Passion Never Retires for Robert Gillespie

What is the best thing that I love about my work? That I seemed to be good at it, most of the time. And that it rescued me from ever, seriously, being forced by economic reality to do anything else.

What is my idea of happiness? To live in a country not at war. Not to live in a country run by a fascist or leftist dictator. To live in a fairly well-run country.

What do the words “Passion Never Retires” mean to me? Maintaining an interest in all the different ways nature and human society work.

What is my greatest fear? In 1970 the United Kingdom government realised that planetary resources had a limit and that if human population continued to increase at the current rate, there would come a time when there would be pressure on energy and food to the point where humanity would suffer. I saw a government poster on a station platform alerting the public to this problem. For the security and well-being of their children, people were encouraged to think about the size of their families. Other governments in Europe also warned their publics of this approaching fact, this threat. The Margaret Thatcher/Ronald Reagan enterprise, fuelled by phantasy economics which rated world resources as, for all practical purposes, infinite… destroyed the last chance we had, as a species, to save ourselves from ecological catastrophe. I fear for the next generation, since predicted human die-off has already begun. It’s the inevitable outcome for all species which outbreed the carrying capacity of their habitat.

What is the trait that I most deplore in myself? A hesitancy to find words with which to apologise. I try to avoid it by not ever needing to. Not always possible…

Which living persons in my profession do I most admire? Vanessa Redgrave.

What is my greatest extravagance? Good quality tea.

On what occasion would I lie? Every time I can spare someone in pain an unnecessary truth.

What is the thing that I dislike the most in my work? Its complete unpredictability.

When and where was I the happiest, in my work? My nearly two-and-a-half years with The Royal Shakespeare Company, in Stratford-on-Avon, London and America. My work with Adrian Jackson’s Cardboard Citizens, a theatre company centred on people who have been homeless. Active in ex-police gymnasiums and out-of-use warehouses.

If I could, what would I change about myself? My height.

What is my greatest achievement in work? Making people laugh.

Where would I most like to live? In any medium-sized city, throbbing with life and multifarious activity, that had no squalid, outer ring of half-used industry acreage, or sporadic commercial and domestic building, but stopped short at its best suburbs and most vibrant commercial throbbings and immediately gave way to countryside – preferably a natural landscape. Edinburgh is like that, in places.

What is my most treasured possession? My comparative good health.

What is my most marked characteristic? A fairly reliably measured response to extreme changes of fortune.

What is my most inspirational location, in my city? I am not inspired by the built environment. Some locations seem more harmonious than others, or better organised for civilised use or enjoyment – but never inspirational.

What is my favourite place to eat and drink, in my city? I have spent so much of my life eating out that it’s a far greater pleasure to eat at home, with a book.

What books influenced my life and how? Alexis Carrel, wearing his sociological and philosophical hat… when I was a boy. Later, too many works to list, but – of course – William Shakespeare, de Cervantes’ Don Quixote and many works *** Romany books

You Only Die Once. What music would I listen to on my last day? I am not very musical. Music skipped a generation, in my family. My father was musical, my daughter is very musical. Music works as an effect associated with elements of a story, for me. The haunting flutings of a mouth organ as a prisoner-of-war escapes, and walks to freedom… the howl of anguish in a Verdi opera, or the subversive, jingly backing to a mocking Gilbertian verse; none of which I can imagine as bearable on my last day

Who is my hero or heroine in fiction? Don Quixote.

Who are my heroes and heroines in real life? David Attenborough, Jane Goodall.

Which movie would I recommend to see once in a lifetime? The Great Dictator.

What role play stories in my life and work? They are inescapable. The moment-by-moment difficulty is to judge how much they relate to objective reality.

What do the words ‘You are the storyteller of your own life’ mean to me? Inevitable. The problem is to assess, continually, how much of the narrative is self- deception.

Who is my greatest fan, sponsor, partner in crime? Doesn’t apply.

Which people or companies would I like to work with? As a long-time worker in the performing arts, I have been dependent on hundreds of different people for about seventy years. All of them have been – briefly – important. Sometimes more than once.
I would like the BBC to release a TV play called Mary’s Wife, in which I played the lead, so that I can feature it on my website. But there are likely to be insurmountable copyright problems.

What project am I looking forward to working on? I am continuing to develop my website with my designer, Paul Warrington. We are steadily enriching its contents. It has a range of material from short, entertainment clips for visitors who are pressed for time, but also many in-depth narratives and much material from the recent history of show-business. I have written two linked books about my life in, and views on, seventy years of show business starting in the late 1940s. They have begun to sell in America and I want to develop that market.

Where can you see me or my work? Click on and

How can you contact me? By email at

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