The 50s /60s

I first performed in a one-act play at the Royal High School, Edinburgh when I was 15

The director was Robin Cook*, a boy two years above me. He cast me as an imp which looking back may have been a sign! I did have a great time acting in front of my parents and school friends even though I was incredibly nervous.

From an early age my parents had taken me to various shows of traveling companies throughout the boring Scottish year at the King’s and Lyceum Theatres, also to many late night and evening performances atat the Edinburgh Festival.

And on the occasion we were in Essex with my grandparents there would always be an excursion to the theatre – usually to a Brian Rix farce at the Whitehall Theatre in London.

I remember well struggling to understand the adult jokes in these farces, their comedy well rooted in the smutty humour that the famous series of Carry on Films were about

School theatre experiences are always somewhat limited but the RHS had a very progressive drama club with an English Dept. headed by the famous and eccentric genius Hector Maciver so I found myself acting and directing in many modern plays – by Jean Anouilh, Max Frisch, Harold Pinter and Edward Albee as well as the traditional and necessary classics.

I was a contemporary of Iain Charleson, David Robb, Glenn Chandler, Frederick Warder, Robin Cook, Stewart Mackinnon and John Macnicol.

Edinburgh student week 1967
Johnny Melville early clowning on the Art College Float, Ediburgh Charities week

Fred Warder had been one of my most close friends at school and after leaving school, together we explored the huge student community in Edinburgh at the weekends raiding the student party-scene with an improvised double act that was often really funny but generally too much for most people !!!  For us it was just ‘mucking around’ but in fact this period was a great opener for my comic self and definitely helped me define that clown performer I became a few years later.

at Art College revel with Fredercik Warder

Thank you Fred….!

I spent three years at Edinburgh University where I found an equally inspiring Dramatic Society.

I began with some tame acting in one-act plays, but then decided to step into some concept work.

I took on directing Pinter’s Birthday Party, Edward Albee’s Zoo Story, Edward Bond’s Saved, and began to perform and direct stuff of my own – Is it really me? and Knock Knox – It’s the Reformation Shuffle .

I directed the most acclaimed Edinmburgh University production ever What the Butler Saw – which starred both Iain Charleson and Bernice Stegers – at George Square Theatre in the Edinburgh Festival in 1971.

Whm 19+what the butler aw, Edinbrgh Festval 71

Then I continued my time in Edinburgh for a couple more years working as a teacher in Ainslie Park Secondary School at the same time writing, direccting, performing and co-producing semi-pro theatre with David Campbell, Sandy Nielsen and notably directing my own play Karthoum 71 about the German mercenary Rolf Steiner with a group of Sudanese students at the Traverse Theatre.

Two main events in 1971 affected my approach to life. One was my stint as a teacher, the other was the reading of a book by Ivan Illich called DESCHOOLING SOCIETY – both these experiences turned me to anarchy in education.

I had left Edinburgh University with a social studies degree in 1969 and had no idea about what to do in terms of a job. I had gone to University as all my friends were on their way there.

I had studied Social Anthropology as I had no idea what else to do. As it turned out the Department was a shambles due to some in fighting with Professors and their Tribal African wives. I became more connected and interested to the drama of theatre, not the drama of marriage. Certain of my contemporary school / college friends went after their University degrees to pursue acting careers in London (Iain Charleson and Dave Rintoul) . 

I too had toyed with the idea but had opted for the ‘safer’ course of a steady job mainly to please my Dad but now after having suffered Scottish Presbyterian boredom for too long I felt motivated and ready to take a chance..

So I left Edinburgh at the end of 1972 heading for London with some high hopes for the future….

*  (Robin Cook went on to become the Foreign Secretary in the Tony Blair governemt that went to war with George Bush to find the so-called weapons of mass destruction. A fake war that made Robin resign from his post in objection. He then died the next year of a heart attack on a Scottish hill in more than suspicious circumstances. Such a waste of talent who had proved himself a great Labour politician.)