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Saints And Sinners, Royal Hall, Harrogate, May 6
11:03am Friday 4th May 2012 in Theatre
THERE’S nothing more that brightens up an interview than for the subject to deviate from the usual PR line and take you by surprise. As you’d expect, Edward Fox is affable and charming, that very British, very posh voice exactly as in his screen appearances.
I expected him to talk about the newly revived Royal Hall in Harrogate, which was built by his great-grandfather, Samson Fox. And to chat about his own family who’ll be joining him on stage there on Sunday.
What did take me aback was hearing him declare a love of Max Miller, a funny man noted for his all-colours-of-the-rainbow stage suit and jokes of a very blue variety. Edward Fox getting his upper class, stiff upper lippish vowels around the Cheeky Chappie’s dirty jokes – now there’s a funny thing .
He doesn’t reveal whether it will happen during Saints And Sinners, the words and music show the Fox family bring to Yorkshire this weekend. He may well be vocal during that part of the show, or leave it to other family members – wife Joanna David, daughter Emilia Fox and son Freddie Fox.
But the show, he tells me, includes two jokes from the Max Miller Blue Book.
“He was just such a genius, Max Miller,” says Fox.
He’s even more enthusiastic about the Royal Hall, which opened in May 1903 as the Kursaal or cure hall. After taking a dip in the mineral baths of Harrogate Spa, Edwardians could take in a concert at the Kursaal to cure their minds.
Samson Fox, a civil engineer and mayor of Harrogate, was the force behind the scheme inspired by the kursaals of European spa towns. The result was a magnificent building that was known as “a palace of glittering gold”.
The Royal Hall has now been restored and is being programmed as part of Harrogate Theatre with the opening season welcoming Elaine Paige, the Halle Orchestra, Bob Geldof, Northern Sinfonia and Stars Of Strictly Come Dancing.
“It’s looking very good,” says Fox of the venue. “It had been allowed to go downhill for so many years. It should look like that for a century if it’s kept in structural order. But it was a huge cleaning job and all of that.”
He pays tribute to the late Lilian Mina, chairman of the Royal Hall Restoration Trust, who was the inspiration behind the trust’s success in saving the hall and then raising £2.7m to complete the restoration. She died in 2008, five days before the Royal Hall was due to be opened to the public.
“When money is required, there’s always apathy. Dear Lilian Mina is responsible for it being as it is now. She deserved a real medal.”
Fox became aware of the project through local historical Malcolm Neeson, who contacted him during the early days of drawing attention to the need to rescue the hall.
“I think it’s an important building. It’s the only original Kursaal as it’s known. It’s a German word, I don’t know how it would have sounded like in a Yorkshire town.”
He has played the glittering palace before with a previous version of Saints And Sinners. The format is tried and tested although this is the first time Emilia and Freddie have performed in it. “We don’t act together much as a family,” he says. “The opportunity has not arisen, maybe it will one day.”
Emilia Fox has already forged a successful acting career and stars in BBC1’s hit forensic series Silent Witness, while Freddie Fox is fast making a name for himself on the big screen (in the latest Three Musketeers movie) and small screen (with Shadow Line among his credits).
Their father has been content to let them find their own way into acting, feeling you have to let someone decide if and when they’re ready to enter the profession.
“You have to let them do it themselves, encourage them if necessary.
“Our two children were, from a very early age, really decided that’s what they wanted to do and, that being the case, you can only wish them well. They both knew what a difficult profession it is. So there was no stardust in their eyes; they just wanted to do a job.”
His own entry into acting came via Harrow School and serving as a lieutenant in the Coldstream Guards. Being on stage, he says, was new territory. “I just found myself in rep theatre and once you are in front of an audience you know whether you can hold the audience’s attention or not. And once you know you are getting across the footlights, you think maybe there’s something in that.”
Watching his children act produces mixed emotions.
“One watches quite clinically as one would any performance, always willing to be approving but I look at what they do fairly closely without really remarking on it. I have give so many bad performances in my life I would not dream of criticising,” he says.
While his children have been working pretty solidly, he has been content mostly to wait for the phone to ring.
He hasn’t worked for “quite a few months” because nothing worthwhile has come along. The days when there was “an awful lot that was terrifically good” being done on television have gone. “Today is pretty threadbare,” he says.
• Saints And Sinners: Sunday, Royal Hall, Harrogate. Box office: 01423 502116 or at harrogatetheatre.co.uk