Ian Ogilvy: Menace Unseen
Menace Unseen was a three part mini-series by Alan Seymour which first
aired on Britain's ITV network in 1988 and starred Ian Ogilvy alongside
Judy Bowker and John Sessions. This article is taken from the TV Times
(at the time Britain's leading listings magazine) for that week and all
copyrights remain theirs.
'What are you doing now that you've retired from acting?' Ian Ogilvy
was asked by a fan. Answer: acting, of course. The former Saint is alive,
well and still enjoying a busy career on stage and screen - as Sarah Gristwood
discovered on the set of ITV's new thriller.
Rotary blades whirr as the helicopter comes down to land on the private
pad and, by a hi-tech sleight of hand, is wafted along motorised runners
into the hanger. On the nearby pond, ducks start to quack as if in applause.
But this isn't Dallas or Denver - it's the heart of the Norfolk countryside,
a location for ITV's new thriller serial Menace Unseen.
Behind the helipad lie gardens, glasshouses and
a long line of garages where a Porsche and a Mercedes gleam and where a
fleet of scaled-down, fully working cars and caravans are fit for an infant
prince to play with.
On-screen, this is the home of a thoroughly modern
milionaire, a Richard Branson figure. Off-screen, the real-life set-up
isn't so different. The house is on loan from a man whose reputed resemblance
to Blake Carringston only reinforces the impression of Dynasty-style
'Did you know there is a five-pin bowling alley
here, with all the machinery?' Ian Ogilvy asks. To say nothing of the squash
court, badminton court, two swimming pools - and a satellite TV dish!
Menace Unseen, a story of murder and mystery,
is set in the contemporary world of computers. But none of its technological
tricks could outshine this location, nor the pleasure of finding Ian Ogilvy,
the Saint himself, back in action in a leading TV role after almost a decade
away on the stage.
Back in action? Well, there's not quite so
much of that this time.Ogilvy plays a computer entrepreneur whose partner's
death in suspicious circumstances sets him off on the investigative trail
assisted by the widow, Tessa, played by Judy Bowker. But, he says firmly,
'my character is not a gung-ho fighting man. And this isn't a Boys Own
'I get hurt occasionally. I'm not terribly good
at doing the things I'm trying to do. Time was, when I'd hit eight-foot
villains, they'd fall down.'
It is strange that 'time was,' in Ogilvy's rise
to fame, really refers to one series, made more than a decade ago, in which
Ian Ogilvy took over the role of Simon Templar from Roger Moore. However,
The Return of the Saint, was a long series and it left Ogilvy with
a character who won't go away.
'Before The Saint I was regarded quite seriously as an actor,'
Ogilvy was then the kind of promising name that
cropped up in BBC 2 serials such as I, Claudius. He has spent the past
eight or nine years trying to get his profession to take him seriously
again. But that doesn't mean he harbours regrets.
'It's dumb to have regrets,' he says, "And in any
case, whatever else The Return of the Saint did or didn't do, it
made me very, very well known. For an actor, that is the big thing.'
True - but being very very well known for just one
part can be a mixed blessing, as many actors have found out.
'In America, producers would have said, "We made
this man a star - now we'd better use him". Not so in Britain. After The
Saint, the television work I'd been doing before stopped stone dead.' To
the TV audiences who didn't see the other career he was building on stage,
he was out of sight, out of mind.
'"What are you doing now that you've retired from
acting?" someone once said to me.'
And if Ogilvy thought that was bad, how about this:
'One of the young actors on Menace Unseen (it turns out to be John
Sessions) asked me the other day how old I was. When I told him the answer
- 44 - he said, "You're very well preserved!" I felt like a pot of jam.
It was meant as flattery but I always thought it was something you said
about people in their 80s...'
It is typical of Ogilvy to take it with a smile.
Sitting in his caravan, specs on his nose and designer stubble on his chin,
he's clearly not the kind of man who relies on his face to make his fortune.
It may be the way other people see him but it's not the way he sees himself.
'Well preserved' implies a clinging to the past; Ogilvy has been moving
in new directions.
Writing has become a major interest. He was experimenting
with this and that, writing the odd magazine article, when he tried his
first play - an update of Noel Coward's Design for Living, in which
two of the main characters meet years later to reminisce after the death
of the woman they loved. 'The great thing about writing plays, rather than
acting in them,' Ogilvy sighs, 'is that you can earn your money by sitting
at home.' He is, on his own admission, lazy.
There are new directions in his personal life, too:
the break-up five years ago of his marriage to former model Diane left
him a born-again bachelor, a man about town.
'At the end of my marriage we were living in the
country,' he says. 'I spent all my time doing things I'd really rather
not be doing, like cutting trees down and mowing the lawn. We sold up and
split up - and then I discovered that Diane only lived there because she'd
thought I wanted to.'
Once on the loose, his name was linked with actress
Maria Aitken (whose BBC TV chat show Private Lives coincidentally
derived its title from a Coward play), with Ingrid Seward, editor of Majesty,
the monthly magazine about royalty, and, most recently, with Casualty
actress Julia Watson. For a while it was a social whirl, but you can't
keep going like that for the rest of your life.
'We married very young, so neither of us did the
usual fun things then,' he says. 'In middle age, I wanted to be 18 again
- but I didn't have the stamina. I'm not fundamentally a very social person.'
And though he clearly enjoys the quieter pleasures
of leisure, such as meals with friends, these days he's as likely as not
to be found lounging in the West London flat he shares with his word processor.
'The first week I had it I almost threw it out of
the window,' he confesses. But once he'd adjusted himself to the way a
computer 'thinks', it became invaluable to him.
Anything you see a computer do in Menace Unseen
can be done, he points out, but you don't need specialist knowledge to
enjoy the series, nor, indeed, to act in it. 'The secret of looking as
if you know what you're doing with a keyboard is just to move your fingers
over it very quickly.'
Appropriately enough for an 'action' actor and former
pupil of 'Sloane Tech' (better know to the rest of us as Eton), Ogilvy's
other off-duty pursuits are glamorous ones. But he doesn't indulge them
that often. He skis, he rides now and then and he's what he describes as
a 'fair-weather' scuba diver, the kind who only likes tropical reefs.
'The trouble is that all the things I like doing
cost so much,' he says. Which may not be a problem for long.
Menace Unseen finished shooting on a Friday,
and by Monday Ogilvy was on the set of Maigret, the new series about
the old detective, starring Richard Harris, which starts on ITV in three
The shooting schedule was highly pressured - 'it's
amazing how much you can fit into a day.' The setting, a cruise ship which
cooped up cast, crew and paying passengers to wrestle with their sea-sickness,
would have been disastrous if everyone hadn't got on so well.
Ogilvy's role, he says, isn't an attractive one
- 'a paranoid, middle-aged businessman. A Mr. Grumpy.' But he is clearly
delighted with it, all the same.
'In theatre, I'm taking this kind of part more and
more,' he says. 'It's only dear old telly that still thinks of me the way
I was 12 years ago. These days I do play middle-aged businessmen with grown-up
daughters.' And why not? He has, in real life, a grown-up son and stepdaughter.
And for several years he's been only too aware that he 'can't go
on playing dashing juveniles forever'.
Ian Ogilvy's certainly come a long way from the
kid he once was, whose driving force was a passion for motorbikes.
His career is on the up and up - most actors would
give their eye teeth to be in solid work for seven months - and he's in
charge of his life.
In 1988, Ian Ogilvy isn't just acting his
age. He's come of age, too.