Game of Thrones: ‘It’s a hard act to follow’ ...

Peter Vaughan at his home in Mannings Heath SUS-160519-112648001

Peter Vaughan at his home in Mannings Heath SUS-160519-112648001

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His acting career started at the tender age of five when he recited a poem at school ... but now at the age of 93 retirement is still not looming for stage and screen star Peter Vaughan.

But, he admits: “Game of Thrones is going to be a hard act to follow.”

Peter played the role of Maester Aemon in the acclaimed fantasy television series for five years until his character was finally killed off.

Now, he says, he’s in “semi retirement, but you never know, I could do a Sinatra and come back again.”

Peter, who lives at Mannings Heath, near Horsham, West Sussex, with his wife, fellow actor Lillias Walker, and pet miniature poodle Ben, has a glittering CV spanning decades with never a time when he was ‘resting.’

“I’ve been very fortunate,” he says.

He gets fan mail from all over the world with a whole new generation of followers thanks to Game of Thrones “the most successful production in television for many years which is shown in 180 countries throughout the world.”

Peter’s character Aemon Targaryen is blind - with Peter himself only partially sighted in real life - and is part of the Night’s Watch, a kind of Foreign Legion.

But Game of Thrones is only the latest in a massive list of highly acclaimed appearances on stage, radio, television and film.

One of his best-known roles was that of Harry Grout - Grouty - in the television comedy Porridge.

“Working with Ronnie Barker and dear Beckinsale was a great experience because they were so brilliant together.”

His was not a big role, but says Peter, “I was astonished at the impact my character had made, and for the first time I had to experience recognition wherever I went. ‘Let you out, have they Grouty?’ was a favourite one, and still is even today.” But ask him his favourite roles throughout his 77-year-long acting career of comedy and drama and it’s a difficult choice. He played the prospective father in law to Robert Lindsay in Citizen Smith and spent two years alongside Clive Owen in the TV series Chancer.

“Perhaps one of my real favourites was Our Friends In The North,” he says where he worked alongside Bond star Daniel Craig, playing the father in law of Christopher Eccleston.

“I played a hard nut with Alzheimers. It was the first time that had been done. We worked tremendously well together.”

Another of his favourites was the role of Antony Hopkins’ father in Remains Of The Day and he had “eight happy months making Straw Dogs”, the controversial film directed by Sam Peckinpah “one of the best directors ever. To have had a chance to work with him was wonderful.”

Another memorable film was The Naked Runner with Frank Sinatra.”It was his film. His money behind it. You didn’t argue with Frank.”

But Peter did at one point query the way Sinatra was delivering a line. “We looked at each other for what seemed an eternity and then he said ‘OK, you’re right.’ From then on we got on. He liked people to stand up to him.”

But Peter ended up having to write the end of the film, along with the director, after Sinatra had a row with some paparazzi and went off to Hollywood.

“But he was an immensely talented person,” said Peter. “He had a photographic memory and always just wanted to do one take.”

And what of the challenges of acting? Surely having to learn lines is one of the most difficult things? “Learning lines is easy,” says Peter. “It’s how you say them that’s difficult.”

Many of Peter’s encounters with fellow stars are recounted in his autobiography - Once A Villain - which is on sale in hardback now at Waterstones, via Amazon and from publishers Fantom Films, priced £19.99.

A book-signing in London has already sold out but Peter is hoping to stage another in Crawley or Horsham in the near future.

He says that he decided to write his autobiography because after so many years of being a character actor, he thought it might help him to find his real self.

And, did he do it? “From writing the book I discovered that I went from an arrogant young man to a slightly less arrogant old man.

“I also found out that when I was young I thought all my opinions were right, now I know most of them are not.”

Peter has lived and worked all over the world, but Sussex is now well and truly home.

He was born Peter Ohm in Wem in Shropshire. But he and second wife Lillias - he was formerly married to actress Billie Whitelaw - brought up their son and Peter’s two stepdaughters in Crawley where they lived at Goffs Manor for 20 years.

They have now lived at Mannings Heath near Horsham for the past eight years having previously moved all over the world. Did the lure of Hollywood ever appeal as ‘home’? ... “Oh, good God, I wouldn’t want to live in America for long.”

Sussex, he says, “is a beautiful county. We love it. It has glorious countryside and we live in a nice relaxed friendly village with lovely people. We’re very happy here.”

And what of his old Crawley home? “It’s a restaurant now. We often go there for a meal. They have done it very well. They’ve extended it a bit.

“We’re very happy it’s a restaurant because it lay fallow for a few years before the brewery took it over. We’re very pleased it’s so popular now as a restaurant. We wouldn’t have wanted it turned into a block of flats.”

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