Continuing the secret conversation that Jackie Richmond listened to between Davy and Basil Foster, the well known horse trainer, when Davy visited this country recently.
Basil: “I remember the time when you graduated from pony riding to real race horses. It was disastrous!”
Davy: “Yes, Stonecrackers!”
Basil: “He had been on several race horses before, of course, but always on a lead rein. Stonecrackers realised she had a green rider on her back and started playing up.”
Davy: “I was terrified. There I was, stuck up on this horse about 20 feet in the air. I had looked after her for some time—used to groom her and all that sort of thing—although she wasn’t very good as a race horse. I’d never been on anything faster than old Fred, the hack, so I was thrilled when I was allowed to put my tack—that’s what we call a saddle—on her.
That’s when I found out the difference between riding a hack and a race horse. I started off at a nice brisk canter and then when all the others started to pull up, I suddenly found myself going faster and faster and faster. I knew the only thing I could do was to go round in a circle and so we tore round and round until I got dizzy. I never thought she was going to stop and I was beginning to feel very weak, but Stonecrackers was pretty weak too, she had worn herself out. Eventually she ran out of steam and came to a halt. The other lads had a real go at me—roaring with laughter, but the trainer wasn’t amused, ‘Don’t let that happen again,’ he warned me, ‘keep riding the hack until you learn how to ride a horse better’.”
Basil: “He didn’t stay on hacks very long though, he soon got the hang of it and became a regular rider.”
Jackie: “Did you know that Davy had acted in a BBC play Basil?”
Basil: “No, in fact, I got the shock of my life when I got a letter from Davy’s father saying that he had been approached by a BBC producer asking if Davy could take part in a radio play. And would it be possible for Davy to have time off to do it? I had no idea that Davy had ever done anything like that. But I couldn’t see any reason why I should object. So I told Mr. Jones that I would be quite happy for Davy to take the time off to do it. But when I called Davy into the office, he just didn’t seem interested.”
Davy: “Well, I was quite happy at the stables and acting wasn’t as important to me as becoming a jockey.”
Basil: “I told him that he should do it as the fee he would get would come in very handy for buying his clothes.”
Davy: “I remember that the letter was from Alfred Bradley of the BBC and he wanted me to come to Leeds to do the play—so, off I went and read my lines, collected my money and came back to the stables. Then another letter arrived. This time Granada Television wanted me to appear as Ena Sharples’ grandson in an episode of Coronation Street.”
Basil: “Davy still did not seem very interested in acting, but once again, he trotted off to Manchester when I said he should. I pointed out that it was also a big opportunity for him to visit his father, because normally, apprentice jockeys only get to see their families about once a year. When I saw the episode in which Davy appeared, I was really amazed and I thought to myself, this boy has real talent—he wasn’t the same Davy that I knew at all and I began to think that perhaps he was wasting his time at the stables.”
Davy: “It was great fun working in television in a big studio like the Granada one in Manchester.”
Basil: “Didn’t you appear in one of the ‘Z Car’ episodes?”
Davy: “Yes. The very first one. The strange thing was that I found myself believing that the people who were playing policemen, were in fact, real policemen. But I found that actors are very nice to get on with and we had lots of good times.”
Jackie: “How did you break into the West End?”
Basil: “I had lots of friends who often used to come down to the stables and stay over the weekend. Many of them were showbusiness people. One was Charlie Drake who often used to go shooting with me. One weekend he brought a party of friends with him—we were all going to the Cesarewitch. There was Colonel Bill Alexander, his son Hugh and Reg Cambell. They were agents for Charlie Drake and during the general conversation, I happened to mention that I had a boy at the stables who was a very good actor and that I thought that with the right handling and management, he might become very successful on the stage. Colonel Alexander, and the others were very impressed with what I told them and said that they were just in the process of trying to find someone to play Peter Pan with a touring company for six weeks. The very first opportunity I got, I called Davy into the office and told him all about it, but you weren’t very pleased, were you?”
Davy: “NO, I wasn’t. I don’t know why, but I was beginning to get the idea that Basil was trying to get rid of me.”
Basil: “I tried to explain that nothing could be further from the truth, I was very happy with his work and I definitely would have liked him to stay on at the stables. But, I also pointed out that I did want him to have the best possible chance to get on in life and I thought that this was a marvellous opportunity which he should not miss. And if it didn’t work and he decided that acting wasn’t for him, then he could always come back to the stables.”
Davy: “I didn’t want to leave the stables at all, even for a few weeks. Of course, there were times when I got a bit fed-up, but I really liked the life and the other lads. Becoming a jockey was my big ambition at that time, not acting. But Basil persuaded me to try it for a time so I travelled up to London to audition for the part.”
Basil: “And you passed too, didn’t you?”
Davy: “Yes. They asked me to do all the usual things you know, walk about, say a few lines, do a bit of acting with another person, sing a song and, eventually, they said I was fine. But another very important thing happened just at that time. They also sent me for an audition for the part of the Artful Dodger in Lionel Bart’s West End production of ‘Oliver’. Reg Cambell was looking after me at the agents and he took me along to the new theatre, but the person who auditioned me for the Artful Dodger part said that I could only have it if I lost my Northern accent. And I had just six weeks only to do it while I was touring with ‘Peter Pan’.
“And luckily for me, Jane Asher was also appearing in ‘Peter Pan’ and she was great because she heard that I was trying to lose my Northern accent and took over the job of teaching me a Cockney accent.”
Jackie: “Did she manage to turn you into a real East-ender?”
Davy: “No. In fact, it was all a bit of a laugh really, but she did manage to teach me just a few phrases so that when I got back to London, I passed the second audition.
“I was very sorry to leave the stables, of course, but Basil was very nice about it.”
Basil: “Well, after all, I had been the one who’d encouraged him to take up acting. I remember I said to him, ‘David,’—I don’t know why, I always used to call him David, not Davy—‘some actors go through the whole of their lives dreaming of appearing in the West End of London and never make it. You’ve been given a wonderful opportunity which may never come again.”
Davy: “So, I packed my bags and took the train to London. I played the part of the Artful Dodger in ‘Oliver’ for the next eleven months.
“I lived with a Mrs. Mills in London and she was very good. She treated me like a son.”
Basil: “I used to pop down to London every so often and see the show and then have a chat with Davy. I think he was missing the stables and the horses and he always used to make me promise that he could come back when the show finished.”
Davy: “I did miss the riding. I popped up to the races at Alexandra Park once, but Keith Beeson, who was with the horses, told me not to be so silly and so I changed my mind. The next thing that happened was that Lionel Bart got an offer to put on ‘Oliver’ in New York and he asked me to play the part of the Dodger on the Broadway stage.”
Basil: “Yes. I remember it very well because to me it was your really golden opportunity. The thing that could make you famous, but you were dead against going to America. Colonel Alexander phoned me and said that you had been given a wonderful opportunity but you were absolutely refusing to take it.”
Davy: “Yes. I was dead set on returning to the stables.”
The third and final part next month