PLAY LUCKY: Celebrating 75 years in showbiz with Ray Cooney O.B.E

‘I was born in 1932 and been in the business since I was 14 years old. When I was 18 I had to do National Service for a couple of year, you had to do that after the Second World War’.

London born Ray remembers his roots and where his life on stage began…

‘Originally the family were Irish and came over to Jarrow in the North East where my Dad was born, then he hitch hiked down to London to get work. After I completed my National Service I went up north and joined a repertory company in Blackburn for a couple of year, before auditioning for Brian Rix at London’s Whitehall Theatre where I ended up staying for seven years’.

Comedy and farce are the backbone of Ray’s work but a rock n roll swerve in 1977 saw a musical celebrating the life of Elvis Presley. The show opened at London’s Astoria Theatre with pop stars Shakin’ Stevens and PJ Proby playing the Elvis role in different stages of his life. Europe, Australia, Canada and Japan tours quickly followed.

‘I enjoyed the Elvis show so much. We got in touch with his agent and asked to put a show on about his life and he said sure go for it. So we went ahead and here we are over 40 years later talking about it’.

Having previously written with Tony Hilton and John Chapman, I then started to write my first solo play which was ‘Run For Your Wife’, that ended up running for nine years in London. We also had a six week run in New York and that went well, really delightful’.

Various TV and film stars appeared in the 1982 and 83 productions of ‘Run For Your Wife’ including Richard Briers (The Good Life, Ever Decreasing Circles), Bernard Cribbins (Carry On, Tales of the Unexpected) Bill Pertwee (Dad’s Army) and Carol Gill (Robin’s Nest, Carry On).

The show was first performed at the Windsor then promoted to the Shaftsbury Theatre, London.

‘My process is I write the play, then have a rehearsed reading which we do in my house or garden, I always play in it, and that’s where I get a real good feel for it. I do a re-write then we go to Guildford or Windsor Theatre and do a three week production’.

‘After that I do a re-write then a short six week tour and another re-write. By the time we come to do it in the West End it’s really, really polished and the play is then set in stone’.

‘The premise is basically simple and that’s why they play so well, in fact my plays are played all around the world, and in Poland ‘Run For Your Wife’ has been playing for over 27 years and is still running’.  

‘Also in Russia my plays, play for months and months and they love them – because the basic premise is so easy to understand’.

‘The well-known actors who I’ve worked with in the past, like Richard Briers and Donald Sindon, know what I’ve done with the play so respect it and rehearsals are really fun. Plus any producer who does them knows what would have gone in to them’.

With a skill set of actor, writer and director, Ray added producer, with west end credits including Chicago, Andy Capp, Elvis, Jack the Ripper and Birds of Paradise. Is he thinking of slowing down ?

‘I’m not writing anymore, I don’t have the feeling to write, but there is a lovely little dinner theatre near Reading called The Mill at Sonning Theatre. They love doing my plays there and I always go down to see them’.

‘I’ve directed a couple there and even though they were written years ago they still play wonderfully well. They do dinner before the show and it’s around £60 a ticket – it’s always packed out’.

‘Looking back I’ve been very fortunate over the years because my plays are done all over the world. I’ve been really, really lucky – you betcha’.

For more info on Ray check his official website, Facebook and Twitter accounts:

Ray Cooney

Interview by Gary Alikivi  September 2021.

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