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Maurice Roeves - Just A Gigolo

The last time Maurice Roeves appeared at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe 
was in Gregory Burke's debut play, Gagarin Way. While the sell-out run 
at the Traverse introduced the world to a raw new writing talent in 
John Tiffany's production, for Roeves, an even more significant moment 
came at the end of the play's run. That was when he and his partner, 
Veronica Rawlings-Jackson, tied the knot, with a civil ceremony that 
took place in the upstairs foyer of the Traverse itself.

“Vanessa and I knew each other years ago,” says Roeves, “but I was 
having too good a time after my divorce [from Scots actor Jan Wilson], 
and she went off and got married, and that seemed to be that. Then, 
years later, I was doing a play in Kilburn, and she walked in to the 
theatre. I recognised her, and things took their course. We were the 
first people to get married in the Traverse after the law changed.

A decade on, Roeves and Rawlings-Jackson are still together, and are 
the joint driving force behind Roeves' solo turn in Just A Gigolo, a 
new play by Stephen Lowe based on the life of Angelo Ravagli, regarded 
by some as the inspiration for Mellors, the gamekeeper who conducts a 
cross-class affair with his titled mistress in DH Lawrence's scandalous 
novel, Lady Chatterley's Lover.  If in Lawrence's book Mellors 
reflected a mixture of both Ravagli and Lawrence, in real life, Ravagli 
conducted a long-term affair with Lawrence's aristocratic wife, Frieda 
von Richthofen, with the pair eventually marrying after Lawrence's 

It was only after von Richtofen's death that Ravagli came into full 
possession of nine small paintings by Lawrence, which are still barred 
 from being seen in public in the UK due to their apparent obscenity. It 
is this that forms the backdrop to Lowe's new play.

“Nobody's done anything on Mellors,” Roeves says of Lawrence's 
fictional alter ego of Ravagli. “It was always about Lawrence and 
Frieda, but in a way Ravagli is more interesting. Stephen has written 
two other plays about Lawrence [Fox and the Little Vixens and Empty Bed 
Blues], so we went up to Taos in New Mexico, where my wide and I have a 
property, and I met a lady who was going to be a hundred years old the 
next day. She knew Frieda, as well as Ravagli, and I said to her, did 
he flirt with you, and she kind of blushed.

“He was quite a character, apparently. He was a great dancer, a 
painter, and full of mischief. He was apparently very good with his 
hands, and built a ranch. He did like the women a lot as well. He was 
nearly thrown out of the States because of what was described as his 
moral turpitude, so Frieda decided to marry  him to keep him there. But 
the shadow of Lawrence was always there, and Ravagli was the one in the 
background, serving the wine and everything.”

Now aged seventy-five, after a career that took him from his native 
Sunderland to Hollywood via a Glasgow boyhood, Roeves remains most 
familiar in the UK for his role as over the hill rocker Vincent Diver 
in John Byrne's seminal 1980s TV drama, Tutti Frutti. In fact, Roeves' 
small-screen career dates back to the mid 1960s with guest roles in the 
original series of Dr Finlay's Casebook. With post Tutti Frutti cameos 
in Baywatch, Cheers and Star Trek: The Next Generation, Roeves also 
played a down at heel God in The Granton Star Cause, one section of the 
big-screen version of Irvine Welsh's book, The Acid House, and Chief 
Superintendant Duckenfield, the police chief at the centre of events 
recreated in Hillsborough, Jimmy McGovern's dramatisation of real life 
events leading up to ninety-six football supporters being crushed to 
death in 1989.

More recently, Roeves' marriage has brought him even closer to home.

“My greatest memory is of doing pantomime at Glasgow Pavilion,” Roeves 
says. “Afterwards, Jack Milroy and everyone was backstage, and they all 
gave me a big hug and said welcome to the club. That meant everything 
to me. But when I did that after doing Shakespeare and working for so 
long in Hollywood, someone said to me that my career must have been 
slipping. I said, bollocks, it's an honour to be at the Pavilion, but 
that's what you come up against when you do work like that. It's a 
class system.”

Roeves' first brush with theatre came after he left the army following 
his national service. He joined amateur drama clubs in Glasgow with the 
idea he might meet some girls, then realised he quite liked acting 
enough to take it seriously.

“One thing led to another, and I ended up at drama school, then went to 
the Citizens Theatre. I was on ten quid a week. That paid my rent, 
food, booze. That was all I needed.”

If class snobbery is something Roeves recognises, it was also at the 
heart of both DH Lawrence's canon and Gagarin Way. The latter, about a 
group of disgruntled Fifers whose botched kidnap of an international 
industrialist, originally played by Roeves, provokes an ideological 
debate, is now considered a contemporary classic.

Following it's Traverse run, Gagarin Way transferred to the National 
Theatre, although its run was cut short, possibly in light of the 
terrorist attack on the World Trade Centre in New York that September.

In the last decade, Roeves has appeared in the likes of Hallam Foe, as 
well as guest-starring in Brian Elsley's high-octane teen drama Skins 
alongside fellow Gagarin Way actor Michael Nardone. Outside of work, 
Roeves suffered a cancer scare which one might have expected to slow 
him down.  For Roeves, however, such a close brush with death only 
seems to have fuelled his determination to live.

“I don't want to die yet,” he says. “I enjoy living too much. The one 
lesson that nobody else teaches you is that when you're in your 
sixties, trying to handle old age is difficult. I learnt that five 
years ago when I had my cancer operation. I had half a lung taken out, 
and now I don’t have cancer anymore. I'm healthy, but I had to battle 
through it, and then I immediately got cast in The Damned United, and 
was running about a football field.”

For the future, Roeves is happy to wait and see what happens with Just 
A Gigolo. It's already received a successful reading at a Lawrence 
symposium in Nottingham, and there is talk of it travelling beyond 
Edinburgh. If not, Roeves has a crazy notion of doing an improvised 
comedy act.

“It'd be great to be a stand-up,” he laughs. “You wouldn't write a 
script. You'd just sit in an old bath-chair and say, 'I'm your comic 
for the night,' then make things up.

“These are the crazy ideas you get. I suppose the older you get, you 
can't always be bothered, but you make yourself do it. Another thing 
you discover as you get older is that, even though you may be in your 
early sixties, and you're cast as someone ion their forties as I have, 
as soon as someone starts going on about your real age, you can lose 
work. But I've got to the age now where it doesn't matter. In a way 
it's an advantage, and to be honest I don't feel any different now to 
when I was younger.”

Maurice Roeves: Just A Gigolo, Assembly George Square, August 1-27, 
The Herald, August 16th 2012



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