TV SOAPS FAMOUS FARMER
Emmerdale character Jack Sugden is one of the countrys
best-known farmers – loved and loathed for his traditional
yet hot-headed approach to life and farming. Tim Relf meets
the man behind the mask, actor Clive Hornby, who this
month celebrates his 20th anniversary with the show
CLIVE Hornby tells a story sometimes. Its about one of the farmers on whose land Emmerdale was originally filmed. This guy was having a break from ploughing, recalls Clive, knelt down, picked up some soil, rubbed it between his fingers and let it trickle back to the ground. "It looked so natural," he says.
The actor has kept that memory with him ever since. Because trying to look natural in the countryside is, he says, essential in his part. "You have to try and look relaxed. As if you have done it every day."
Jack Sugden, of course, has become a household name since then – a key character in the soap which, with its 12m viewers, is hot on the heels of EastEnders and Coronation Street in the ratings war.
"Ive got quite used to Jack now," says 55-year-old Clive, sitting in his house on Ilkley Moor, home also to his wife Helen Weir (who played Jacks first screen wife, Pat). "If I put on the wellies and the Barbour and the cap, I go straight over to being him."
He remembers, though, something else that occurred to him all those years ago as he watched that man in the field. He thought: Farmers are born into this.
Clive himself couldnt have been born further from this. "The country was pretty alien to me," says the Liverpool-raised man who landed the role in 1980. "I was right in at the deep end. The first day on location I was delivering a calf."
A lot of its about attention to detail, apparently. Thinking, for example, if hes under a tractor, precisely how he would be holding the spanner. But people dont notice that, surely? "They will – every farmer in Yorkshire will come to me and say what the bloody hell were you doing under that tractor?"
Working on a tractor would have been an odd prospect to the young Clive who trained to be an accountant. "God knows why, Im hopeless with money," he laughs. He ditched that, however, and joined a rock band before pursuing his acting dream.
"I think I always wanted to be an actor, but didnt think it would happen to me. I used to think that they were spotted in the street by directors. I didnt realise you had to do something about it."
But, do something about it he did, getting work in the Liverpool Playhouse. "Making the tea, mopping the wings and watching everyone working." It was, he says echoing the words of the 1980s TV character Yosser Hughes, Gis a job time.
After that he headed to the capital, training at LAMDA then, after a variety of parts – in his mid-30s and "skint" – was offered the Emmerdale role. "It was an opportunity too good to pass up."
Since then the nation has followed Jacks trials and tribulations, now gluing them to their TV sets three times a week. And, while the scriptwriters have recently ditched farming tales in favour of sex and scandal, big storylines are brewing in the Sugden household.
Viewers will be captivated by the brusque Yorkshiremans problems with his wife, Sarah, forced to find off-farm work in a bid to make ends meet. Hes worried about whether theyll be a farm left to pass on to future generations. And whether his son, whos more interested in computing than farming, would want it, anyway.
It can be short-notice, frenetic stuff, getting filming schedules at a few days notice. And you can see him, sometimes, out on Ilkley Moor learning his lines. If he sees anyone coming towards him, he stops, waits until theyve passed, then starts again.
"There have been one or two occasions where a heads appeared through the bracken and Ive been giving it welly with the old words. You feel a bit of a prat, but people probably just think: Thats Jack doing his lines."
He finds the demanding storylines most enjoyable. "You go from there to there then back down to there," says Clive, moving his arm up, then down again, demonstrating the emotions involved. As he does this, it strikes you hes not the most animated of men. Hes quietly spoken, too. Listens intently to questions asked of him. And answers, you feel, entirely honestly. In short, he couldnt be less luvvie-like.
* Soap actors
It upsets him, all the same, when people typecast soap actors as one-dimensional. "Thats a rotten generalisation. You shouldnt say that."
But he wonders about how things might have been, had he not spent so long with one show. "Sometimes it seems like 20 years, sometimes it seems like 20 minutes."
He wonders, too, what else he might have done. Theres a hint of restlessness there. "Theres time for me to do other things," he says.
But Emmerdale has been good to Clive. Hes had a "semi-security" unknown to a lot of jobbing actors. The chance to see Tom, his 13-year-old son, grow up. Spend nights at home. No, no regrets. "You have to take the cards youre given."
Whatever else he might do, one thing he would never want to be – he freely admits – is a farmer. "Being so ruled by the time of the year. Up until 3am lambing. It would drive me mad. I couldnt do it."
But what he can do, beyond any doubt, is act the part of one. And as for what he tells those farmers who tell him he wasnt holding the spanner in the right place under the tractor: "I usually say to them its television farming. I tell them that Ive got hands like a babys bottom; and theyve got hands like a bunch of bananas."