WITH PETER BURGIS
Editor's note: Peter Burgis has been portraying the infamous justice,
Begbie, over a period of some 19 seasons in Barkerville. In his many journeys
walking the last mile of the Cariboo Road he has a certain insight on the
Judge, his character and what made him tick... This year, seeing as we wrote
a feature article on Judge Begbie, we thought it would be appropriate to
conduct an interview with the man who is him today.
To begin why don't you tell the readers
something about yourself, your background, 'life before Barkerville', that
sort of thing.
Ahh, life before Barkerville. Well,
since you don't want to hear about the whole sixty-odd years...
Just the highlights.
Well, once my formal education was completed...off
into the air force for five years, spent a lot of time in Germany and back,
some time with the civil service in England and then emigrated to Canada...(pauses
while thinking)...in 1957.
I then spent about 18 years or more working
in Vancouver at various professional jobs, basically as a purchasing agent...my
original profession. Got an opportunity to get into the theatre full-time.
I'd been doing a lot of non-professional theatre in Vancouver. Well over
thirteen, fourteen years of non-professional theatre down there. Got the
chance to get the job here and then another one in the winter in Vancouver.
As you well know, you can't live [in Barkerville] unless you've got two
First job [in Barkerville] was at the Theatre
Royal. Franklin Johnson, who [was Begbie before me], gave up the Begbie
presentation and when I came to audition [for the Theatre] in '76, they
said, 'No we don't want you for the show, we want you to do Begbie instead'.
All of a sudden, like topsy, it just grew from there.
All I inherited from Franklin was the script
and it was a solo performance then. After that, I gradually changed it into
a two-person show and the script, once again like topsy, kept growing. Instead
of ten to fifteen minutes, all of a sudden it was twenty-five to thirty
and a regular thing. I wear out assistants quite quickly.
So, what would you say attracted
you to Barkerville, was it more of an attraction or just happenstance?
Happenstance mostly. I mean, I'm really
lucky 'cause I'd been here once...and...I lived next door to Fran Dowie
in Richmond (Fran Dowie ran the Theatre Royal in its early years), I knew
Fran 'cause he was my next-door neighbour...never thought about working
for him at that time but then, as I say, when I got the opportunity of working
in the theatre I thought great, really good gig, really good place...winter
with the theatre company and back here to do Begbie.
The next winter the theatre company folded
in Vancouver and that's when I went 'Oh, I can't afford to live in Vancouver
in the winter anymore so that's when we bought the house in Wells, 'cause
it was cheaper to live here than there.' Course at that time we could live
in [Barkerville] as well, in the summer we had a house here and we were
around in costume at all hours of the day.
That would have been the King
House. I remember that house well.
Yeah, yeah. Croquet on the back lawn.
Croquet tournaments and pig roasts.
Ok, let's talk a little about Matthew Baillie Begbie. You've been doing
this job for 19 years. Probably longer than anyone else...
Probably. I'm not sure about Franklin
but I would expect that I've been doing it the longest. Although mind you,
19 years on the bench, Begbie had 36, I have another 17 years to go!
Seeing as you've done it for 19
years, which is a considerable length of time by any measure, certainly
longer than any other interpreter that I know of, you must find Begbie to
be a fascinating character to have held your interest for all these years.
Hmm. Well the thing is...we were saying...you've
got a 36 year career. If you had to recount somebody's life for 36 years,
obviously your not going to do it year by year, but there are enough accrued
anecdotes that, in theory, you've got enough material that you wouldn't
have to worry about using something new every day; which, we don't have
to do anyway.
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