Although a lot of people remember me as Mike Abbott from the Bless this House with Sid James, my career started long before then – back in 1957 in fact!
I was in Regent’s Park one day heading for a chat with the wolves at London Zoo, when a man called me over and gave me his card, which I duly put in my pocket and forgot about. My mother later found the card and I was thrashed for talking to strangers before she rang the number only to discover it was a Walt Disney talent scout.
I was sent along to a company called Progressive Management run by Neil Landour, who also represented Jane Asher, and we both became his child protégés. My first role was a cameo spot in the film Greyfriars Bobby, in which I played the part of Jodie Ross. The roles came in thick and fast – next was as series for the BBC called Deadline Midnight, in which I played a wandering Polack – ironic since I was a wandering Czechoslovakian of the same age – and from there I ended up at the Globe Theatre in London’s West End, playing the juvenile lead as the son of Sir Ralph Richardson and Phyllis Calvert.
It was a jump into alien territory from there, literally! I was cast as the co-lead for the Saturday morning pictures on the episode called Masters of Venus (well before Star Trek). We used rocket ships made of Paper Mache crashing into paper rocks. How times have changed!
After the run at the Globe Theatre, my theatrical career continued when I was cast as Michael Gwynn and Diana Churchill’s son with Jane Asher playing my sister in the play Will you Walk a Little Faster. We did a pre-West End tour, arriving in London eight weeks later where Neil, my agent, showed up in his double-breasted jacket, twill trousers and bowler hat and took me to a theatre in London where the line of boys waiting for something, I had no idea what, stretched for three blocks.
Neil simply ignored the line and walked straight up to the stage door, spoke to the lady holding a file filled with the boys’ names, and simply said to her, “we’ll just go down to the stage”. Having done no audition, and with no idea of what I was there for, Neil looked into the blackness of the auditorium presumably towards the producers and directors, and said to me, “When do you want Robin to leave for Canada?” Someone replied, “It’ll have to be a week on Wednesday when he turns fourteen.” I probably made a million enemies in one fell swoop.
The following Wednesday I was on my way by plane to Toronto to take part in the original cast of Camelot, playing opposite Richard Burton and Julie Andrews at the O’Keefe Centre in Toronto. Jenny Productions who presented Learner and Lowe’s musicals had decided that Sir Tom of Warwick who closed the play with Richard Burton playing King Arthur, had to be an English boy.
So there I was, still only fourteen - Robin Stewart, a Czechoslovakian immigrant, now British subject, becoming an American Alien – one of a small group of non-Americans to play Broadway. As well as Camelot I was also cast as Ingrid Bergman’s son in the series 24 Hours In A Woman’s Life for CBS television, so I was working day and night.
After my stint in the U.S I returned to the UK to play midshipman in HMS Defiant, and I spent the next four years doing cameo roles in various police series.
Sadly, my mother had died when I was only 16, and by the grand old age of 18, I’d decided that the acting life was just too much. I wanted to be an ‘intrepid traveller’ and so I jetted off to East Africa. I had the most amazing adventures in Kenya and Uganda meeting many of the Great White Hunters of the time. When I got back to England a year later I had no intention of acting again, but within a week I’d been offered a job, and so I took it.
Soon after I was offered the role of Mike Abbott – playing Sid James and Diana Copeland’s son, in Bless This House.
I had a wonderful six years on the series, which also allowed me to do other work, including working with Sir Alec Guinness, when he played Charles l and I played his son, Charles ll in Cromwell.
Tragically, Sid died of a heart attack on stage during one the Bless This House season breaks. With the TV series no longer in existence, I was suddenly offered an opportunity to go to New Zealand to compere their first telethon, which was for muscular dystrophy. After a bit of negotiation I moved to New Zealand to host the NZ version of Opportunity Knocks. Little did I know it would be only a few years before Australia would beckon in the unlikely form of an invitation from Derek Nimmo to go to the Melbourne Cup.
I headed off for Melbourne, and was immediately asked to be on various talk shows, including the Peter Couchman Show and the Mike Walsh Show. That all led to a role on Young Doctors, and soon I was living permanently in Australia.
I had the good fortune to be offered the part of Macarthur in the ABC mini-series, The Timeless Land.
But it wasn’t long before I had itchy feet again, and while I was on holiday on Magnetic Island in Far North Queensland, I was asked to join the Townsville radio station, 4RR, where I started my own production company, which in turn led to a stint in Cairns as a producer for FNQ. I also toured Australia as the lead in Up and Under, a show that had just won the Sir Laurence Olivier Award for best comedy in England.
During my years in Australia I had always made sure I had access to horses, and I had owned several properties where I’d kept horses, but now I felt it was time to get back to the country so I bought a rural property near Toowoomba and began to breed Arab horses for endurance. It was an even busier time than usual – I was producing a show called Midweek Live interviewing visiting actors and comedians, including people such as Ronnie Corbett. 1984/85 found me on the Sons & Daughters series for Channel 7 and providing many of the voices for Captain Kookaburra’s Road to Discovery.
At the same time a chance came up to be involved in a new venture on the Gold Coast, so I moved closer to New South Wales, and a year later was asked to play Polonius in the Australian Theatre Company production of Hamlet.
At the end of this busy period I ended up on a property with my horses in Northern New South Wales, and for sometime I concentrated on breeding, training and riding, as well as my writing. I created and promoted a local endurance ride – The Bonalbo Bash.
Only a few years ago I discovered that I was suffering from emphysema, and so for the past few years I have been concentrating on my health – which thanks to a recent lung operation is much improved
You can read more of Robin's adventures in his new book - 'Being Mike Abbott' - Pre-order your signed copy here soon!!