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Old hall inspires comic play

PUBLISHED: 16:43 30 September 2009 | UPDATED: 15:52 16 August 2010

AN ACTOR whose parents wrote a play inspired by his childhood home has taken on the role of director for its latest tour. Simon Williams is directing The Grass is Greener, at The Churchill theatre, Bromley, which was written by his playwright parents, Hu

AN ACTOR whose parents wrote a play inspired by his childhood home has taken on the role of director for its latest tour.

Simon Williams is directing The Grass is Greener, at The Churchill theatre, Bromley, which was written by his playwright parents, Hugh and Margaret Williams and inspired by Cobham Hall where the family lived.

As a child, Mr Williams lived in one of the Tudor wings of the famous country house near Gravesend during the mid 1950s while his father Hugh penned the play under the watchful eye of his mother.

The play, which was critically acclaimed in the West End before being made into a film starring Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr, is a romantic comedy about a hard-up Earl who is forced to open his stately home to the public, plunging his life into chaos.

Recalling his time at Cobham Hall aged nine, Mr Williams said: "The three-bedroom flat we had was at the top of 100 stairs and it was cold and drafty. The Earl of Darnley, lived below.

"Mother had to lug all the shopping up those flights of stairs to the top. It was an extraordinary house for children to play and live in.

"It was a pretty grim time for my parents. Dad had been pretty successful as an actor before the war but then afterwards he had lost all his contacts and wasn't young anymore.

"So he decided to sit down in a drafty room with his overcoat on and write a play. My mother was more of guide, checking on him to make sure he was making steady progress, page by page.

"Looking back I appreciate how difficult it was for them, but my mother made sure the children had a happy upbringing."

In The Churchill's production, Christopher Cazanove plays the English Earl whose wife (Liza Goddard) falls for an American millionaire (Jack Ellis) when their home is opened up to the public.

In a frantic effort to save his marriage, the Earl decides to host a house party enlisting the help of an old flame.

Mr Williams said: "The inspiration for the play, people living in strained circumstances drinking cuppa soup, with an impoverished Earl in a stately home is true. The romantic elements are fictional.

"Comedy is a very difficult skill to master, Chris is very good at it. Cary Grant also had that quality that even when things are down, life is for living.

"My father has been dead for over 40 years but his work lives on."

Cobham Hall remained the family home of the Earls of Darnley until 1957 and the Williams' family's old flat is now a sixth form dormitory in an independent girls' boarding and day school.

The current building consists of a pair of Tudor wings built for William Brooke, 10th Baron Cobham in the 16th century and a later classical central block, and a kitchen court to the rear added in 1771-73.

* The Grass is Greener is at The Churchill until this Saturday, October 3. Call Ticket Sales on 08448 717 620.

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