From here to fraternity (or Whatever happened to David Soul?)

David Soul made his name in that epitome of Seventies cool, `Starsky & Hutch', didn't disgrace himself as a balladeer, but now he's temping in `Blood Brothers' in the West End. He's not down: all he ever really wanted to be was in the Peace Corps. By Jasper Rees
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The Independent Culture
Spool forward to the year 2017. In the West End, a musical set in Liverpool has been running for donkey's years. For three weeks only, while someone in the cast goes on holiday, the role of the narrator is taken by David Duchovny. He used to star in the most popular TV show on the planet, then took a left fork into the pop charts with a succession of bloodless ballads, but the world has lost sight of him in the intervening years. He's well over 50 now and the flesh on his cheeks has slackened. He never crossed over into the movies, and takes the work as, when and where it comes. Places like the Phoenix Theatre.

Back in the present day, the stage door of the Phoenix gives on to a narrow, drab corridor. Behind the first door on your left, in a shoe box- sized dressing-room, is not Mulder, as in and Scully but Hutch, as in Starsky and. There are first-night flowers on the table, plus coffee and cigarettes which David Soul is mainlining relentlessly as curtain-up beckons. This is his second night in a three-week stint as the narrator in Willy Russell's long-running Blood Brothers, a role that requires him to weave between his own accent, Scouse, Welsh and Irish. Asked to demonstrate his Scouse by the Liverpudlian photographer, he produces something very presentable from Scotland (he's Norwegian by extraction; real name, Solberg.)

He toured the role in the Antipodes a few years ago, but this is Soul's first shot at the West End. There have been other shows - in Leatherhead and Bromley - but they never quite made it over the ramparts. "My reason for coming to England was to do theatre," he says. "I left Los Angeles four years ago and went to New Zealand, Australia, Venezuela, Canada, and then France. Then the decision was, `Do I come on to England or do I go back to the States?' "

Since he and Paul Michael Glaser fell on their swords by asking to leave Starsky & Hutch, there's been precious little in the way of lead roles. Like Glaser, he carved out a post-stardom career as a television director on shows such as Miami Vice and Hill Street Blues. But the longer you look at his CV, the less patterned it looks. At the end of last year he took part in the Gershwin tribute at the Albert Hall. He couldn't perform because his voice had gone, but if he had he would have sung, most appropriately, "Nice Work If You Can Get It".

The song would not be such a good fit for anyone employed as his agent. "I threw a lot of shit up against the walls in different directions," he says. "And never really focused myself on building a machine." For a couple of years he commuted from LA to Pittsburgh to make a film about industrial decline. "There was an amazing transformation from heavy industry to technology, and I documented the impact of that on people." The film was shown on PBS in 1988 and, with a legal wrangle he got involved in after he was arrested during a demonstration, cost him "about $400,000". He charged the state with violating his civil rights, and made it "to the doors of the US Supreme Court but I ran out of money." Philanthropy has also involved him in the native Americans of South Dakota, farmers, and "water".

Among other perverse ventures, at the height of his fame he accepted a job presenting a magazine show from Pebble Mill called 6.55 Special. "Oh, you remember that?" he says as if seeing a ghost. In one item he and Ian Botham challenged each other at baseball and cricket. (Soul once had a contract as an amateur pitcher with the Chicago White Sox.) "I have fond memories of Botham. I remember Geldof on that show. And I jumped at Hickstead." There's a restlessness evident as much in his professional as his personal choices that probably stems from a childhood, swathes of which were spent in post-airlift Berlin. "My father worked with the US state department on one run. My playground was surrounded by bombed- out buildings, but it was sort of like going to an amusement park. I left when I was about eight, and then went back again and spent another four years there when my father worked for a refugee relief organisation which put families together split by the East German government."

With idealism in his genes, his early dream was "to join the Peace Corps". "I was a JF Kennedy baby. We really believed that `Ask not what your country can do for you' stuff." Like everyone else, he remembers where he was at the fateful moment ("I was in an apartment store in downtown Minneapolis, in an arcade: I worked at the time selling ties") perhaps more forcefully than most because, unlike Kennedy, he practically was "Ein Berliner".

In time, his ambition to teach political science, which grew out of his upbringing, made way for acting. He'd already hung out down in Mexico, where he trained himself to perform folk songs in clubs. So the stage was already a familiar place when, in the least propitious circumstances imaginable, he landed his first role. "An actor was involved with my wife sexually, and I had discovered and he had to leave the play, so the role opened up for me."

By the time Hutch came up, he had some off-Broadway work under his belt, plus a lot of in-and-out roles as a studio contract player for Columbia. Aaron Spelling, the Midas-touch TV producer, saw him in Magnum Force with Clint Eastwood and offered him the part. "I read the script and thought, `No, I'd rather play Starsky, if at all.'" Two hundred other actors auditioned as Starsky opposite him, "but Paul and I had grown up together in New York. We did a scene in Spelling's office. There was a bowl of walnuts on the table and we did the scene using them, and Spelling said, `Yeah, that's it.' " They made the pilot, "but we didn't expect it to go. We kind of hoped it wouldn't go. We thought of ourselves as kinda purists, I guess."

It went, for four and a half years and 100 hours, at the end of which the stars went to ABC and asked, "If you can find a way to let us out of this we'd appreciate it." The show is remembered for many things: for Glaser's chunky cardigans, for Huggy Bear, for the first flowerings of buddiness, and for the "Tomato", as Soul calls the car they drove around in. They don't remember Hutch's old banger. "We had new Tomatoes every year. I had a low-priced Ford. I took a sledgehammer to it before he used it. The car was not important for Hutch."

You get the impression that materialism is not Soul's strong suit either. There's a gypsy quality to his career - doing A Chorus Line for BBC radio, singing Charles Aznavour tunes at the Cafe Royal - that will take another odd turn when he releases an album, his first for 15 years, of "eclectic songs" he recorded recently in Paris. There's a song by Bernie Taupin, an old Marvin Gaye standard, some obscure stuff in the jazz idiom: it was going to be called Sailor Man, after a song for which he wrote the lyrics. Aware of the inappropriate echoes of Village People, he's changed it to Let the Light In. In the meantime, he seems to have renounced matrimony, after all four attempts were notoriously blighted by violence. "The fragility of the human condition has probably led to a lot of decisions as far as marriage is concerned," he explains cryptically. "The possibilities of friendship were not really explored."

He gets on with the quartet of exs now, and remains thankful to Starsky & Hutch for bequeathing him an off-stage Blood Brotherhood with his co- star Glaser who, after the death from Aids of his wife and child, has seen off far worse personal disasters than Soul. From this distance, the show that made their names looks like a glorious red herring. "An interruption", says Soul. "It was an interruption"

`Blood Brothers' plays at the Phoenix Theatre, London WC2 (0171-369 1733)

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