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Weekend, 8–14 March 1967

text: Michael Kirsch

Alexis Kanner, Weekend

Star of stage, screen and labour exchange – that’s  Alexis Kanner

He found fame as Matt Stone, TV’s kinkiest copper. And he’s been doing some pretty odd things since – like turning down £111,000-worth of work because ‘nothing I want can be purchased’.

The young actor was just finishing his lonely half-pint in a West End pub when he sensed he was being watched.

A bulky, sinister man, with black, shoulder-length air and black fingernails, was eyeing him in a fashion to match.

The actor withdrew discreetly into the men’s wash-room. He didn’t want any trouble. Trouble is OK on television, but who needs it in real life? Certainly not an actor whose face is his fortune.

To the actor’s horror, the burly beatnik type followed. The actor backed away, scared, as the long-haired man reached into his inside pocket and pulled out – a  police warrant card.

‘In our outfit down at the Yard, you would be known as a square,’ said the ‘beatnik’.

The warrant card showed that the ‘beatnik’ was really a young detective sergeant in the Flying Squad.

Without another word, the detective in disguised stalked out of the wash-room.

‘I thought he was going to beat me up or something,’ said the actor, whose name is Alexis Kanner. ‘But he was just trying to make a point.’

The point – as Kanner sees it – is this: real detectives have to adopt roles that are so far ‘out’ nobody – lease of all a criminal – would ever believe it. Until it is too late.

And yet Kanner, a Canadian, claims he was sacked from the BBC’s Softly, Softly series for over-playing an undercover detective.

Remember Kanner? He was that weird chap with the string tie who smoked cheroots and talked with a broad, West Country accent. He drifted about eh screen under the name of Matt Stone, catching criminals as easily as some men catch cold.

When they brought Kanner into the series, they knew he was good. He was one of the Royal Shakespeare Company’s most brilliant actors.

Unfortunately, instead of rising at the usual police rate – constable to inspector in about 20 years if he was lucky and willing – Kanner went off like a rocket.

Dramatically speaking he shot around the legs of the rest of the cast, singeing their turn-ups and frightening them all to death.

There were protests from his fellow actors. Constables should know their place – any chief super will tell you that.

It wasn’t just the cheroots and his string tie. It was him. He was too good. Too much of a character Too popular by half.

Why, after his second appearance on our screens, he had a fan club. And it was said there were discontented rumblings from somewhere near the top at Scotland Yard.

The story went that the top brass felt Kanner’s Matt Stone was harming the police image. They didn’t want us to think any copper could be as kinky as that.

It would seem that once villains realise that even the nuttiest looking freak might be a policeman, undercover work becomes even more difficult and dangerous than it is now.

However that may be, Mr Kanner, television’s cop with a kin, was written out of the series. Quick.

That was in April last year. Since then Kanner was worked only once – for 10 days in a small play at the Arts Theatre Club.

His Softly, Softly record goes something like this:

Episode one: A short appearance, but already the rest of the cast was worried.

Episode two: The Alexis Kanner fan club started up.

Episode three: Kanner ate alone in the BBC canteen.

Episode our: Several well-known BBC people were not talking to Kanner.

Episode five: Kanner’s fan mail swelled to thousands a week.

Episode six: Kanner was out.

A drag

The protests came flooding in. About 5,000,000 viewers switched to ITV.

Kanner was hastily offered his own series by the BBC. He turned it down. He says: ‘It would have been a drag.’

The strange thing about this young Canadian buccaneer is that he does not give a fig for money.

He has earned about £80 since his contract ‘was not renewed’ by the BBC.

Kanner has turned down seven stage plays, four films, three television series – each worth about £40,000 over two years – and several television plays and guest spots.

He has also said ‘no’ to six commercials. A cigar company offered him £10,000 to do a 90-second advertisement. He turned it down.

He said to his agent, Richard Hatton: ‘There’s nothing I particularly want to buy.’

Messed up

Kanner explained to me: ‘I suppose you think I’m insane. I guess I am. But I don’t want to go to a psychiatrist. I want to stay all messed up.

‘I don’t take on these long series I’ve been offered because I might crack up. Anyway, nothing I want can be purchased.

‘Sure, I’m broke. I like being broke.

‘My agent said to me last week, “Alexis, what am I going to do with you? I calculate that you’ve turned down offers worth roughly £111,000 since April. I’m £11,000 down the drain because of that”.’

‘Matt Stone was all my own work. I gave him the mannerisms, the insolence, the bluff… that got him, and me, the sack…’

The rent

He added: ‘Talking of paying the rent, I suppose I’ll have to do something about my own. Trouble is, the people who want me, I don’t want to work for them. And they people who have the parts I want, they don’t want to know.’

I offered Kanner some advice. I said: ‘Run – do not walk – to the Labour Exchange, and sign on.’ A two-hour discussion followed. Finally Kanner was persuaded.

‘You come with me to sign on,’ he said.

The girl on the other side of the counter at the employment exchange in Lisson Grove, Marylebone, recognised the actor immediately.

‘I’m a great fan of yours,’ she said. ‘My name is Judy Celner and I’m in the officer repertory company.’

As the minutes passed, it became clear that single, penniless, talented and famous Mr Kanner had made a conquest.

Miss Celner offered him a role as a salesman. She said: ‘It’s scandalous that you should be out of work. I’m sure we’ll find something for you.’

For the first time since I met him, Kanner looked worried.

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