I'm not Captain Scarlet

an interview with Paul Matthews

Howard Davies

Date: 7th. March, 1991. Place; Backstage, The Empire Theatre, Liverpool. Francis Matthews had agreed to a quick chat between matinee and evening performances of the Jeffrey Archer play Beyond Reasonable Doubt. It lasted a 'quick' thirty minutes. The man who gave voice to Captain Scarlet invited me to the small lounge adjacent to his dressing room. Confessing to being quite tired as he is on stage for most of the play, Matthews sat back on a leather settee wearing a dark blue bathrobe and carpet slippers. He apologised for keeping me waiting at the stage door office. A couple of phone calls to TV companies had lasted a little longer than planned.

Matthews, with a TV career of some thirtyfive years is probably best known for the series Paul Temple, notching up 52 episodes. "The BBC had made the programme with a German company and the BBC hierarchy decided after two years it wasn't the sort of show they should be involved in, it didn't follow the guidelines of their charter! So it was cancelled." I wondered if the series would get another airing.

"Impossible. The show was made on videotape and it was all wiped. Of all the nostalgia programmes that have been screened by the BBC of the 60's and 7O's shows, none have included a single scene from Temple. The original video was copied by German TV onto 35mm film. Not only was it dubbed – of course, so loosing the original soundtrack – but they even re-wrote some of the scripts! The whole thing ended with no satisfactory reason, I thought it could run for five years. Another show I did for the BBC was Trinity Tales, which was very enjoyable, although that was only shown on BBC 2 and hasn't been repeated either."

The character he plays on stage is Sir David Metcalfe. The 'real' name of Captain Scarlet was Paul Metcalfe. He wasn't aware of the connection, and finds the coincidence amusing. I ask his reaction to his role as the voice of Scarlet. "It started with a 'phone call asking if I could do various voices for Thunderbirds. I could, but I wasn't very interested. My agent's enthusiasm for me earning money changed that decision when Scarlet was planned. The character was written as having a mid-Atlantic accent. I tried a Cary Grant type voice on Gerry Anderson which made him laugh. That decided it — I was booked for the show.

"At the time I was appearing in Manchester in Private Lives. On the day of a recording I would fly to London and spend the morning with the other actors rehearsing. In the afternoon we would record five episodes, so in total it was about a week's work, although the recording was done over a period and not in the same week. It was like doing a radio play."

It's worth pointing out that the dialogue recording would last a lot less than the half hour or so of an episode. A good deal of each episode would not have dialogue, but sound effects and music, so five episodes would not take too long to record.

Has the legacy of Scarlet's success haunted Matthews over the years?

"No, not haunted, although repeat fees would have been welcomed. After all the episodes had been recorded I only received payment for two further recordings. After that nothing."

I mentioned the Power Themes 90 record featuring his voice as Scarlet. He hadn't been told about it.

"Ed Bishop and I did an advert for TV — I forget what it was for. I also did The Golden Shot."

Was The Golden Shot live or pre-recorded?

"Oh, it was live. I was out of sight with the puppet on camera. The Spectrum (the tie-in pop-group — Ed.) appeared on the same show. The producer was not very impressed with them!"

Had there been any other involvement with Gerry Anderson since?

"I was at the convention (Fanderson 90 — Ed.) last year and became quite alarmed at the excess enthusiasm of the Anderson groupies. It got to the point I had to say 'Look, I'm not Captain Scarlet.'"

I decided it was a bad idea to show him the photo of me with the Scarlet puppet!

"They were only puppets made of wood or whatever which would go yackity-yack to our voices." Matthews mimicks the puppet mouth with his hand.

Clearly not wishing to recall any further anecdotes from the Scarlet days, I asked what he had planned for the future.

"For the next sixteen weeks I'm on tour with this production. The Liverpool date is the first week. Then it's wait and see. I had been lined up for a TV sitcom but when I saw the scripts I said no. It might be the writer or the director, but if it's bad it's the actor the public blame. I've seen many friends appearing in dreadful programmes which haven't done them any good."

Did he have a favourite medium, TV, films, Theatre or radio?

"Well, films are no longer made here, but I've no preference. As long as it's good. Last year I was in Panto with John Nettles, you know, from Bergerac. I was Widow Twanky and that was great fun."

He has appeared on the Morecambe and Wise Show more than once.

"Yes, three times But, sadly, my appearance on one classic show which included André Previn and Shirley Bassey has been cut out of the show when it's been repeated. We had Ernie Wise and his wife over at Christmas. When I told him about it he said 'It's not me, it's the BBC. I'll mention it.' We will see. Morecam be and Wise were unique. There's been nothing to replace them. The comedy acts today are just mucky club acts. The theatre is the grounding for comedy, and drama as well. But today there is less of it."

I wish Matthews success with the future and thank him for his time. He signs an autograph for me. It doesn't mention Captain Scarlet!!!

article originally appeared in Century 21 magazine #5