Saturday, 16 March 2013


Norman Rodway

"The other day I took down my copy of Who's Who in the Theatre, looked for the Rs and found 'RODWAY, Norman'.  An impressive list of credits.  Then Recreations; Friends, family, wine and Mozart. Club ... Gerry's.

I looked up at the point because I could swear I heard a familiar chuckle.  A chuckle nicely described by Michael Pennington in his lovely piece in the Guardian last week.  He put his finger too on the dichotomy in the essential Rodway. I quote: 'He had a conviction that everything was a form of comedy, including tragedy, but this red-blooded manner hid a spirit almost too delicate and fine'.  I wish I'd written that.

He brought me to London in February 1963 to play Cranly opposite his Stephen D, releasing me from an eight-year incarceration in the Abbey Theatre.  He took London by storm, moving Kenneth Tynan to remark, 'henceforth, Finney had better look to his laurels and O'Toole his Lawrence'. He had arrived in style.

I'll give you an example of Norman's sense of devilment.  Michael Aspel was interviewing me for some radio station.  The format required me to nominate two people who would speak highly about me at the top of the interview.  I nominated Josephine Hart and Norman Rodway.  Josephine said something sweet,  if a bit fulsome.  Then Norman spoke: I have known McKenna for thirty years. In fact, he was my lodger for a while.  We called him 'Slippers', or the 'Muesli Man',  the latter because of his habit of having a healthy breakfast of muesli, yoghurt and honey in the belief that this would offset the effects of the bottle of vodka he had the night before. This went out on air.

Norman joined the RSC here in Stratford in 1966.  He had found his spiritual home.  The next five years were,  I believe, the happiest in his professional life.  He loved the company spirit and he was now immersed in his beloved Shakespeare.

In a radio broadcast during that time he spoke movingly of the joys of driving out of Woodstock down the A34,   Vivaldi's Four Seasons pouring from the radio, and the Oxfordshire countryside spread out before him,  as he exclaimed,  Fore God, you have here a goodly dwelling, and a rich.*

He never lost his love for this part of England, nor his fierce loyalty to the compnay that would make him an Honorary Associate Member.  I was not surprised when he moved to the Old Thatch in Lower Tadmarton.  He was happy there, with his beloved Jane.

I saw him less often in later years, but the phone calls were frequent.  'Is your appalling father there, or is he still in his pit?' was a normal enquiry.

Norman was part of the furniture of my life for forty years, and will remain so, because as someone said, He may have left us, but I don't have to believe it if I don't want to." 

(TP McKenna.)

TP was speaking at a Service of Commemoration held at the Holy Trinity Church, Stratford-upon-Avon on Wednesday, 21st March 2001.

* The quotation is spoken by Falstaff in "Henry IV, Part II: Act 5, Scene 3" (Shakespeare)

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