Friday, 11 July 2008

Harry Mowlam: Brute Of Beckindale

Ah, Beckindale in the early-to-mid 1980s...

Annie at her Aga, Amos behind the bar at the Woolpack, the Rev Donald Hinton being concerned for the spiritual welfare of his flock, our Jackie making a mess of things, Grandad Pearson making a crib for the Christmas nativity, Jack and Matt creosoting a fence and talking about the meaning of life...

1980s? Some said it was so sleepy it could almost have been the 1880s! As one viewer told Toke Townley: "Emmerdale Farm isn't about how life is, it's about how life should be."

Then, BANG! POW! the late 20th Century burst in, turning village life upside down, in the shape of Harry Mowlam.

Harry had a brief innings in the show in late 1983 and early 1984, when Matt and Dolly fell out with him over his mistreatment of his dog. But in 1985 he blew back in to Beckindale - worse than ever, chip firmly on shoulder.

Mr Mowlam had a cruel, villainous streak a mile wide and was quickly involved in a security van robbery.

As 1986 began, the man turned his venom back on to the Skilbecks - and finally there was a terrible fight with Matt, entirely initiated by Mr Mowlam, and the man ended up dead, with Matt accused of his murder...

Life in Beckindale had never been absolutely cosy - the early years of the programme had featured murder, suicide, rape, a teenage pregnancy, adultery, arson and a gun hold up. But Beckindale had never seen the likes of Harry Mowlam before.

The part was an acting triumph for Godfrey James - Mowlam, whether wallowing in self pity, bantering in the Woolpack, battering Matt Skilbeck or menacing Dolly, was absolutely believable, a bearded hulk of a man, as turbulent and changeable as the Yorkshire weather. And thoroughly twisted.

From the Yorkshire Evening Post Emmerdale Farm 1,000! supplement, 1985:

He's the nastiest man ever to walk the streets of Beckindale. A big, bearded loudmouth whose loathsome behaviour earned him a smack across the face from Dolly Skilbeck.

Godfrey James, who plays the hated Harry Mowlam, has even been spat at in the street by real-life old ladies who take exception to Harry's wild antics on the box.

"Mowlam is thoroughly hated," said Godfrey. "He's a nutcase. He's a bit touched."

Playing the villain comes easy to the surprisingly mild-mannered Godfrey. Off-screen, he's nothing like the man who gets up the noses of everybody down on the farm.

But bad guy parts have regularly come his way in films and TV.

And he's so convincing, it often lands him in trouble with people who can't tell the difference between fiction and reality.

He might have got spat at for looking like Mowlam, but his part as a hard man in "The Sweeney" almost got him beaten up in a London pub.

"I was down in the East End when these characters tried to have a go at me," he says. "They wanted to see how tough I was."

The East End is Godfrey's home ground. He was born there 54 years ago, the son of a greengrocer who, he says, "didn't like the idea of me becoming a woofter actor."

After a brief stint as Harry in Emmerdale Farm, Godfrey James was invited back a couple of years later for a longer run.

Filming in Yorkshire means long spells away from his home in Pevensey Bay, East Sussex, where he lives with his wife Vivienne - "she's a cracker" - and spends his leisure time at sea in his own fishing smack.

They've been married for 32 years and have a daughter, Tracy, 24, named after the film star Spencer Tracy. She works as a nurse.

He doesn't like hotels, so he's brought his caravan north and let it come to rest in a pub car park.

He's managed to convince the regulars that he's not quite as distasteful as Harry Mowlam. They even play dominoes with him.

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