The time I met a national treasure

I once, briefly, met actor and national treasure Robert Hardy. He died today, and the first thing I thought of was the fact that his booming voice has been silenced.

I grew up watching All Creatures Great and Small, and my friend and I enjoyed it so much that we used to “play vets” – she would be the vet, I’d assume a (I’m fairly sure, utterly dreadful) Yorkshire accent, and it was “Cow’s got them mastics, vet’n’ry!” all the way.

Hardy became an expert on longbows, apparently a side effect of playing Henry V. He did a lot of work with the Mary Rose Trust – Henry VIII’s favourite ship contains the oldest surviving English longbows.

Robert Hardy in a flat cap shows a bow to historical re-enactment people in Mediaeval costume.
Robert Hardy demonstrates his bow knowledge at the Mary Rose Museum.

At one point, my dad used to work for the Mary Rose Trust. I had to go to his office at the Portsmouth Historic Dockyard one day after school. I remember standing at the top of the stairs, staring about awkwardly at the Royal Naval-issue paintjob: matt duck-egg blue above and dark gloss navy blue on the lower half of the walls.

I saw a car pull up outside. I seem to recall that it was a Jaguar – possibly burgundy, or gold, but I do remember its distinctive personalised number-plate:

666 RH

Being a teenager, I laughed and pointed. That is, until I saw the driver get out.

It was Robert Hardy.

Actor Robert Hardy stands in front of a BMW car with the registration plate 666 RH
From Hardy kept the reg plate for 50 or 60 years and transferred it each time he got a new car.

My mouth dropped open. Hero of my childhood Sunday evenings! In the flesh! The very man himself!

I seem to remember he opened his boot and there were longbows in there – did he take one out? I can’t say for sure.

I heard the door open downstairs, and the air seemed to change, as if it was injected with fizzing energy. I looked down in the direction of some loud, confident footsteps that were echoing up the staircase, and there he was – Robert Hardy himself.

“HELLO!” he boomed.

All I could do was clutch onto the banister and stare. In a pathetic, faint mumble, I replied, “Hello.” And I couldn’t move from the spot.

“WHAT A LOVELY DAY!” he boomed, or something along those lines.

He strode energetically onwards, coming ever nearer. I can see him now, hand slapping the banister as he grabbed it with each step, eyes sparkling, face garlanded with an enormous grin.

Perhaps because the volume of his voice had announced his presence, senior staff appeared, and Hardy was avuncular and hail-fellow-well-met with them all.

My dad arrived on the scene at last, and was presented with the sight of me on the stairs gawping in mute amazement at the sudden arrival of Siegfried Farnon. My dad rolled his eyes.

That voice, though. A national treasure, indeed.