Simon Osborne was born in 1970 in Cornwall, UK, and started acting professionally in British TV at the age of 10. At the age of 17, he played Prime Minister Pitt the Younger in BBC TVs Blackadder 3. He appeared in many productions before and after but is best known for Blackadder. Later, he studied history and has spent a few years working in heritage in Wales, UK. His wife Penny also works in heritage and his son William is studying film at University in the UK. As well as being a behind the scenes blogger, Simon is now considering going back into acting.
NTK: Welcome, Simon! Thank you for joining me today!
SO: Thank you for having me, Naching.
NTK: How old were you when you decided you’d like to be an actor?
SO: I think about eight or nine when I first seriously did. A BBC series was being filmed in my remote Cornish village, and I thought ‘I could do that!’
NTK: Where did you start? Did you start in plays or did you go straight to television acting?
SO: Straight to TV professionally, but I had done amateur Pantomimes in my village first.
NTK: Could you explain what Pantomimes are for our American audience?
SO: I just thought of that! (Laughs.) They are sort of comic morality stories, usually of Medieval folk origins and often have musical numbers in them. Traditionally the young male lead will be played by a young woman, and an old woman part will be played by a man. Although a moral tale the main theme is fun. Sort of comedy musical fairy tales.
Peter Pan is one and Cinderella.
NTK: Did these pantomimes prepare you for acting on television? Or are the skills used completely different?
SO: It prepared me for performing, gave me confidence in my acting abilities and experience in live performance.
NTK: What was your first television role?
SO: I played the lead role in a sort of Horror story for British schools made by Thames TV. It was for children so not too scary.
NTK: Was that “The Shadow Cage?”
SO: Yes, it’s from a book of short stories by the late author Philippa Pearce. “The Shadow Cage” being the main story.
NTK: What is the story about? And what was your role?
SO: It starts in Victorian England. An old woman is accused of being a witch. One night her cottage is burned to the ground, and her with it. Skip to modern day and a farmer ploughing where the remains of the cottage are. He digs up an old bottle with some dried strange powder inside. This bottle ends up in the hands of the farmers nephew Kevin (that’s me!) Having this bottle causes dreams of Victorian England, the witch, and makes him walk around at night in the village followed by whistling spirits! Or are they?
NTK: Are you a fan of horror or scary stuff?
SO: Not always! I don’t like needless blood and things, but I definitely think much more atmosphere can be caused by tension and what you don’t see. I loved staying up late at night as a child to watch black and white horror films like The Mummy! I think being black and white added to the atmosphere, tension and enjoyment.
NTK: Was this the Universal Mummy or the Hammer version? Which do you like better?
SO: Probably Universal but would have watched them both! I think I found Hammer stuff scarier as a child. Both good.
NTK: Do you like mysteries?
SO: Yes, I am a huge Conan Doyle fan! I love Sherlock Holmes, but also his other darker stuff
NTK: What is your favorite work by Conan Doyle?
SO: Outside of Sherlock Holmes, I think Lost World.
NTK: What is your favorite Sherlock Holmes story?
SO: Hard one! I think Hound of the Baskervilles and Valley of Fear.
NTK: Did you ever act in a television mystery?
SO: I did an episode of a series called Rockliffe’s Follies where I was in a gang that took on a girl they believed was a witch that caused their leaders bike to crash! We didn’t win! (Laughs.) But I do have another Sherlock story—not acting— but I always wear Victorian style clothing. I visited the Sherlock Holmes Museum in Baker Street with my family some years ago. I was wearing lots of Tweed. I sat in Sherlock’s chair by the fire and found it hard to get away! I had to pose with my pipe with all the tourists that came in, as though I was Sherlock Holmes! They must have thought I worked there!
NTK: (Laughs.) Oh my gosh! That’s great! Do you have a favorite actor?
SO: So many, but I think love lots of old ones! Charlton Heston, and Leslie Howard for drama, Terry Thomas for Comedy, Doris Day, Danny Kaye, Fred Astaire for Musicals! Modern ones, I do like a lot of Brad Pitt’s performances, but also Idris Elba, and I love a lot of Kevin Costner’s work! Strange answers! (Laughs.)
I like Jeremy Brett as Sherlock Holmes though.
NTK: You’ve worked with some fine actors, including the son of Sir Alec Guiness. He told you some interesting stories. Would you like to elaborate on that?
