Roger Daltrey, the lead vocalist of The Who, is also the author of a recent memoir, Thanks a Lot Mr. Kibblewhite: My Story, billed on the group’s website as “as much a story of survival as it is of success.”
The title recalls the moment when his headmaster, Mr. Kibblewhite, expelled him from grammar school at 15 with the crushing comment, “You’ll never make anything of your life, Daltrey.” The book, happily, tells the opposite story: how he became one of the top rock stars in the world. One passage, excerpted below, includes a Shakespearean tale: what it was like for Daltrey to act in one of the BBC’s TV movies of the plays, The Comedy of Errors (1983).
This excerpt begins with a description of Daltrey in other parts, including the leading role of career criminal John McVicar in the movie McVicar (1980); Heather, who is mentioned, is Daltrey’s wife.
The process of making that film was an immersive experience. After several weeks, I found it difficult to stop being McVicar. I was strutting around the place, giving off the gangster swagger. I’m not sure what Heather thought about it all. But I learned a lot. I did most of the prison scenes with Adam Faith, who was playing McVicar’s cellmate Wally “Angel Face” Probyn, and he was brilliant. He helped me learn to relax and let myself go. If you feel like you’re acting, you’re failing. If you feel you’re doing nothing, it’s working. It’s strange. The lines are the least important thing of all.
You can tell I still haven’t got the hang of it when I played Macheath in the BBC’s 1983 adaptation of The Beggar’s Opera. I didn’t quite know how to deliver the dialogue, how to make use of the words. And I was scaling it wrong. I was scaling it like a film. In film, micromovements are very noticeable, but it’s not like that on the small screen and I was still learning.
I wasn’t going to give up, though. It wasn’t just because I needed to pay the bills. I still wanted to stick two fingers up at that bloody English teacher. I’d never got the part in the play at school. I was never going to amount to anything. All that stuff.
I think I got to give the two-fingered salute when I auditioned for The Comedy of Errors just after I’d finished The Beggar’s Opera. This was Shakespeare. This was my chance. They told me which bits we were going to read for the audition so I spent ages learning my lines by heart because I’m a very bad reader. And off I went, prepared. When I arrived, James Cellan Jones, this renowned director, was sitting there poker-faced and I just launched into it. Quite early on, maybe three or four lines in, he started laughing and after that it just got worse and worse. By the time I got to the end, he was pissing himself. I just assumed I’d cocked it up.
To make matters worse, he then asked me to read another part. I hadn’t learned it and I just couldn’t do it. It was a mess. But at the end, he said, “Right, then, do you think you can play both parts?” I could not believe it. I was shocked. You could have knocked me down with half a feather. I was cast as Dromio of Ephesus and Dromio of Syracuse.
And I loved it. Here I was, working with a Shakespeare text, understanding it, getting the jokes. No one was talking down to me. I was involved and it was an extraordinary experience. It was only at the end, when the two Dromios were put side by side in the edit, that you could see how involved I’d become. The Dromio whose master treats him with more respect was a good two inches taller than the other one. Subconsciously, I’d shrunk to play the less fortunate twin.
Excerpted from Thanks a Lot Mr. Kibblewhite: My Story by Roger Daltrey. Copyright © 2018 by Roger Daltrey. Used with the permission of Henry Holt and Company.