Portmeirion, Friday, 28th September, 2017
My own personal adventure to this event began at 2pm on Thursday, 27th September, when I picked PETER up from Runcorn Station in Cheshire to begin our 90+ mile drive to Portmeirion in North Wales.
His train from London Euston pulled into Runcorn right on time, so PETER and I were on the road by 2.20. Since traffic was light both on the Weston Bypass and the M53, we were into Wales in what seemed like a blink of an eye.
Because we weren’t tied to time, we decided to stop for a break in Llangollen; a beautiful little village which is built next to a fast flowing river, and has its own historical steam railway and horse-drawn canal boats. We had lunch – PETER opting for a baked potato and salad, after which we both clambered back into my car and off we went again.
Having only ever visited Wales once or twice in his career, PETER was taken by the stunning landscape which complemented our route along the A5, and which became ever more impressive once we turned off towards Blaenau Ffestiniog. There, we passed the mountains of slate which acted as a backdrop for several scenes in the ‘Clash of the Titans’ remake that was filmed back in 2010.
We finally pulled into Portmeirion around 4.45pm, where we were met at the Toll Gate by a member of staff from the elegant Village hotel where PETER would be staying, who ferried down there in a shuttle bus.
PETER had been booked into ‘House One’ on the 1st Floor, which had a spectacular view of the Village on one side and the Estuary on the other. Each room in the hotel is decorated in its own unique fashion, and PETER’s was adorned with scenes from ancient China that was complimented by antique black lacquered furniture to match.
⇐ Derren Nesbitt in the hotel signing posters
Only he and actress Fenella Fielding – another guest at the event, were due to stay in the Village itself, whilst the rest of the troupe; Derren Nesbitt and his wife, Miranda. Jane Merrow, Annette Andre and Norma West, plus their agent, Thomas Bowington and myself, would be billeted in Porthmadog – a village three miles up the coast. The original plan was for me to await the arrival of the others who were travelling down from London by coach, and we’d all go up to our hotel together. However, by 7.30 that evening there was still no sign of them, and since PETER was being pressed to order his evening meal, I decided I’d drive over to Porthmadog myself and check in to my digs.
Imagine my surprise when I arrived there to find that there was no indication on the hotel computer of any us having been booked in for the night. I immediately Thomas to ask him what I was meant to do – hoping that he and the other actors and actresses would be arriving soon. To my astonishment I was advised that, due to a combination of road works on the motorway, and the driver of the coach taking a wrong turn (easy done on the tiny lanes in North Wales), they’d be on the road for several hours yet.
It was 11.40pm when I heard that the coach had finally pulled into Portmeirion, and with several octogenarian passengers on board Thomas, quite rightly, refused to move them another inch – insisting that they were all accommodated at the plush Village hotel.
An arrangement was made for everyone to meet in the Village hotel restaurant at 9am the following morning. It was a relief to me that I’d actually get something to eat, as there was nowhere to get any food at the hotel I’d been staying at. I drove the three miles down to Portmeirion, and instead of leaving my car on the ‘public’ car park, my Jeep became a Mini Moke for the day as I was allowed to take it down to the hotel and park it in the space allotted to PETER’s room.
As I drove through the hotel gates, I immediately spotted Thomas who was talking to very smartly-dressed gentlemen who I recognised as Derren Nesbitt. Unlike PETER, Mr Nesbitt, I learned, is an early-riser, and was rearing to get to work. Since the main event was only due to start at 9.30, Thomas decided to oblige him by having him sign some posters while we, and the other actors, went for breakfast.
I was told that all of our party – myself included – would be accommodated at the Portmeirion Hotel that evening, so I was to pick up my key from reception. Imagine my delight when I took my bag up to my room (‘House Seven’) to see the view from my window. It was worth the trip just for that!
The view of the Estuary from my window ⇒
Around 9.30, I went up to see how PETER was getting on, only to find that he’d been unwell during the night and was asking to see a doctor. I immediately went downstairs to reception, where a call was made to the nearest surgery which was two miles away in Minfordd. Thanks to the cruel and savage cuts made to the National Health Service by the gangsters we have in government at present, doctor’s no longer do house-calls, and we were told that if we wanted someone to attend we would have to call an ambulance. Otherwise, I’d have to drive him to the nearest Accident and Emergency department, which was 50 miles away at Bangor Hospital.
