Mark Curry on life in Eastbourne and the golden age of children’s television
- Credit: JIm Holden
Television presenter and actor Mark Curry first fell in love with Eastbourne when he visited for Blue Peter. Last year he moved there. Mark spoke to Jenny Mark-Bell about the golden age of children’s television and his part in the 10th anniversary production of Wicked in London.
“They strapped me to a windmill once,” Mark Curry is explaining from his Eastbourne home. Rather than recounting Bond villain-style interrogation techniques, the television presenter and actor is describing his tenure on children’s magazine show Blue Peter – and it sounds pretty high-octane. “I did wonder why all these safety checks had been done on the windmill and there were all these guys with chains but I still didn’t twig. Afterwards this miller said to me that it was traditional for the miller to actually ride the sails to make sure that everything’s alright. Ten minutes later I’m strapped to the sail of the windmill going round and round.
“You were never forced to do these things,” he adds, “but you were very heavily encouraged.”
Mark, now a West End musical theatre star appearing in the 10th anniversary production of Wicked at London’s Apollo Victoria Theatre, moved to Eastbourne last summer from Wimbledon. Thirty years ago he was 25 and already a showbusiness veteran when he got the job presenting Blue Peter.
Mark’s affable but accident-prone demeanour endeared him to viewers and helped him forge a strong bond with his fellow presenters in something of a golden era for the show, which at that time was attracting up to six million viewers. Mark presented alongside Janet Ellis and Peter Duncan, who was then replaced with Caron Keating – forming the first Blue Peter presenting team to bring together two women and a man. Later Mark and Caron would be joined by Mancunian Yvette Cooper.
“Caron became my best mate and I still miss her to this day [she sadly died of breast cancer in 2004]. I always get a bit emotional even thinking about her because she should still be here, she was great.
“Yvette was only about 18 when she got the job so we helped her a lot. I’d been in telly a long time even then and I think she looked on me as a bit of an older uncle to guide her through it.”
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In fact, Mark had been appearing on television since he was seven years old. He’d auditioned for a guest spot on Junior Showtime and instead got a regular job singing, dancing and presenting on the show for six years. “It was everything to me. I grew up in a mining village in West Yorkshire with no showbiz in the family at all – God knows where it came from. That was my outlet: I remember not being that happy at school and not that happy in the village, because even then I thought there was something else out there.”
Mark credits the show with instilling in him a sense of professionalism, saying: “It was a weird kids’ show really because they would bring in people like Ken Dodd as a guest and I would do sketches with him. Even then he was such an old pro and I remember him saying to me ‘Showbusiness is going to be your life’.”
When he was offered the Blue Peter job Mark didn’t jump at it straight away. “I was enjoying doing Saturday morning telly and I knew I wanted to do more acting. Everyone around me was saying you can’t turn this down: it’s such an honour to be asked.”
It was Blue Peter that first introduced Mark to Eastbourne, when the lifelong tennis fan spent three days profiling former British number one female player Clare Wood during the tournament in the town.
“It was June and it was beautiful and I just thought, ‘Why did nobody tell me about this before?’ I think the combination of beautiful tennis courts at Devonshire Park, the sea and gorgeous weather just stuck with me. Subsequently I have toured here loads of times in plays and I did panto here back in 2002/2003. It has always been somewhere where if we had a weekend free we’d say ‘Let’s go to Eastbourne’: I love the place.”
He acts as master of ceremonies at the tournament at Edgbaston and would love the same gig at the AEGON Eastbourne tournament – “But I think it’s pretty sewn up and the guy who does it has been doing it a long time.”
He’s not sure how to feel about men returning to the tournament next year. “I like the fact that it’s always been a women’s tournament. The women are absolutely brilliant but unfortunately at the moment they haven’t got any big rivalries going on. There isn’t really anybody to touch Serena, especially when she’s on grass.”
Tennis helps Mark relax when he has some downtime from his hectic schedule commuting to the West End, where he’s currently appearing as the Wizard in Wicked.
Mark plays the pivotal supporting role of the Wizard of Oz, whose greed and guile set in motion the events of the musical and act as a prelude to the action of the original story, immortalised in the 1939 film. The Wizard is a curious character: “He’s a bit of a sociopath really and he says the things that people want to hear. They all think he’s wonderful. I can think of several leaders like that – I’m sure that’s what they were thinking of when they were writing it: somebody who’s right at the top but doesn’t have any right to be there.”
This September Wicked celebrates 10 years in the West End and it is one of the most popular musicals of all time. It’s a punishing schedule for the cast, with evening performances from Monday to Saturday and extra matinees on Wednesday and Saturday.
In common with most of us who face a daily commute, Mark has suffered the vagaries of Southern Rail’s declining performance: “I missed two performances because the trains were cancelled,” he reveals.
Because the Wizard doesn’t appear until about an hour into the show, Mark has to ensure he’s in the right mindset: “With a part like that you have to hit it running, there’s no time to warm up.”
And after the drama and razzle-dazzle of each performance, Mark heads back to his new home town, which provides the ideal haven: “There is that elegance and charm about it. It is changing and evolving as we speak but I hope it never loses that charm, elegance and laidback quality.”
My favourite Sussex
There’s a florist in Little Chelsea, Eastbourne called Beau K. They are just fantastic. Next door there is a shop called Pendulum which sells really funky shirts and jackets – I have to put my blinkers on when I walk past there because I could buy something every single time.
I love Pomodoro e Mozzarella in Eastbourne, I love the atmosphere. They’ve also got a place nearby called Little Italy, which is phenomenal. There’s a great vegetarian café here called Miss Molly’s Back Garden. I love coffee and there is a place in town called Urban Ground. I time it so I am there between
11 amand 11.15am – coffee o’clock.
It’s got to be Birling Gap. It takes my breath away. I pinch myself every time I go up there.
We tend to park in Litlington, walk along the river and end up on Alfriston village green. We go to the pub in Litlington, the Plough and Harrow, for Sunday lunch.
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