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Radio Times, 10 March 1966

text: Tony Aspler

Softly, Softly

Alexis Kanner of Softly, Softly

BBC 1, 8 pm, Wednesday, March 16, 1966

Pop success has smiled on Alexis Kanner: it has made an idol of Stone and accomplished in a few episodes of Softly, Softly what seven years of repertory companies and theatrical barnstorming had merely hinted at. Alexis Kanner – a stage name he might well have chosen for himself were it not his own – has a list of stage credits as impressive as they are varied.

The theatre critics discovered the twenty-three-year-old actor before television, as a random look through his press cuttings will prove. He was ‘a Hotspur to be admired, even at his most outrageous’; ‘a repellently real Caliban’; ‘an E-type Hamlet’ under Peter Brook’s direction in the Theatre of Cruelty: he played the melancholy prince (his favourite role) in a clown’s make-up.

Kanner enormously enjoys the fruits of his television success – though his growing personal fan mail and female adulation (he had the buttons torn off his jacket by a scrimmage of rampant schoolgirls at Baker Street Tube Station!) are symptoms of a type of recognition which to him is deeply suspect. (‘Nobody savages Laurence Olivier in the Tube, do they?’ he asked rhetorically.) Yet with a nice sense of self-mockery he has accepted an offer by the Rolling Stones’ manager to record the Softly, Softly theme song, and more besides. He will sing it to you in a rich baritone, in public, on request.

Stone, for Kanner, is something of a Walter Mitty part. ‘I’d like to think that Stone is different, but I’m told we’re very much alike.’ A fact that doesn’t seem to dismay him. ‘You see, he doesn’t stand on ceremony. He can tell the wood from the trees. What makes him such a useful member of the Crime Squad is that he thinks like a criminal,’ Kanner said, in a Canadian accent flattened out at Stratford Ontario’s Shakespearean Theatre.

To pick up Stone’s West-Country burr Kanner went to Bristol ‘and got stoned with a river patrol-man,’ he said, oblivious to the pun. ‘After six pints, I was speaking like him and he was speaking like a Shakespearean actor. . . . You know, I haven’t got one interest. I don’t own a book or a picture. I’m only alive when I’m acting. I’ve never been out of work. I’ve never starved.’ Nor is there any likelihood of that – film offers are in the wind and the West-End stage is beckoning.

If Kanner is mindful of his debt to Stone, so is he aware of its limitations: ‘If you invade millions of living-rooms on a Wednesday night you’re everybody’s property – they expect you to be civil to them in the streets. Now policemen look sideways when I wear my sheepskin outside, but then just because you get fan mail and the journalists say you’re a sex symbol that doesn’t change the colour of next year’s lawnmowers or the price of eggs, now does it?’

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