An Interview with Albert Moses, Beloved British Character Actor
You know, kiddies, I was cleaning out behind my couch yesterday and found this special lost edition of Mendo Talks to Rather Interesting People from Around the Internet!
While I was in Afghanistan, perusing the many bootleg DVDs the merchants there had to offer, I stumbled across a bawdy BBC hit from the ‘70s that you may have heard of: Mind Your Language!
Although times have changed drastically and rendered most of its humor socially unacceptable, Mind Your Language is still hysterically funny, and of the entire ensemble, no one was more consistently entertaining than the lovable Ranjeet Singh, played by the phenomenal Albert Moses. I quickly tracked him down, and he agreed to an interview.
I got all my notes together, had a wonderful (albeit brief) correspondence with him… and then I… er… forgot about it.
I know, I know, it was incredibly unprofessional of me, but things got kinda crazy for a while, and then the show started taking up a lot of my time. But, in order to rectify things, I’ve taken time out of my vacation to dig up this very special lost interview!
It’s not easy to make your way in a strange country, but to make your way and end up a Knight of the Order of St. John? Not such an easy thing to do. Throw in some documentary work, motorcycle stunts, and being James Bond’s costar not once, but twice, and that sounds like a sweet deal to me.
The only man I know of who did all this is Albert Moses, so join me as we discuss crass comedy, Dinka documentaries, manic Maharajahs, and much, much more!
Oh, and be sure to buy Mind Your Language on Amazon.com, as well as Octopussy. Also, buy Ken Follett’s A Dangerous Fortune. Not because it has anything to do with anything, I’m just trying to talk it up.
What can you tell us of your early years as an actor in Sri Lanka and India?
The early years were all very exciting. There was immense competition in the industry, but because I could ride horses, sing and dance, and do motorcycle stunts, I was always in demand. Song and dance are key in Indian films, so that the whole family can come along. Comedy also played a key role, and I was great in comedy and they loved me. In Sri Lanka, I sang Christian hymns every Sunday on the local radio, which helped me to get noticed.
That’s got to be one of the most eclectic resumes I’ve ever heard! How did you get into motorcycle stunts? What were some notable works from this period? And can you tell us a little about the documentaries you made in Africa?
As a school boy, I used to do stunts on a pedal bicycle coming down steep hills, and down steps leading to the street from a building which was on a hill near our house. After school, I used to spend time with a motorcycle mechanic, helping him, and I got the idea of using a motorcycle for stunts rather than a pedal cycle. I bought a second hand army Royal Enfield motorcycle, and I was away. I have had some accidents as well.
My notable roles were Indian romantic roles and comedy.
I made documentaries about the Dinka tribe. The life of the film stars in India. The poor in India. The Dinka are the only tribe that are still naked. They are very tall and are nomads. Their worldly possession is only a long stick. They are a communal tribe and move around in groups. Any food they eat is shared by the group. In the evenings, they get together under trees, share their food seated around a fire, and apply the ash of a type of herbal leaf which they pick, all over their body before sleeping. The ash protects them from insect bites.
During my stay with them, I had to drink cow’s blood mixed in cow’s milk. It was the only clean drink one could get. It is a question of survival. There was no clean water anywhere. One wonders where they learnt the art of bleeding a cow to get a supply of blood, and sealing the vein so that the cows don’t bleed to death. They make an incision in a vein under the neck with a thorn from a local bush, and collect the blood they want, and apply the juice of a leaf and miraculously the blood stops flowing. I was amazed at the technique they had mastered.
What were some of the challenges you faced as a foreign actor in England during the early ‘70s?
In the early ‘70s there was no demand for Asian actors in the UK. I advertised myself as a double of Clark Gable; as you can see from the photograph in my website, I have a remarkable resemblance to him. It worked and attracted attention, and the casting directors were very interested in inviting me to casting sessions to meet directors.
I have to ask, what sort of roles were calling for a Clark Gable lookalike in the 1970s?
Clark was the most romantic man of the period, and was very popular. Being a lookalike drew attention among the casting directors, and directors and producers casting romantic parts.
What is your response to some modern viewers who have described Mind Your Language as a “bigot-com”?
These are what we call in the UK “do-gooders”. The show was a hit, especially in India and Pakistan, and also among African countries with a large Asian population. Also, you will see from the messages in my website that my character is loved by the public all over the world.
During your work on Mind Your Language, did you ever feel that some of the scripts presented foreigners in too bad of a light, i.e. made you or one of the other Asian actors uncomfortable by being too stereotypical?
In Mind Your Language, we felt that it was a one-to-one dialogue, like school boys calling each other names in school. Nothing was generalized, so we never felt we were stereotyped. All the jokes and the personal remarks were taken lightheartedly, and it clicked. We had a viewing figure of 17.6 million viewers in the UK alone. No comedy in the UK ever reached that figure, a record we still hold. The series was sold to 37 countries, and was a number one hit in Asia and Africa.
Do you have any interesting stories about being in films like Octopussy or The Man Who Would Be King?
Mind Your Language had just finished its run in India as a number one hit when we went there to film Octopussy. We stayed in the hotel owned by the local Maharajah, whose father’s name was Ranjeet Singh, so the comedy became a favorite show of his. The day we arrived, he had a party for the director, producer, and all the artists and crew, and at the meal he asked the director if he knew the actor who played Ranjeet Singh, because he wanted to invite him as his guest on a holiday.
Everyone started looking at each other, and I just sat tight. The director said, “I do know him, and I can arrange for him to come… how soon do you want him here?” – “How about next week? I will pay his fare.” – “Well, since you are so keen, perhaps I can fix it sooner.”
“Really,” said the Maharajah. “Of course,” said the director, and he said, “Okay, Ranjeet, stand up.” I stood up and everyone rolled in laughter. The Maharajah couldn’t believe it, and sent for the Maharani, his wife, to come down, and we had such fun.
In The Man Who Would Be King, they had to make up Michael Caine a bit darker. Well, the makeup lady said it would be nice if she had an Asian to stand next to him, so she could match the skin. “No problem,” Michael Caine said. “Ask Albert, his color is ideal.” So there I was standing next to him, with my hands outstretched. It was a giggle.
For those who only know you as Ranjeet, what are some of your other television career highlights?
Those who know me as Ranjeet have some nice TV shows to see me in other roles. To name a few, the best is Queenie with Kirk Douglas, the Jewel in the Crown series with Tim Piggott Smith and Charles Dance, Sherlock Holmes, Doctor Who, The Bill, Holby City… There are about 57 TV shows, the list is on my website.
What prompted your switch to academia? Was the irony of becoming an English teacher simply too delicious?
My mother was a teacher, and when I was a small boy, she used to bring home the children she was teaching at school for her to look after until their parents got back from work, and I used to read them stories, and also played teacher, copying my mum.
I see you’ve written a few books. As an author myself, I’m dying to know what they’re about!
They are children’s stories. One is a compilation of folk tales from India. Another is about a hawk and turtles, and how the turtles played a trick on the hawk, and got rid of him from the lake they were living in, so that they can live in peace.
Another is about a mouse called Mustapha, who bothers his mum to go to London on his own, and in the end his mother says he can go, and he goes to bed happily, and then goes to London and has a great experience. The surprise ending is that it was all a dream. I also have written 80 poems published as a book.
Out of everything you’ve done in your career, what’s your proudest moment?
I would say my proudest moment was when I appeared on stage with Dame Diana Rigg, in the play Phaedra Britannica at the National Theatre in London.
And that’s our show! If you’d like to be one of Mendo’s Rather Interesting People from Around the Internet, feel free to contact me, and then go out and do something… rather interesting!