With this information, I went back up to PETER and gave him the news. He didn’t wish to trouble an ambulance crew, but at our insistence (Thomas and I), we arranged for one to come out to him just to be on the safe side. You’ll be relieved to hear that it only took said ambulance 7 hours and 40 minutes to reach us, by which time PETER was – thankfully – feeling much better.
Although the gates opened at 8am for registration, with Screening Rooms available from 9, the main Event began at 9.30 with an announcement by Fenella Fielding through the Village P.A. system. Thomas and I were standing outside in the hotel grounds at the time, when the strangest thing happened. As Fenella said “….and now the weather. Today with be fine with the chance of showers”, right on cue, the heavens opened and it absolute poured with rain! (Given her obvious powers of prophesy, I did ask her at breakfast the following morning if she had next week’s Lottery numbers!).
PETER was due to be interviewed after a screening of a restored version of ‘Checkmate’ in Hercules Hall, so it was up to me to get him ready for his big moment. Because he’d had a bang to his knee a couple of days earlier, and given the Village is a bit up hill and down dale in its layout, we felt it would be safer for him to make his way to the Hall in a wheelchair.
Whilst all this was going on, Fenella made an announcement over the P.A. system from The Green Dome, summoning fans over to the Hall advising that, just for today, it was Number 2 in town, not Jason King!
The shuttle bus was summoned and we put the ‘chair, which we’d borrowed from the hotel, in the back. We soon discovered, however, that said ‘chair had no brakes and, with the bus having to first go up what seemed like a 1 in 5 hill, then down the other side, Thomas and I were holding on to the ‘chair for grim death! PETER, of course, was blissfully unaware that any of this was going on, and was gleefully regaling us one of his theatrical anecdotes as the two of us grimaced and sweated in the back.
Once out of the bus, we were all ushered into the ‘Green Room’, where PETER had a cup of tea whilst we listened to the final scenes of ‘Checkmate’ playing in the adjoining Hall. As the film concluded, it was at that moment that I wheeled PETER in to huge applause by the crowded gallery of loyal Prisoner fans.
He opened the interview by telling the story of how, when he was on tour in a play in South Africa, the sets were hijacked by outlaws whilst in transit, which resulted in him having to go out on stage to explain to the audience why there was no scenery!
Needless to say, the fans loved his contribution to the Event, and gave him a rapturous applause. Little did they know that Thomas and I now had to face the prospect of getting him back up the steep ramp to the waiting mini bus – again without the aid of brakes, and on to the hotel.
As we arrived at the entrance to reception, two really nice guys – one of them Hellfire Club member, John Uttley, were waiting outside to see PETER, who was happy to chat with them and sign a copy of his album plus a couple of other knick-knacks.
We then took PETER to one of the many lounges in the hotel, where he was delighted to meet journalist and Hellfire Club member, Andrew Roberts, who’d arranged to do an interview for Classic Car magazine about the great man’s life-long love of cars. There PETER chatted away happily about some of the many vehicles he’d owned.
Afterwards, he had a little chat with his old friend – fellow actor, Nickolas Grace, we escorted him back up to his room where he had a little snooze until it was time for his evening meal.
Thomas and I shared our meal with the wonderful Annette Andre, who herself had suffered somewhat from the previous days’ coach trip from London; Miranda and Derren Nesbitt – the latter of whom was full of the most wonderful stories; Jane Merrow, Fenella Fielding and her companion, Simon, and last but not least Norma West.
After I’d made sure that PETER was fine and well, Thomas and I finally managed to get a moment to ourselves in the bar, accompanied by a pint of cider shandy and a bottle of beer.
Later on, when everyone had vanished to their rooms, I went for a stroll around the Village on my own, having not had a chance to look around during the day. I took the opportunity to see the new sculpture of Patrick McGoohan in Battery Square which McGoohan’s daughter, Catherine, had unveiled earlier in the day.
