An interesting job came my way last week while on duty for Greenway Ferry on their Agatha Christie vintage bus service. Richard Wilson, probably most famous for his portrayal of Victor Meldrew in the TV sitcom ‘One Foot in the Grave‘, is making a new travel documentary for ITV and he visited Greenway House as part of his tour of Britain.
I had been forewarned about his visit but, other than that, it was a fairly normal day on the bus. I usually turn up for duty at around 08:30 and, as I arrived, one of my colleagues had just finished giving ‘the old girl’ a wash and she was sparkling in the early morning sunshine. After doing my daily checks and collecting a list of pre-booked passengers I set off in first gear up the steep, narrow lane that connects Greenway Quay to the rest of the road-going world.
At that time in the morning there was little traffic about so I stopped on Paignton seafront to wait time. I was a bit apprehensive about Richard’s visit because I’d heard that he wanted to talk to me as we were travelling along. I really wasn’t sure how that would work out as it is so noisy in the cab. I had all morning to ponder on this as he wasn’t due to board the bus until the afternoon.
I picked up about half a busload of passengers in Torquay and headed back to Greenway. I’m gradually getting used to giving a commentary as I drive but it’s still the most difficult part of the job at the moment. Next came a trip back to Paignton seafront for the 11:00 departure but there were only 4 people waiting this time. Then came a trip into Brixham where I picked up about 15 passengers from the stop beside the quay. As I turned the bus outside the new Fish Market, many cameras pointed my way as tourists tend to congregate here as they wait for boat trips.
One of the most pleasant parts of the job is that I get to sit in the gardens at Greenway for my lunch and today it was really warm in the sunshine. All too soon it was time to head back to Torquay with my passengers. At the stop near Torquay harbour I was met by Ellie, one of the TV production team. She told me that Richard and the film crew wanted to board the bus outside the Grand Hotel so I gave my usual welcome and introduction over the tannoy. As we approached the Grand Hotel, which is where the newlywed Agatha and Lt Archie Christie spent their honeymoon night, I was told that Richard was outside the main entrance and that they wanted to film our arrival. This was a bit off-route as we usually sail past the hotel on the seaward side. Anyway, I saw a man beckoning me on (he turned out to be the director) so I drove up to where they stood. After some discussion about how we were going to turn the bus around, they filmed Richard Wilson climbing aboard. He’d already been told my name so he reached through the gap behind my seat and shook my hand. “Good afternoon John, I gather you’re to take us to Greenway,” he said in his distinctive Greenock accent.
As we continued towards Greenway, Richard was filmed talking to some of the other passengers so my commentary was sporadic because I didn’t want to cut in with the tannoy and spoil the filming. Ellie, who had been sitting behind me, asked if Richard could come and ask me some questions so I pulled into a bus layby while they got set up. I told them that it was noisy in the cab and that I might not hear what Richard was saying but they were keen to give it a try so I was fitted with a lapel mic and I continued through Goodrington and Churston Ferrers. This was the most difficult part of the filming, as I struggled to hear Richard’s voice. Not only that, but I had to concentrate on driving safely as well as talking to him! I think I made a fair attempt at answering his questions intelligently. Perhaps you can judge when the episode airs in the autumn!
Once we had arrived at Greenway the passengers disappeared into the House but the film crew set up to record our ‘arrival’. With someone watching behind to make sure I didn’t run into any unsuspecting visitors, I reversed back along the driveway and awaited the signal to proceed. Starting gently in 3rd gear as if arriving normally, I pulled up beside the camera position. Richard alighted with a wave and a ‘thank you’ to me before he walked away.
Of course the passengers were delighted to have been involved and, later that afternoon, we chatted about the conversations they’d had with our celebrity visitor. I found him a very charming chap to deal with and the crew were easy to work with too. Fortunately the bus and I were able to deliver everything they needed and they seemed pleased with the results.
The rest of the day passed uneventfully and, as the late afternoon bathed the quay, I decided to take a photo of the bus with my little Morris Minor in the background. I will try to pass on the broadcast date of Richard Wilson’s visit to Greenway House when the info is published.