David Griffin

By Jeremy Miles

Veteran actor David Griffin was delighted when he realised that the national tour of Daphne Du Maurier's September Tide would spend a week playing Lighthouse in Poole.

For not only does the former Hi-de-Hi star love being by the sea on the south coast but the area has many happy memories for him - it was where he launched his showbusiness career more than four decades ago.

Not that all the memories are entirely positive. His very first job, as an assistant in an ice-skating chimpanzee act at Bournemouth's Westover Road ice rink, nearly ended in disaster.

"I suppose that was the start to what is laughingly called my career." he chuckled. "Let's put it this way. I soon realised why my predecessor had left the job.

"The chimps hated being in that act. I still have a scar to this day.

"Eventually I took to always having two or three bananas discreetly scattered around my costume. I'd reach for one at the first sign of trouble."

Talking chimpanzees with Griffin is a little like one imagines David Attenborough might be on Grumpy Old Men.

He's really very knowledgeable... in a world-weary kind of way. And he has a wealth of advice should you ever find yourself an unwitting guest at a chimps' tea party.

"People are under the misapprehension that when chimpanzees bare their teeth at you they're happy because it looks like they're smiling. Don't believe it. They're not," he warns me. "Nine times out of 10 it means they want to tear you to pieces."

And he points out: "When they bare their teeth at each other it's a sign of defiance and aggression so, whatever you do, don't smile back. it just gives them the excuse they need to go for you."

He's certainly never forgotten those early days. He says that years later, while working on the TV sitcom Keeping up Appearances, he told Patricia Routledge about his experiences with the skating chimps.

"She said Well dear, nothing's changed has it? You're still skating on thin ice with a bunch of monkeys'."

That's as may be, but one suspects Griffin wouldn't have it any other way. He clearly enjoys taking the rough with the smooth. He's certainly thrilled that this latest stage tour in which he stars alongside Kate O'Mara is playing Poole.

"It's lovely to be able to mess around down by the marina. I hate to be cooped up in a city when the sun's shining."

The trouble is, he says, that some of the best theatres are in the grimmest cities. He reels off a list of locations which he says are "desperately depressing". However, he reckons that Poole offers the best of both worlds - a lovely location and a decent theatre.

© Jeremy Miles 2022