The Man Behind Head Porter – Paul Butterworth

Many of you will know Paul Butterworth as our own, dear Head Porter. You may even recognise him from both the big and small screen in The Full Monty, Frank, Doctors and – perhaps most impressively of all – the Country Life Butter advert with John Lydon. Here he is, in his own words…

It all started after a particularly smelly biology lesson when we had been dissecting a rat, in those days schools bred their own rats for A level dissection. The chemistry lesson when we secretly made some liquid concoction that would explode on contact when dry was fun as the teacher skipped about the classroom… but what really did it was pulling apart a daffodil.

In one of those revelatory moments it suddenly became clear in my 17 year old befuddled brain that I’d much rather be reciting Wordsworth’s… 

I wandered lonely as a cloud

That floats on high o’er vales and hills,

When all at once I saw a crowd,

A host, of golden daffodils;

… than pulling them apart… and that people were far more interesting than test tubes.

My mother had all been set to go on the West end stage in the 1930’s when she’d met a lowly curate, fell in love and ditched the greasepaint for the washing up bowl and a household of seven. I was the final and youngest son, and when I was 11 she started teaching drama, I was her first pupil. A hobby that, at 17 with no contacts or resources, I decided to make into a career.

First step was to take A level English at night school, my grammar school was not best pleased when asked to change the date of my practical Chemistry exam. And O level art just because I’d had to drop it to do science and loved painting. 

Next to get myself into the Central School of Speech and Drama, on their teaching course as there was a grant. The low point being when I came back after a Summer break and my landlady, bless her, had put all my stuff on the street – even though I’d paid a retainer. So I slept rough for three weeks by breaking into building sites, no doors or windows but it was safe and dry… getting up early and showering at school before classes. I was always the first in. Till the least likely person noticed and offered me floor space in their flat. The high point being in a movement class when the class had been stopped and everybody was watching me relive cleaning a drain. I hadn’t even realised they were there, which is very like TV and film work with a crew of 30 and a camera stuck upon your nose… that was the point I knew I could act.

After drama school I worked in Children’s theatre, don’t ask. Okay, I was a singing snowman, which as I couldn’t sing was very interesting. I had reception children in inner city Birmingham pulling hairs off my leg to see if I was real. Then a big step up to assistant stage manager at the Haymarket theatre Leicester. They promoted my to Deputy Stage manager of the studio theatre within months but by now I knew my end goal was acting.

And so began my apprenticeship.

A little theatre, the Royal Exchange in Manchester, was awesome. And a whole dollop of northern film and TV. About 40 broadcast credits. Suddenly I’d find myself in a small wooden boat with Bob Hoskins in Whitby harbour, the film boat was following us, with a giant metal dredger heading straight towards us. Bob was blind as a bat, the real captain was kneeling down steering so couldn’t see ahead. And all the actors were inching towards the stern ready to dive off. The producer was having palpitations thinking of the insurance claim. Or with Julie Walters on a mountain, one day it was sunny… it snowed overnight and the next day the crew was sweeping the snow off a mountainside. I think they resorted to flamethrowers in the end.

This all led, after 20 years, to The Full Monty. I was working regularly and the phone was going. Not huge parts but enough to earn my living as an actor.

Then along came Josh… being a dad changes your life. As did a move to be nearer London. Being south never quite worked out, work slowed to a trickle and my marriage broke up. I wanted to bring up Josh so had to get a day job and put a brake on my acting, especially after he moved in with me full time at 14.

Then, suddenly Josh is 17 and planning to go to university. Now I can start rebuilding my career.

First I got in touch with any old contacts who were still alive and working. Only one good agent would give me a chance, he said he enjoyed a challenge. Second was to rebuild my voice, it had become hard and muscular. It took five years voice lessons with a voice/acting coach in LA to sort that out. I’d had a tiny part as Domhnall Gleeson’s dad in Frank (a feature film) with Michael Fassbender, who was inside a golf ball head doing an American accent. He arranged voice lessons with an American voice coach over Skype so I did the same.

I never mastered the American accent but it was wonderful vocal training for film work.

This is when I met Lucy, fell in love with her diaries, saw she had real talent and offered to do anything I could to help. I loved being Head Porter. We did some videos and photographs… the videos had zero budget and were very home made but all a step along the way. Josh directed one before he headed off to film school.

Fast forward to today.

Four years and my acting mojo is reborn and work is starting to flow again. I’ve just filmed the lead in the EUandME young Filmmaker of 2019, Skills and Business. There’s a big launch in a European capital in June and then it goes on the European Commission website.

I played Holliday Grainger’s dad in the series finale of Strike, when she got married… and fingers crossed they pull me in for the next episode being filmed in September which starts at the wedding reception (at least the book does, no idea about the TV script). I had a small part in Josh’s final university film as a baddy – it won best script writing award for his university – and a guest lead in Doctors.

Doctors phoned up with an offer out of the blue while I was on holiday, five hours to learn 14 pages of script, a 4 hour drive, 5 hours sleep and 10 hours back to back filming. It got great feedback so I knew I could still do it.

Now I am waiting to hear back about being a dad in a new family in major TV drama and a great supporting role in a low budget British comedy film. Both auditions were brilliant but there’s a million reasons you might not get a job, it’s not personal. 

What matters is I’m getting the castings, I’m getting the feedback and I’m back in the race

Oh, and I fitted in a BA degree at Leeds Polytechnic and have started an art practice. And am studying part time for a BA (Hons) Painting with the University for the Creative Arts.

Life begins again at, ahem… 63!!!!!

Here’s a photograph: Paul Butterworth as Carl in The Dream Cut, the EUandME Young Filmmaker, Skills and Business, 2019 directed by Vlad Muko.


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