My Life In Travel: Peter Bowles, actor
'I like the feeling of not knowing what's going to happen'
Saturday 13 June 2009
First holiday memory?
Staying in a boarding house in Mablethorpe, Lincolnshire. I remember fried breakfasts with lots of sauce bottles on the table and having to go out after breakfast and not being allowed back in until supper. Also, lots of rain; eating fish and chips in bus shelters; playing French cricket in the sand with my dad; and making a few shillings by helping people carry their bags from the train station to their boarding houses.
Travelling by Amtrak from Chicago to Flagstaff and the Grand Canyon. For two nights and two days, we met all those Americans who never go abroad, which was lovely. Along the way through the West, there were original station buildings that had been preserved – it was like the movies. We saw Victorian buildings with signs like Dodge City, Boot Hill and Tombstone, and those amazing rock formations. It was wonderful.
Worst travel experience?
The start of our Amtrak trip. We flew to Chicago but our bags weren't on the plane. We spent several hours ringing Heathrow from the airport, but nobody was there because it was the middle of the night in Britain.
Eventually, we got through to a cleaner, who managed to locate our bags and promised to talk to someone in the morning and get them over, which they did. However, it was worrying and we had a sleepless night.
Then midway through our train trip, we alighted at our destination late at night.It was pitch-black and as the train pulled away I realised my briefcase with everything in it was still on the train.
At that moment, a cowboy arrived in a truck and it turned out his brother worked at a station further down the track. He rang him and somehow his brother contacted the train driver, who gave him my briefcase. It was put on a train coming in our direction and I ended up with my bag back.
It was the most generous and wonderful end to a worrying experience.
Favourite place in the British Isles?
Dorset. I love all the lanes and villages, but particularly the ancient earthworks like Maiden Castle and Silbury Hill. They give me a wonderful feeling of the past.
What have you learnt from your travels?
How very nice people are, especially when I haven't spoken their language. Also, I'm constantly amazed what a global village it is for an actor, when people have seen your old television shows in far-flung places.
Ideal travelling companion?
My wife – for the past 50 years, she has come with me whenever I have gone on film location.
Beach bum, culture vulture or adrenalin junkie?
I like reading in shady or sun-dappled corners. If it's a city, I enjoy walking the backstreets to see how the local people live; and I always visit an art gallery.
Greatest travel luxury?
Being met at Heathrow by special staff, who took us to a special room and checked us into first class and dealt with all our bags. There were only special people in the special room and they happened to be Abba, who were extremely relaxed and charming. I was at the height of my fame and they were at the height of theirs.
When we arrived back at Heathrow, people began to applaud and I was amazed to find they were applauding me. It hasn't happened since!
I often read books about the investigation of real-life crimes and murders. I recently read a marvellous book called Jack of Jumps by David Seabrook. It's about a series of unsolved murders in the 1960s in Hammersmith and Barnes, near where I live.
Where has seduced you?
I like Morocco very much. The people are so kind. I have been to the Atlas mountains and Marrakech quite a few times and stayed at the Amanjena resort, which was wonderful, as was the Gazelle d'Or in Taroudant.
Better to travel or arrive?
I used to travel for work an awful lot, but I don't do films much now. The last one I did was in Budapest about a year ago. I have never stopped having a lovely butterfly in my stomach as I'm driven towards an airport, either going away somewhere or coming home again. I like the feeling of not knowing what's going to happen.
The Gramercy Park Hotel in New York, which is a five-star hotel. I went the second week it opened after its renovations, and when I arrived they had let my reserved room to somebody else. In the room we were given, the air-conditioning unit was so strong it ruffled my pillows. They didn't do breakfast in the room, which is something I always have when I'm abroad.
All the corridors are black and you have to reserve a place at the bar, even if you're a guest. If you went out for dinner, you had to prove you were a guest to the bouncers outside to get back in.
I made a huge fuss, so it might have improved. Saying that, the concierge was fabulous and the staff, who were mostly hopeful actors, were absolutely charming.
My wife and I went to Hong Kong just before it was handed back to China and stayed at the Mandarin Oriental.
We were picked up in a Rolls-Royce and had our own butler night and day. The staff were smile, smile, smile, all the time. And when I turned on the television, they were showing The Irish RM, which is a series I did, in Cantonese.
It was a wonderful holiday and the hotel was terrific.
Best meal abroad?
I've just come back from the Grand Hotel Villa Serbelloni in Bellagio, Lake Como and just about any meal served there was wonderful. There's a miraculous chef who I think has come up through the ranks over 40 years. Every course was just wonderful.
First thing you do when you arrive somewhere new?
Usually change the room!
New York, but Venice isn't bad, either.
The Trans-Siberian railway, from St Petersburg via Moscow to Beijing. My wife is mad about train travel.
Hopefully on my dream trip.
Peter Bowles will be performing at the Theatre Royal Bath as part of the Peter Hall season, from 25 June to 29 August (01225 448 844; theatreroyal.org.uk).
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