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The Review - BOOKS

Alan Ford
Above: Alan Ford, and below Brad Pitt in Snatch

Brad Pitt in Snatch

One day in the life of Alan the actor

Brad Pitt could not understand one word Cockney actor Alan Ford was saying during the filming of Guy Ritchie's Snatch, writes Dan Carrier

Thin Ice: A Resting Actor. A Busy day
by Alan Ford.
Orion, £9.99

BRAD Pitt didn’t understand much of what Alan Ford was going on about – but the Hollywood actor did know he found Ford’s portrayal of a London gangster scary.
The Primrose Hill-based actor, whose debut novel Thin Ice is released this week, had landed the role of Brick Top – probably the nastiest character in Snatch, the 2000 caper that was full of unpleasant gangsters doing nasty things to one another.
Pitt was one of three big name American actors who director Guy Ritchie drafted in for his second feature film – he was joined by Benicio Del Toro and Dennis Farina – and they all admitted afterwards that none of them had a clue what Alan Ford was going on about. Pitt would look at Ritchie and his fellow actors before breaking into fits of laughter over the intricacies of the Cockney rhyming slang in the movie.
Alan recalls: “Despite that, Brad was a nice enough chap. He was a good actor to work with.”
Alan has worked with many big names and he is recognisable from his roles in such films as The Long Good Friday, An American Werewolf In London and numerous TV appearances.
He has made a living playing hard men “although I have been a vegetarian since 1973” he says. “Under the Saville Row suit, I’m basically a bit of an old hippy. I don’t eat meat or fish because I don’t like the idea of harming animals.”
However, as he admits, he has never really made the big time and is often recognised by people in the street who say to him: “You are that man off the telly, without quite knowing which man they are referring to.
And now he has turned his attention to telling the story of the actors who make up 95 per cent of the profession – the supporting roles, not the story of the Brad Pitts.
His novel features a day in the life of a ‘resting’ actor. Loosely autobiographical, formed from 35 years of heading to auditions and always waiting for a call back, the story is a brilliantly observed tale of what it is really like to be in the acting profession.
Alan says: “It is based on real people – and all my friends have been saying they recognise themselves in it – but of course, it is exaggerated.”
He has never written a book before, but the novel came from a series of short vignettes he performed at dinner parties for friends. They liked it so much they suggested he took it on stage, so he put together a one-act play about the pitfalls of being a little known actor.
He performed it at the Angel’s Old Red Lion in 1996, and then at a number of festivals across the UK.
An agent working for Orion publishing spotted the show and asked him if they could publish it.
He started the book because he enjoys reading the biographies of others in his profession.
“There are plenty of books about the people who made it – Michael Caine, Alec Guinness etc – you never get to read about what the other 95 per cent of the profession are up to, the jobbing actors who just about make ends meet,” he says. “I thought it would be the basis for a good story.”
Ford is one of those actors who people recognise in the street but are not quite sure where from and when he was chosen for Snatch, it was after an arduous selection process.
He recalls: “I went to the audition – along with every other Cockney actor in the country. I really wanted the role of Brick Top – I learnt all the lines before I went, I dressed up and I put in my contact lens.”
He had already been in Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels – Ritchie’s first hit – but his scenes were cut. Instead he had been the film’s narrator.
“I was called back four times. By the last time, I thought I can’t be bothered with it any more. I was pissed off with the whole thing, so I turned up with my glasses on and Guy Ritchie said: ‘We’ll have to get you another pair of bins’ – that’s how I knew I’d got the part.”
Alan’s book runs through a day in the life of Charlie Harwood, an actor who is living on the dole, the occasional cheque from re-runs and is still, as he approaches 50, searching for his big break.
But Alan never meant to write a book. He says: “I had tried scripts and they were rubbish. Actors usually write film scripts with a great lead role for themselves”.
The son of a taxi driver, he was born in 1938 and grew up in Elephant and Castle. He was bombed out during World War II.
He adds: “I was hiding in the Anderson shelter and Hitler took the roof off our house.” He found respite, as so many of the war generation did, by heading to the cinema.
He recalls: “I would go four, five, six times a week. Even as a child, I knew the direction I wanted to go in but I couldn’t stand up and say: I want to be an actor. No one would take you seriously. It would be like saying I want to be a space man.”
He was a performer, doing Sinatra impressions around pianos in pubs, but never thought he would appear in films until a friend told him about work he picked up as an extra.
He recalls: “There were lots of films being made in London and so they were always after extras. I thought the extra business was okay but I wanted to make the jump.”
And it has put him in the perfect place to write a tragi-comedy about the 95 per cent of actors whose names we’re not sure of but we know we have seem them on the telly.

• Alan Ford is reading from his book on Wednesday, February 15 at 7pm at Hampstead High Street’s Waterstones.
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