The face behind the Force Somerset
He found fame as Darth Vader, one of cinema's greatest villains, and helped to save the lives of children in his role as the Green Cross Code Man. Sarah Ford talks to Dave Prowse MBE: 'The big guy from Bristol.'
Dave Prowse thinks he has probably done about 50 press interviews by the time I catch up with him to talk about his book.
“It’s been amazing, I’m just waiting for the sofa circuit,” he says, referring to the round of television interviews he plans to do to publicise Straight From The Force’s Mouth.
His newly released autobiography is the story of the man behind the mask of Star Wars’ villain Darth Vader, taking us from his childhood in Bristol, to his days as a bodybuilder and champion weightlifter and on to a role that catapulted him to global recognition.
It is an honest account of how he has overcome setbacks in his life – such as a long spell in hospital as a youngster with terrible knee problems, which ruined his promising school athletic career at Bristol Grammar – and all readers will be inspired by his determination.
As an actor, Dave has worked with a long list of famous names, including the likes of Sir Alec Guinness and Peter Cushing, and as a highly respected health and fitness instructor he has trained many stars, including Christopher Reeve for his role as Superman.
But for me, this ‘big guy from Bristol’ as he refers to himself, will always be the Green Cross Code Man, when he headed up the UK Child Pedestrian Road Safety Campaign in the 1970s. His road safety superhero role lasted 14 years, helping to reduce child casualty figures significantly – an achievement that Dave is justly proud of. In fact, he describes it as the ‘best gig’ he ever had. Dave’s services to road safety and charity gained him an MBE in the Millennium Honours List.
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“I have had a great career and have worked with some incredible people and look forward to sharing my story with the fans,” says Dave, who tells me he always wanted to write his life story down.
“I thought it was about time I put pen to paper. I have kept a diary for years and have a good memory of things that happened a long time ago. But ask me what happened last week and I have trouble!”
Dave Prowse was born in 1935 and his family lived in Southmead. His father, Charlie, was a sheet metal worker building fighters at the Bristol Aeroplane Company (BAC), and one of Dave’s earliest memories is of running up the road to greet his dad on his way back from work and getting a lift on the crossbar of his bike.
His memoirs recall the heavy pounding the City of Bristol took from the German bombers during the war, and how he refused to be separated from his parents when local children were evacuated.
Sadly, Dave’s father died in 1940, leaving mum, Gladys, with three young children to care for.
Dave lived in the city until leaving for London in 1963. He was well known in Bristol because of his weightlifting success – he became British Heavyweight Weightlifting Champion and went on to represent his country at the World Championships and Commonwealth Games – and for his work at The Glen, Bristol’s first commercial dance hall, where he was a supervisor.
“It was a posh name for a bouncer!” says Dave, “I used to travel to The Glen on a tandem bicycle, and if I met a girl I liked I would offer her a lift home. Little did she realise that she would be pedalling on the back half of my tandem! Needless to say, ‘relationships’ didn’t last very long.
“To this day I still get approached by people who remember me from my Glen days. In fact, it has become something of a boast to have been thrown out of The Glen by David Prowse!”
Dave met his future wife, Norma, at the dance hall and the couple went on to have three children.
By the time Dave went into Star Wars in 1976, he had already been in about ten films, including one of the most controversial of all time – Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange.
At 6ft 7” Dave’s towering, physical presence was ideally suited to personify the intimidating Darth Vader.
Dave’s autobiography recalls the problems of wearing the famous mask and heavy suit with its quilted leather, fibreglass breastplates and electrical gadgets during filming in the sweltering summer of 1976. “I used to sweat buckets!” he says.
Unfortunately, Dave’s voice was not used for the character, although, given the opportunity he thinks he could have delivered an acceptable Darth Vader voice.
“The decision to dub my voice was due to my Bristol accent, which I prefer to call my warm and educated West Country burr. It has a distinctive, friendly little inflection, which I’ve always had and I’ve no intention of getting rid of it. Being an actor, it wouldn’t be at all difficult for me to sentence my accent to death-by-elocution, but, unlike some in my trade, I’ll never forget where I came from.” U
Straight from the Force’s Mouth is published by Apex Publishing at �20 (hardback) and is available from apexpublishing.co.uk and amazon.co.uk