Interview: Duncan Preston on his role in Alan Ayckbourn’s play Haunting Julia

Joe McFadden (Andy), Duncan Preston (Joe) and Richard O'Callaghan (Ken) in Haunting Julia by Alan Ayckbourn
Joe McFadden (Andy), Duncan Preston (Joe) and Richard O'Callaghan (Ken) in Haunting Julia by Alan Ayckbourn
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BUSY Duncan Preston takes time off TV work to tackle playwright Ayckbourn’s dark tale

I say what I like, and I like what I say. That’s the sort of phrase you’d expect from any true Yorkshireman - and Duncan Preston is precisely that.

An actor with 40 years experience, while his name might not be instantly recognisable, there’s no doubt you’ll have seen him in many a British television programme.

From Acorn Antiques and Dinnerladies, to Emmerdale and Casualty - name a well-known telly show and chances are he’ll have appeared in it.

“I never know what people recognise me for - I’m just a working actor,” says Preston.

“I always think it’s for my work with Victoria Wood, though some people come up and say ‘you were Kevin’s dad’ in Harry Enfield. I’m not hired for my looks, but there must be some kind of talent somewhere.”

It’s not just TV for which the 65-year-old is renowned.

Currently he’s starring in Alan Ayckbourn’s Haunting Julia, which comes to the King’s Theatre next Tuesday. As Preston affirms, this eerie tale about a young musical prodigy who is discovered dead in a pool of blood, is far from what you’d expect from Ayckbourn.

“It’s not his usual kind of stuff, though it has laughs in it,” says Preston.

“It is scary and we have people screaming in the audience, and that’s what we’re after. You can hear a pin drop at times and it’s not often you can say that about an Ayckbourn play. It’s a huge part for me and I’ve proved that I haven’t got Alzheimer’s yet.”

A disturbing ghost story, the subject of fame is tackled within the play, too. To a jobbing actor, instant fame shows like X-Factor and Britain’s Got Talent get right on Preston’s nerves. “I don’t like ‘em. I think it’s a waste of time watching wannabes crying when they’re not allowed to be. I get really tired of it. I can just about bear Help Me I’m A Celebrity... but they’d have to pay me a lot of money to go on that.”

With a foot firmly planted on television set and theatre stage, then, the question of preference leads to Preston’s early dreams of becoming a comic. “I always wanted to be a comic, though I could never do it. I was always fascinated by them. A mate of mine at school in Bradford said ‘You want to go to City Varieties and watch the strippers on a Friday night’? I went with him thinking, oh, that will be a laugh and there would be about 12 people in the audience. I was fascinated, not by the women, but by the comics. Courageous people.”

Duncan Preston has a genuine love for Edinburgh, too. The reason...? “My rugby team, the Bradford Bulls, won the Challenge Cup at Murrayfield many years ago,” he laughs.

• Haunting Julia, King’s Theatre, Leven Street, Tuesday-Saturday, 7.30pm, £14-£29, 0131-529 6000