Long-time Fitzrovian, Ted Merwood, born on the Isle of Wight, came to London as a young man and trained as an actor, singer and dancer. He acted, sang, and danced all over the country and, among many jobs, he performed in the West End as a dancer in “The Four Musketeers” and as an actor-singer in “A Little Night Music,” “Into the Woods,” and “Oh! Calcutta!” He has lived in Fitzrovia since the late 1960s and for some time enjoyed helping with the gardening in Fitzroy Square.
Most working actors have a good story or two, and Ted Merwood is no exception. His story, about how he ended up playing the huge part of Scrooge in “A Christmas Carol” seven Christmases running in the same theatre in Sweden, still makes me laugh out loud!
Years ago Ted heard that a London theatrical production company was taking a group of actors to Stockholm at Christmas-time to perform a season of Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol.” He was intrigued by the idea of a Scandinavian Christmas, so auditioned, and was given a contract to understudy the lead part, Scrooge, as well as to play several smaller parts. One of his favourite actual parts was The Ghost of Christmas Present, who appears, ghostly-lit, making Scrooge understand how hard Christmas Day is still for many people, by forcing him to look and listen around him carefully. Ted went to Sweden several years running, and enjoyed the whole experience very much.
One Christmas matinee the actor playing Scrooge was taken ill in the play’s interval. The stage manager was running around like a headless chicken and decided to announce to the audience that the performance was cancelled. “Don’t be so silly, darling” said Ted, “I know the part,” and after a frenzy of costume changes (he was dressed to go on as The Ghost of Christmas Present) he immediately went on as Scrooge, and the play continued.
Just as the lights changed, became ghostly, for the scene between Scrooge and the Ghost of Christmas Present, he saw from the corner of his eye that the actor who was understudying Ted was leaning unconcernedly on a piece of scenery in the wings — certainly not costumed to play The Ghost of Christmas Present. There was Ted, playing Scrooge for the very first time, the lights began to change and turn ghostly, but only Ted was on the stage….every actor’s nightmare…
“It’s funny how fast your mind works,” Ted says. “I knew the Ghost was supposed to say to Scrooge in his ghostly voice Look — do you see down there? So I did my very best ‘Scrooge sees a ghost’ acting, and then I said, (as Scrooge), into the ghostly light: What’s that you say? You ask me what I can see down there? Oh….it’s the sea, black and heaving! Then the Ghost should say: Hold on to me and look…do you see? So I continued. You are telling me to look down there?.. it’s a ship — tossing on this dreadful sea… oh.. those poor men. Then the Ghost should say in his ghostly voice: But listen! So I continued: But oh! Hark! What is that I can hear? Are you saying everyone of them is thinking of Christmas?……” And so the whole scene went on with Ted sort of playing both parts, literally acting with himself!
At the curtain call at the end of the performance Ted got a huge round of applause from the audience (and the actors.) I asked him if he punched the understudy of The Ghost of Christmas Present but he said he couldn’t, as they were good friends but he did ask “Where WERE you darling?” of the mortified actor, who was of course present, costumed, and waiting, when the play was repeated with Ted still playing Scrooge, in the evening.
For the next seven years Ted was contracted to star in “A Christmas Carol,” playing the part of Scrooge for the Sweden-bound company every year with great success. But the performance was of course cancelled last Christmas because of the pandemic, and it is not yet known if it will be on again this year. Ted hopes it will be: lots of the same actors go back to Stockholm year after year, and the audience are much the same people, going to the same theatre, to see the same play, year after year, enjoying their Christmas treat — and recognising and greeting the British actors in the Swedish supermarkets.
And that is one of a thousand stories in the theatre world called “THE SHOW MUST GO ON!”
Barbara Ewing is a writer and actress.