SO: Yes, Matthew Guinness, I never knew he was Sir Alec’s son until years later! Very talented and very funny! He knew I was interested in the supernatural and I was doing a project on it while I was away filming with him for a month as schoolwork. I was always interested in it as my grandmother Ruby who lived with us as I was growing up was born on Halloween. People always said she was a White Witch!
Matthew told me stories of things he had experienced while filming other TV and film stuff! One which involved an old woman who roamed around a manor house he was staying in at night, her cane banging on the ground as she walked but when looking to see her, she was never there! She kept two huge hounds. A little scared of this, Matthew locked himself in his room and fell into a deep sleep. When he woke he found he could hardly breathe. One of the huge hounds was lying on his chest! It wouldn’t move! Then the old lady’s cane was heard outside the room, the dog jumped up and was suddenly gone! Matthew ran and checked the door! It was still locked! He had lots like that.
NTK: Spooky! And so cool about your grandmother! Are you interested in seances and ghosts?
SO: A little! I had to with my grandmother! (Laughs.) I’m sure I’ve seen and felt things!
NTK: Ok, let’s talk about one of your biggest roles, Pitt the Younger on Blackadder. Fans of the show can read your blog if they’d like to see how you got the role and that link will be provided. What I’d like to know is if you have any funny stories to share with us. First, what was it like acting with Rowan Atkinson?
SO: Rowan was very friendly, quite quiet, but very, very funny! He could pull faces that only he could pull! He was always trying to make the rest of us laugh if we were on camera and he was off.
NTK: What about Tony Robinson?
SO: Tony was the first cast member I met! He was so friendly from the start, he really made me feel part of the Blackadder family right away.
NTK: And how was Hugh Laurie?
SO: Hugh was also very funny! He was always putting on voices particularly Dick van Dyke’s bad cockney accent! He would play the piano during breaks too.
NTK: You have a very famous speech in the episode in which you starred, “Dish and Dishonesty.” How did you feel when you first read those lines?
SO: I read it for the audition first. My first thought was that’s a nice big bit to do. I only realised I had a lot more as well as that when I got the full script in the post after I had been chosen to play the part
NTK: You delivered it beautifully! I can see why you got the part! Did you have an opportunity to meet Stephen Fry?
SO: Yes, he watched my episode being filmed as he was in the audience that night, but I met him in the BBC Bar afterwards! The BBC Bar was on the top floor of the Studios and it was always full of actors after filming
NTK: Oh wow! Did you meet a lot of actors there?
SO: Mostly just things I was working on. I did once go drinking one night in Glasgow with John Hurt! That’s another story though.
NTK: What was Stephen Fry like?
SO: Very nice, very friendly, very tall! (Laughs.) I met him standing at the bar! I am only 5 feet 6 inches tall. Stephen is well over 6 feet tall!
NTK: Blackadder is an historical comedy. Is this what got you interested in history? Or were already a history buff?
SO: I’ve always loved History! Georgian history is one of my favourites! I love Admiral Lord Nelson, who was exactly the same height as me! (Laughs.)
NTK: Do you have any supernatural history tidbits for us?
SO: The first world war was full of stories! The Angel of Mons, the phantom Piper, the phantom soccer player! Modern historians try and now poo poo these stories, but the men who were there said they happened. I am not a big fan of such historians. I will always believe the words of those who were there before I believe someone writing about it a century later.
NTK: What did you do after Blackadder? Did you continue acting? Or did you find a new career?
SO: I did a few things after but nothing as big as Blackadder! The last few years I’ve been working in Heritage (Historical sites) but I am thinking about getting back in to acting again.
NTK: By the way, did you know you have an IMBD page? It says you worked on things with the musician Sting. Is this true?
SO: Yes, I think it is about 3 different Simon Osbornes though. Not just me. I never worked with Sting but I did look after his cat once.
NTK: You did! How did that come about?
SO: Living in London in my early teens, we lived next door to an Irish Rock group called Cruella De Vil. They knew Sting and looked after his cat while he toured! One time he was touring, and they were too, so for about a week I had to look after the cat while both Sting and the group were away.
NTK: That is so cool! You have had a very colorful and fascinating life!! What do you have planned for the future? Anything our readers should know about?
SO: I may go back into acting, but for now writing the blog is making me remember a lot of my own history! I will be writing more behind the scenes stuff, fun History stuff, and my History—including other acting work, my travels, and my time in the British Army!
NTK: Thank you so much for chatting with me today.
SO: You’re welcome!