SIMON Williams made his name playing the raffish son of an MP in the original 1970s TV series of Upstairs Downstairs. Now, after a hugely successful career both on screen and in the theatre, the versatile actor, writer and director is set to appear in opposition at The Waterside, in Aylesbury, this month as the epitome of a bespoke civil servant, the wily and manipulative Sir Humphrey Appleby, in the hit satirical comedy Yes, Prime Minister.
It was a part made famous in the much-loved TV series by the late Nigel Hawthorne. Appleby, cabinet secretary to Jim Hacker’s PM, was the master of obfuscation and would verbally bamboozle those elected to government with a series of long-winded, baffling, and often jargon-filled explanations that would leave the recipient nursing a migraine.
Simon and his PM, being played by Richard McCabe, are touring the country with a new version of the now classic TV favourite that has been lovingly written especially for the stage by its original creators Antony Jay and Jonathan Lynn. It arrives at The Waterside on Easter Monday (April 25) for a week.
The Waterside is the closest Simon gets to home territory (he lives with his actress wife, Lucy Fleming in a village just outside Henley) in an exhausting five-month tour.
The father of four (a son and daughter by first wife Belinda Carroll and two step sons from his second marriage) has won a legion of fans over the years with dozens of TV roles.
Simon said: “Yes, Prime Minister has such a broad appeal. It’s got high satirical comedy and lots of ludicrous madcap stuff as well. It’s just such fun to do. It’s great.
“I was a big fan of the TV series of both Yes Minister and Yes Prime Minister and it’s been great revisiting them as I now know the writers and I know a bit about the characters. They’re even more interesting to look at again.
“It’s very daunting to be playing Sir Humphrey after having watched Nigel Hawthorne be so brilliant all that time.
“Starting anything is always hard but quite quickly the voice of previous people fades away and you begin to make it your own. It’s like buying a bit of second hand clothing. You change the buttons, you shake yourself down in it and eventually it feels like your jacket.
“These scripts have been read by the top ministers, by the top civil servants and all the shenanigans written about in this play are true so the audiences are laughing and cheering because they are recognising truth.
“I now know what obfuscation means – it means dodging the tricky question. There’s one hysterical passage in the play when they have produced a book of stock answers that don’t mean anything, that they trot out to the BBC. It’s very funny because you think, ‘Yeah, I’ve heard that one’.”
For tickets to Yes Prime Minister contact the box office 0844 871 7607 or visit www.ambassadortickets.com/aylesbury.