Since we were expected to vacate the hotel by 10am, I set my alarm for 8, had a quick shower and went down for breakfast which I shared with Fenella and Simon. On my way back upstairs, I bumped into Derren and Miranda and we had a little chat; both of them asking after PETER. Derren said that he didn’t think that I’d know who he was but, of course, I’ve seen him many times, both on TV and films (‘The Blue Max’, ‘Where Eagles Dare’ etc.). Additionally, my Mum had dined out for many years on seeing him in my hometown (St Helens) where he was appearing at the theatre, wearing purple velvet trousers and matching boots. When I regaled this story to them, Miranda turned to Derren and exclaimed: “Purple boots?” “Well,” he replied. “Everyone was wearing purple boots in the Seventies!” True!
I walked into PETER’s room and found him still in the arms of Morpheus; the breakfast tray I’d ordered for him still outside the door. I woke him up and reminded him that he had an hour to get ready to leave, so whilst he went for a shower I began packing his things.
Based on the debacle that had been the coach trip down to Portmeirion two days earlier, all but the most hardy amongst the troupe of thespians (namely Fenella and Simon), had elected to take the train back to London, which would first entail a 50-mile taxi journey to the station in Bangor.
The official event programme and map ⇒
It had also been Thomas’s plan to be back in London in time to meet PETER from the train at Euston Station, and to ensure that he got home safe and sound. This strategy also needed to be revised, so he opted to drive back to Runcorn with us as PETER was booked on the 15.03 train.
Now, there’s something you need to know about my car. As much as I love him (I call him Eddie, for that is his name), he is rather small inside – i.e. two seats in the front/two in the back. Whilst this was fine when there was just PETER two days earlier, but we now had an extra passenger and his luggage to transport. (For those of you Brits who remember the game on ‘It’s A Knockout’  which involved about 40 people carrying plates of jelly, shoehorning themselves into an Austin Mini, well it was something like that!)
So we had Thomas in the back seat with PETER’s bags (he came with one small case, but managed to accumulate enough stuff to fill two additional pieces of luggage for the return journey!), while Thomas’s and I had to stuff our bags in the ‘boot’ (actually a space about 10in x 12in).
I know that we would have to get to Runcorn Station no later than 2.50pm to guarantee that Thomas could get a ticket and we could ensure PETER got safely onto the train. Since it was now 12.20, which meant that we would have to do the drive in one go, there was no room for any further delay. However, since a travel party is only as strong as its weakest bladder, everyone made a final dash to the loo and we off.
With the additional amount of running about that I’d had to do for PETER over the weekend, I told my travelling companions that I’d have to put some petrol in the car at the garage about a mile outside Portmeirion. PETER couldn’t understand this given that we had just under half a tank on board. What he failed to realise was that in rural North Wales, there could be 40 or 50 miles between fuel stations, and if we were to run out in the middle of nowhere….
The tank now full, off we went over some of the bumpiest roads known to mankind; traversing our way around random sheep, deep patches of water, low cloud and mist, not to mention the occasional cattle grid that played havoc with PETER’s bad back.
Mercifully, once the B Roads were negotiated safely and we reached the A5, and subsequently the A55 and laterally the M53, we were able to pick up speed and make up some time – in spite of the torrential rain and spray from the road. We inevitably pulled up outside Runcorn Station at 2.45 exactly. Whilst Thomas dashed inside to get his ticket, I helped PETER and his bags(!) out of the car and onto the platform, just as the train rounded the bend into the Station.
Once the two guys were safely on board, I climbed into the carriage to hastily plonk down PETER’s luggage, whilst he gave me a huge hug which I hastily had to get myself out of, as the door was about to shut and I’d soon find myself trapped and en route to Crewe!
My trip home was short tho’ not sweet, thanks in no small part to the road works and diversions caused by the soon-to-be completed Merseyside Gateway Bridge over the River Mersey. Thomas called the moment he and PETER arrived in London (the journey being just 1 hour, 50 minutes) to let me know that they’d arrived safe and sound.
Although those of us behind the scenes were paddling like crazy underneath, the general consensus from the fans, the event was a huge success. I guess that’s all that matters!
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