardens and lawns – perhaps it was that very difference that took my parents there. As a child, I remember being parked outside pubs with a bottle of pop and a packet of crisps and left to wait for the grownups. Later on, Wimbledon Common was my stamping ground – riding my bike, climbing trees – all sorts of hearty boy stuff. My sister is older than me – I was a typically infuriating little brother who nicked her toys and was probably a right pain.

Although Dad died of cancer when I was eight, he is very much there in my childhood memories. He was an actor and away from home a bit. I remember him being quite a strong, silent type – quite serious. Unlike my mother, who was unashamedly delighted when I decided to become an actor, I always feel that my father, had he lived longer, might have been a touch disapproving of some of my career – I think he might have tutted a bit at Men Behaving Badly. But he could be silly too – he and his colleagues would finish a show in the evening and then go and do a couple of hours' cabaret to wind down.

Both parents had roots in the theatre. Dad's parents were music hall entertainers – at one point in a troupe called the Brownies. I have a very funny picture of them dressed as leaves popping out from behind some wobbly looking staging. Mum worked as a secretary for Orson Welles, for what sounded like a very miserable year. Her brother was the actor Jeremy Brett, who became famous for playing Sherlock Holmes. He was an absolutely lovely man. Very exciting and glamorous, he'd always make me feel amazing and full of confidence; like I'd picked the right thing to do in life. He was a real force and we all loved him.

About a year after my father's death, I was packed off to boarding school. Life there seemed to be all about waiting for some adult or classmate to be beastly or thwack you. School was a weekly agony to be borne, cemented by my chronic bedwetting. I probably threw myself into plays and making people laugh just to have a break from being hit. At my next school, I was put in charge of the school menagerie – feeding, letting out, shutting up the animals – including the sheep. I loved it. There's something wonderful about the characters of animals, and I now have a family of them around me.


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