Ian Ogilvy: Menace Unseen

Menace Unseen was a three part mini-series by Alan Seymour which first aired on Britain's ITV network in 1988 and starred Ian Ogilvy alongside Judy Bowker and John Sessions. This article is taken from the TV Times (at the time Britain's leading listings magazine) for that week and all copyrights remain theirs.

Saint's Preserved!

'What are you doing now that you've retired from acting?' Ian Ogilvy was asked by a fan. Answer: acting, of course. The former Saint is alive, well and still enjoying a busy career on stage and screen - as Sarah Gristwood discovered on the set of ITV's new thriller.

Rotary blades whirr as the helicopter comes down to land on the private pad and, by a hi-tech sleight of hand, is wafted along motorised runners into the hanger. On the nearby pond, ducks start to quack as if in applause. But this isn't Dallas or Denver - it's the heart of the Norfolk countryside, a location for ITV's new thriller serial Menace Unseen.
    Behind the helipad lie gardens, glasshouses and a long line of garages where a Porsche and a Mercedes gleam and where a fleet of scaled-down, fully working cars and caravans are fit for an infant prince to play with.
    On-screen, this is the home of a thoroughly modern milionaire, a Richard Branson figure. Off-screen, the real-life set-up isn't so different. The house is on loan from a man whose reputed resemblance to Blake Carringston only reinforces the impression of Dynasty-style opulence.
    'Did you know there is a five-pin bowling alley here, with all the machinery?' Ian Ogilvy asks. To say nothing of the squash court, badminton court, two swimming pools - and a satellite TV dish!
    Menace Unseen, a story of murder and mystery, is set in the contemporary world of computers. But none of its technological tricks could outshine this location, nor the pleasure of finding Ian Ogilvy, the Saint himself, back in action in a leading TV role after almost a decade away on the stage.
    Back in action?  Well, there's not quite so much of that this time.Ogilvy plays a computer entrepreneur whose partner's death in suspicious circumstances sets him off on the investigative trail assisted by the widow, Tessa, played by Judy Bowker. But, he says firmly, 'my character is not a gung-ho fighting man. And this isn't a Boys Own Story.'
    'I get hurt occasionally. I'm not terribly good at doing the things I'm trying to do. Time was, when I'd hit eight-foot villains, they'd fall down.'
    It is strange that 'time was,' in Ogilvy's rise to fame, really refers to one series, made more than a decade ago, in which Ian Ogilvy took over the role of Simon Templar from Roger Moore. However, The Return of the Saint, was a long series and it left Ogilvy with a character who won't go away.
 'Before The Saint I was regarded quite seriously as an actor,' he says.
    Ogilvy was then the kind of promising name that cropped up in BBC 2 serials such as I, Claudius. He has spent the past eight or nine years trying to get his profession to take him seriously again. But that doesn't mean he harbours regrets.
    'It's dumb to have regrets,' he says, "And in any case, whatever else The Return of the Saint did or didn't do, it made me very, very well known. For an actor, that is the big thing.'
    True - but being very very well known for just one part can be a mixed blessing, as many actors have found out.
    'In America, producers would have said, "We made this man a star - now we'd better use him". Not so in Britain. After The Saint, the television work I'd been doing before stopped stone dead.' To the TV audiences who didn't see the other career he was building on stage, he was out of sight, out of mind.
    '"What are you doing now that you've retired from acting?" someone once said to me.'
    And if Ogilvy thought that was bad, how about this: 'One of the young actors on Menace Unseen (it turns out to be John Sessions) asked me the other day how old I was. When I told him the answer - 44 - he said, "You're very well preserved!" I felt like a pot of jam. It was meant as flattery but I always thought it was something you said about people in their 80s...'
    It is typical of Ogilvy to take it with a smile. Sitting in his caravan, specs on his nose and designer stubble on his chin, he's clearly not the kind of man who relies on his face to make his fortune. It may be the way other people see him but it's not the way he sees himself. 'Well preserved' implies a clinging to the past; Ogilvy has been moving in new directions.
    Writing has become a major interest. He was experimenting with this and that, writing the odd magazine article, when he tried his first play - an update of Noel Coward's Design for Living, in which two of the main characters meet years later to reminisce after the death of the woman they loved. 'The great thing about writing plays, rather than acting in them,' Ogilvy sighs, 'is that you can earn your money by sitting at home.' He is, on his own admission, lazy.
    There are new directions in his personal life, too: the break-up five years ago of his marriage to former model Diane left him a born-again bachelor, a man about town.
    'At the end of my marriage we were living in the country,' he says. 'I spent all my time doing things I'd really rather not be doing, like cutting trees down and mowing the lawn. We sold up and split up - and then I discovered that Diane only lived there because she'd thought I wanted to.'
    Once on the loose, his name was linked with actress Maria Aitken (whose BBC TV chat show Private Lives coincidentally derived its title from a Coward play), with Ingrid Seward, editor of Majesty, the monthly magazine about royalty, and, most recently, with Casualty actress Julia Watson. For a while it was a social whirl, but you can't keep going like that for the rest of your life.
    'We married very young, so neither of us did the usual fun things then,' he says. 'In middle age, I wanted to be 18 again - but I didn't have the stamina. I'm not fundamentally a very social person.'
    And though he clearly enjoys the quieter pleasures of leisure, such as meals with friends, these days he's as likely as not to be found lounging in the West London flat he shares with his word processor.
    'The first week I had it I almost threw it out of the window,' he confesses. But once he'd adjusted himself to the way a computer 'thinks', it became invaluable to him.
    Anything you see a computer do in Menace Unseen can be done, he points out, but you don't need specialist knowledge to enjoy the series, nor, indeed, to act in it. 'The secret of looking as if you know what you're doing with a keyboard is just to move your fingers over it very quickly.'
    Appropriately enough for an 'action' actor and former pupil of 'Sloane Tech' (better know to the rest of us as Eton), Ogilvy's other off-duty pursuits are glamorous ones. But he doesn't indulge them that often. He skis, he rides now and then and he's what he describes as a 'fair-weather' scuba diver, the kind who only likes tropical reefs.
    'The trouble is that all the things I like doing cost so much,' he says. Which may not be a problem for long.
    Menace Unseen finished shooting on a Friday, and by Monday Ogilvy was on the set of Maigret, the new series about the old detective, starring Richard Harris, which starts on ITV in three weeks' time.
    The shooting schedule was highly pressured - 'it's amazing how much you can fit into a day.' The setting, a cruise ship which cooped up cast, crew and paying passengers to wrestle with their sea-sickness, would have been disastrous if everyone hadn't got on so well.
    Ogilvy's role, he says, isn't an attractive one - 'a paranoid, middle-aged businessman. A Mr. Grumpy.' But he is clearly delighted with it, all the same.
    'In theatre, I'm taking this kind of part more and more,' he says. 'It's only dear old telly that still thinks of me the way I was 12 years ago. These days I do play middle-aged businessmen with grown-up daughters.' And why not? He has, in real life, a grown-up son and stepdaughter. And for several years he's been only too aware  that he 'can't go on playing dashing juveniles forever'.
    Ian Ogilvy's certainly come a long way from the kid he once was, whose driving force was a passion for motorbikes.
    His career is on the up and up - most actors would give their eye teeth to be in solid work for seven months - and he's in charge of his life.
     In 1988, Ian Ogilvy isn't just acting his age. He's come of age, too.



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