The back seat voice of conscience

Meet Richard Carpenter of Knight Errant – who is learning to drive

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From the TVTimes for week commencing 20 March 1960

LEARNING to drive a motor car can be a nerve-shattering experience in itself but, when Richard Carpenter takes to the road with L plates, he finds he has an additional hazard to overcome.

Hazard? “Yes,” says 28-year-old Richard. “I keep hearing the Voice of Conscience. But it sounds so much like part I play of Peter Parker, Adam Knight’s assistant in Knight Errant ’60, that I could swear he’s sitting in the back seat, chunky grey sweater and all.”

Or perhaps it is just that Richard, who for six days a week is Peter Parker as he rehearses for the show at the Manchester studios, finds it difficult to forget him … Anyway I went along with Richard on one of his driving lessons to get the whole story.

As he drives away from the motoring school, he explains: “I start off brimful of confidence. But by the time I’ve turned a couple of corners and made three or four gear changes it happens.”

It? As he pulls up to allow a pretty redhead right of way on a pedestrian crossing, Richard gives a demonstration. He bawls: “Keep to the left, man! You’ll get us all killed!” And explains this is what nosey-Parker conscience says.

There is an immediate but unexpected reaction.

The redhead stops. Obviously she has heard. She stares. Obviously she is scared. She rushes on. Obviously thinking she is lucky to get away.

“See what I mean?” says Richard, looking unhappy and jerking his head in the direction of the fleeing female. “She thinks I’m a nut case. And when I’m out driving I almost convince myself.”

Richard Carpenter drives with his character Peter Parker in the back seat

But there is nothing crazy about Richard when he is off duty at his flat in Hampstead, London where he lives with his actress wife Annabelle Lee.

He admits he is a handyman around the flat and enjoys painting, decorating and assembling electrical gadgets.

His collection of jazz records ranges from the early discs of King Oliver and Louis Armstrong to the latest issues of Duke Ellington. On the serious side, he likes Bach and Vaughan Williams.

There are some interesting sounds coming from the gear box as Richard juggles with the lever and returns to the subject of Peter Parker.

“It’s difficult coping with the gears when you’ve got a pest like Parker nagging at you. The trouble with him is that he knows all there is to know about the theory of driving a car, but put him behind the wheel and he would probably go speed mad or something.”

Richard glances out of the window. It is a sympathetic glance. An L driver has stalled his engine at the traffic lights and is being driven to distraction by the blast of hooters from other cars.

There is a thoughtful look in Richard’s eyes as he turns and says: “Hear that? Parker would be one of those people who are making all the noise. He regards car ownership purely and simply as a means of getting quickly from one place to another.

“My interest goes further. When I’ve passed my test — if I ever do with Parker breathing down my neck — I shall use every spare moment to drive out into the country to explore.”

Richard is particularly interested in architecture, and likes to visit churches and old buildings.

He was a painter in oils before he turned to acting, went into repertory at Chiswick, Dundee and Chesterfield, and toured the Middle East with the Old Vic. Now, he paints a word picture of the failings of Peter Parker…

“His head is like a junk shop of knowledge that needs sorting out. Each new thing he becomes interested in absorbs him completely for a time. For instance, he was writing a book on ‘What’s Wrong With Britain Today.’

“What happened? Why, it petered out, of course. Now he’s engaged on ‘An Analysis of Human Behaviour’.”

And Richard Carpenter, the motorist, gets tangled up in it?

“I don’t know about that,” says Richard as we pull up outside the driving school. “But I do know this: Parker gets tangled up in my motoring — and it’s driving me round the bend!”

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