Willoughby Goddard sees a THIN future for FAT actors

An interview with one of The Man in Room 17 stars

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From the TVTimes for week commencing 12 June 1965

HE eased his 24 stone weight into a chair. “The fat man will disappear from the earth in the next 30 years,” said Willoughby Goddard.

“I think it’s a certainty, because the doctors are getting far too clever at reducing people’s weight.”

Goddard, one of the great British character actors of TV and films, with a status in Hollywood, too, plays Assistant Police Commissioner Sir Geoffrey Norton in Friday’s The Man in Room 17.

He mopped his brow with a huge red handkerchief. “I’m lighter than I have been for months,” he said. “I was 30st. on Broadway last year.” He played Bumble, the Beadle, in the British musical “Oliver!”

“I had to give the part up. I couldn’t stand another New York summer.” But didn’t New Yorkers flee the city in the humid months? “They do,” he said, taking a mighty draught of lime juice from a tankard, “but the place is swarming with tourists. There is hardly room to stand on the pavements.”

Goddard, well known on TV for his performance as Gessler in William Tell, sheds up to 6st. by going on a “savage diet” every 18 months.

He said: “I punish myself for three months, then eat heartily for the next 15. My life would be miserable if I watched my figure all the time.

“I’ve been lucky, really. I earn a good living from the theatre because I’m enormously fat. It’s the only way that one can cash in on obesity.

“There are plenty of fat extras, of course, but the poor dears can’t act. We are all cast according to our physique, but fat is no use to you unless you can act.

Willoughby Goddard
“The fat man will disappear in 30 years,” says Willoughby Goddard, who weighs 24st.

“And even as a fat character actor you are no use until you can play a man of 50. You have to be seething with age and decrepitude. It’s ghastly.

“If you are young and fat you play Billy Bunter, and then there’s nothing else. It takes years to decay sufficiently for an agent to take interest in you.

“I’ve been fortunate in that I entered the theatre in the middle of an era of fat villainy. It started in the early part of the century, and people like myself and Robert Morley have carried it on.

“As long as we’re about, I think fat men will be reasonably fashionable on stage. It’s not a promising future for newcomers, though, because as doctors find new methods of weight reduction there’ll be few fat men about.

“The playwrights will find less work for us to do, and only period parts will be available. That won’t bother me. I shan’t need work by then.”

Goddard, who lives with his wife and six-year-old son in Barnes, Surrey, has played all the classic fat roles, and Falstaff many times.

Without padding? “No,” he said. “The real thing doesn’t look as impressive. Anyway, no fat man should ever be asked to play Falstaff. There’s too much running around.

“Fat men should always play lovers and do nothing but lounge about elegantly. But always the writer sees the fat man as a character who must dash around to make the audience laugh — much to our discomfort.

“That’s the way it is in the theatre today. Fat men run, thin men lounge.”

Would he have done so well in show business if he had not been so fat? “I think so. You’ve got to be able to act as well. I didn’t begin to put on weight until I was 25.”

Did he worry about his weight? “Not any more. I’ve come to terms with myself over the years.

“But if my son shows the slightest sign of obesity, I shall put him on a diet instantly.”

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