Radio Times, 7/20/72

by Eithne Power

"The only real Irishman is a man with an English mother"


Superficially, all Cyril Cusack and James Booth seem to have in common is an affectionate admiration for Johnny Speight, their scriptwriter for the five part Them.

"The minute I met the bold Johnny Speight I said to myself, Brendan Behan and himself could have been cell-mates," says Cusack.

Booth's friendship with Speight goes back to a Ken Russell film, French Dressing.  Now they're business associates in a company called Speijim.

How did they get on, Cusack the quintessence of an Irishman and Booth the archetypal Englishman?  "Famously," they chorus, "we're professionals."

"What's this Irish bit?" says Booth.  "Cyril's mother is English."

"Isn't that just my point," cries Cusack.  "Everyone knows that the only real Irishman is a man with an English mother."

Perhaps because Coat Sleeves, the Irish tramp played by Cusack, has no such redeeming feature, he's out of the same mould as his Cockney colleague.  "The Dublin jackeen and the Cockney layabout are one and the same," says Cusack.

"It's a fact," says Booth firmly, "that the Cockneys were originally the Irish who came pouring over to London in bad times and climbed over the city walls at night to get in windows and restore the monetary balance--they became known as the cockey Irish, am I right Cyril?"

But when they took a break in a pub during filming, Cusack realized for the first time what it was to be one of Them.  "I'd modeled myself ," he says, "on a Dublin character called Johnny 40 Coats, a pietistic vagrant who travelled on the trams calling  on the girls to lengthen their skirts--before miniskirts were dreamt of.

"So there we were standing at the bar, me sweating in six layers of coats, James more debonaire in battered homburg, green morning coat and monocle, when this fearsome-looking barman caught sight of us.  "Out," he said, "and fast, or your feet won't touch the ground."  Out we'd have been, too, if producer Dennis Main Wilson hadn't arrived and explained we were actors."

"We weren't even smelling," says Booth, still aggrieved, "unless you can count light ale."

In real life there's a nice contrast between Cusack's and Booth's lifestyles.  Booth lives with his wife and four children in a 15-room Elizabethan house set in four acres of Buckinghamshire, drives a Jaguar and is currently engaged in a mortal tussle with his daughter about the purchase of a pony.

Cusack finds that the older he gets the more he travels.  But when he does touch down, he either visits his family in Dublin or goes to ground in the basement of his house in Islington. For getting round he likes "the old bike" and daughter Sinead and himself make frequent forays into the City.

"Before I take off for filming in South America, I'll hand the whole place over to an architect and say make me a gracious Edwardian dwelling.

"Then I'll move upstairs and get down to my poetry and my book.  My first collection of poems was called Timepieces; at the rate I'm going the second will be Overtimepieces."

Booth, in the meantime, is finishing a run of Joan Littlewood's The Hostage--playing an Irishman--and getting into training for a film his company hopes to make.

"There are two ways of opting out," he says.  "You can drop out like Them, or you can work hard enough to be free.  For myself I prefer to sit in my Elizabethan inglenook sipping a pink gin, planning my own kind of future."