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I say, I say. . . he's the ruler of the Queen's Navee!

PUBLISHED: 16:20 18 March 2009 | UPDATED: 17:13 16 August 2010

BEST known for his 12-year stint playing portly butcher Fred, (I say, I say) Fred Elliot in top TV soap Coronation Street, actor John Savident is now finding his sea legs and donning a Bicorn hat to appear in a Gilbert and Sullivan s witty broadside at t

BEST known for his 12-year stint playing portly butcher Fred, (I say, I say) Fred Elliot in top TV soap Coronation Street, actor John Savident is now finding his sea legs and donning a Bicorn hat to appear in a Gilbert and Sullivan's witty broadside at the English class system HMS Pinafore.

The 71-year-old is playing First Lord of the Admiralty Sir Joseph Porter, an elitist aristocrat with an intriguing basis in real life.

"Sir Joseph Porter was actually based on WH Smith, who was a person who, of course, made a lot of money out of newspapers and stamps," explains John. "He was appointed the First Lord of the Admiralty knowing absolutely b****r all about the navy. He is also a terrible snob. Even Disraeli, the prime minister, used to call him Pinafore Smith because everybody knew that Sir Joseph Porter was a thinly disguised portrait of WH Smith."

Savident says he researched Smith in detail in preparation for the part but confesses to not having to look too far to find similar characters in the House of Parliament in modern times.

"Sir Joseph comes from a background where he doesn't know anything he is doing which is, of course, like any of our politicians today. So anybody who doesn't think very much of their local authority will see parallels in the mess-ups that go on in HMS Pinafore."

A former policeman, Savident first started acting as an amateur and since the early 1960s has appeared in a wide range of theatre, TV and film roles working with such greats as Laurence Olivier and Stanley Kubrick. It was in 1994 that he landed the role of the affable Fred Elliot in Coronation Street that made him a household name. Millions of viewers tuned in to watch Fred die of a heart attack as he was about to marry Bev Unwin (Susie Blake) when the actor left Weatherfield in 2006. Since then he has appeared in several TV series and made a triumphant return to theatre playing the title role in Hobson's Choice.

"n the 1960s there was still the repertory system where you could go and spend a year in one company playing all different kinds of roles and that's where I learnt my trade. I didn't go to a drama school, although they were available, I just was lucky to go into theatre.

"The thing about rep in those days was that you had a company that had to play all the different roles, including roles that you weren't suited for. You were forced to find a way of playing this role not only for your own sake but for the people that paid to go and see it. It was a very big learning curve."

With a career spanning five decades John's diverse background has certainly served him well and the veteran actor says he sometimes laments the lack of real actors appearing on our screens these days.

"One of the greatest compliments that I have had was when my family used to come and see me play they would say we completely forgot it was you. I had convinced them I was that character. Nowadays with some of the big names on the television what you see is what you get. People don't come into the business now to be the finest Hamlet of their generation they come in because they want to be famous. I think actors have missed a lot since the demise of the repertory system."

jason.goodyer@archnt.co.uk

* John Savident appears in HMS Pinafore at the Churchill Theatre in Bromley from Tuesday to Saturday (March 24 to 28). For more information or to book tickets call the box office on 0870 060 6620.

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