Life outside wine: Mark Ross


An occasional series looking at the pastimes and sidelines of independent wine merchants
This month: Acting with Mark Ross of The Green Room, Glastonbury


I was a child actor and I was in the Chitty Chitty Bang Bang film with Dick Van Dyke. I was one of the child slaves – I was in it for some months and my brothers were in it too. When they were filming the Battle of Britain scene I remember running up the bridge at Pinewood and we’d see the Spitfires flying over and they had explosives going off in the banks to look like they were bombing. It was a wonderful experience seeing the car going up in the air – kind of spoiled it when you realised it was on hydraulics.

When I was 45 I applied to a number of drama schools and I got into Bristol. They have 30,000 applications for about 80 places. I spent two years there and then it got quite serious with the RSC and the Old Vic. About seven years ago it went really quiet. I got a part-time job in a supermarket doing beer tasting. That progressed to doing events and eventually I got my shop in Glastonbury. I still subscribe to Spotlight, so if any acting work comes up I’ll be ready, but I’m not pushing for it.

The job I enjoyed most was a production of Henry V. There were five of us doing an abridged version of the play in an hour and a half. I think I had 38 costume changes and played eight characters in that time – it was insane. We toured around the country and it was great fun.

When I finished the season at the RSC I was offered another chance to tour Henry V but I was concerned that casting directors would wonder why I’d gone from the RSC to small-scale fringe and so I turned it down. That was a silly thing to think, in fact. I should have just enjoyed it and rocked on.

Mark Rylance is wonderful to work for. I played a small role in his production of Much Ado About Nothing but I was also an understudy. About a day before we opened Mark called me and asked me how I felt about going on as someone was ill. He said, “I would never want an actor to go on stage if he didn’t feel ready,” and that he was prepared to go on with the book rather than me go on unprepared and get bad reviews. He was so considerate. It’s not wrong for a director to demand you go on – as an understudy that’s what you’re paid for and if I wasn’t ready that would be my failure.

A couple of years ago I was put up as a judge in a crime drama. Unfortunately when you cover my grey hair with a wig, I look about 10 years younger and too young to be a judge. When I was at Bristol people always said, “you’d be great for doctor, solicitor, accountant, policeman,” but it’s kind of crazy that I never got invited for any of those roles, even though The Bill, Holby City and Casualty were still going at the time.

I was in a music video for Professor Green. I had no idea that he was a rap artist. During the audition I actually asked what sort of professor he was! Turning up for a music video was like turning up for a major feature film. The trucks and crew … it was huge. No expense spared. It was very sad because my big scene was meant to be where I break down as I react to Professor Green rapping, but on the third day of shooting when it was time for that scene, Steve [Manderson] got taken to hospital with an abscess so my scene got cut.

I think everyone in commerce should have some exposure to drama training. Just to make them a bit more extrovert and stretch their boundaries. It’s invaluable. I’m doing a tasting in September, and it doesn’t faze me; it will be a delight. I’d love to start a YouTube channel featuring cooking with wine, and food and wine pairing.

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