I was born a long time ago in a location far, far away… just outside Swansea, South Wales. At the time, my father, Harry, was beginning to make a name for himself in something called The Goon Show, and it was the success of this that enabled Harry to buy a house near London and move his small family down to the smoke, to a place called Cheam.
I attended a small, independent local school called Girton House, but my real education began in my father’s library, where, around the age of ten, I pulled down a tome from a shelf containing a row of brightly coloured yellow books. It was one of the famous Gollancz yellow-backs, and in it, this young Secombe found an escape from the grey uniformity of school life, entering a world of parallel universes, houses that could read thoughts, and weird aliens.
So immersed in this alternative world did I become that Superman, and dreams of leaping tall buildings in a single bound, were cast aside in favour of thoughts of travelling to far distant and exotic planets where lived beautiful purple women well versed in the arts of pleasing men. At the time, of course, I had little idea of what these arts might entail, but it sounded pretty good all the same.
After seven years at an all-boys prep school, I was thrust into the confusing and heady world of co-educational education at a school near Epsom Downs. Naturally shy, I discovered that humour could be quite an effective mask (and also worked pretty well with the girls) and so, to perfect my disguise, started to dip into some of the other books in my father’s library, works by humorists such as S.J. Perelman; Dorothy Parker; Stephen Leacock; and the great P.G. Wodehouse, which provided me with some terrific material.
Eventually the question of what I might do for a living reared its ugly head. Anything involving Maths or the sciences was out, as was any demandingly physical pursuit, such as sport. I had, however, somehow managed to rise to the giddy heights of captain of the second rugby fifteen, but was stripped of this privilege when, trailing by 16 points against another school, I was overheard to remark during an interval pep-talk to my loyal team: ‘Don’t worry lads, we’ll play much better once the drugs have kicked in.’
After a process of elimination, I came to the conclusion that English was about the only thing I was any good at. Taking the path of least resistance I decided to become a writer. A real writer, travelling the world gaining inspiration from exotic locations and meetings with exciting people, smoking Gauloises and drinking too much.
Then Fate, in the guise of my English teacher, intervened and twisted my arm (literally) in order to persuade me to appear in the school play.
The play was a comedy about a man who was reluctant to go further than Heaven’s waiting room, and I was to play the part of a lunatic. Nervously stepping out of the wings in my father’s borrowed pyjamas, I tripped and entered stage left, flat on my face. It got a huge laugh. Lying there on the dusty boards of the school assembly hall, looking out at the giggling audience, I saw the future. This is interesting, I thought. Writing takes time and effort, and the rewards come slowly, perhaps many years later. But the response from an audience is immediate, and better still, someone else has gone to the trouble of thinking up all the words. Perhaps my thoughts were not quite so well-formed at the time but, nonetheless, the upshot was the same: I decided to become an actor.
Leaving school, I managed to wheedle myway into the Central School of Speech and Drama, where I trained for three years, learning how to stand up straight, make a lot of noise without hurting my voice, and how to move like a gorilla.
There followed numerous jobs in reps up and down the country, a national tour of Godspell, a season with Prospect Theatre Co. at the Old Vic, several successful West End shows, including the hit The Invisible Man, (where I met Caroline Bliss, my wife-to-be) and numerous TV appearances, including the near-legendary ‘Playschool.’
Even though the world of acting was enormously enjoyable and almost totally absorbing, I never forgot my once-cherished dream of becoming a writer and, after almost thirty years in the business, finally got round to doing something about it.
During rehearsals for a new musical, I met another actor who had had been harbouring similar thoughts – Teddy Kempner.
Through a series of accidents, we ended up adapting a foreign-language animation series called Foxy Fables. After that we were commissioned to adapt another animation series for Channel 4, called Insektors. It was during the writing of this show that Lunchtime Productions was formed.
Soon after, Caroline and I were married, and before long we had a son, Matthew.
Lunchtime Productions was doing well, specializing in adapting foreign language animation programmes into English, and within a year of its conception, writing was taking up more of my time than acting.
But rewriting foreign language TV programmes wasn’t what you might call creatively fulfilling and I began to harbour thoughts of writing a novel. But, with a wife and young son to support, such mad dreams had to be put aside for the time being – I had to be responsible.
As luck would have it, it was around this time I got the call from Robin Gurland, and landed the part of Watto in The Phantom Menace.
Although the experience of working on a big-budget movie was huge fun, I hated being away from home and family, and decided, if I could, to try and make writing a full-time job, but on my terms. Lunchtime Productions was therefore soon dissolved, and at last I settled down to write my novel.
They often say that a writer’s first novel is autobiographical, and so it was with mine. Nine months after I'd started it, I realized it was embarrassingly personal, and worse, going nowhere.
Then, remembering my early journeys into the realm of imagination in the company of such writers as James Blish, Isaac Asimov, Robert Heinlein, Theodore Sturgeon, