ROY Hudd is a massive fan of Oscar Wilde – mainly because Wilde helped his radio career no end.
“Whenever I did Quote… Unquote, I always guessed the quote was from Wilde,” recalls the veteran entertainer. “And nine times out of 10 I was right!”
However, he says that’s not the reason he was keen to join the cast of the latest tour of the master playwright’s A Woman of No Importance.
“I was actually interested because of Wilde’s jokes,” he insists. “But the real sweetener with this show was they wanted me to do three songs. And they said, ‘You can pick the songs you want to do’, so that’s what I’ve done.”
The songs will be performed during scene changes, like party pieces at the posh dinner party around which the play is set, and they offer him the opportunity to indulge his love of music hall and variety.
Music hall is where it all started for Hudd. Or rather concert party. As a kid growing up in Croydon, he needed an activity to keep him out of trouble.
“One day, the front page of The Daily Mirror had a headline: The Roughest School in England. It was a picture of my mates,” he laughs. So off to a boys’ club he went, where he signed up to learn about concert party, a style of variety show.
“My gran, who brought me up, always talked about going to see it,” he says. “She brought me up on an old-age pension, but always, whatever happened, took me to the Croydon Empire every week on a Tuesday night because she loved variety.”
When not singing in A Woman of No Importance, he plays Archdeacon Daubeny in Wilde’s upper-class comedy about a society house party and a woman with a long-buried secret that needs to be addressed.
“It’s old Oscar beating the drum for women of his period,” Hudd explains. “They were all treated like rubbish, so he made them the heroines.”
The 83-year-old, who made his professional debut as a comedian in 1957 before hundreds of appearances on TV, radio and film, as well as the stage, says he’s loving his career as much as ever.
“I enjoy doing it very much,” he says, succinctly, of performing in A Woman of No Importance, before, almost inevitably, kicking on: “I did an early Call The Midwife. I played an old soldier who died at the end of the episode. After that, I died in every job I got on television. This role is particularly lovely because I’m alive at the end of it.”
Roy Hudd will star alongside Liza Goddard in A Woman of No Importance at the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, Guildford, from Monday (28 October) until Saturday 2 November.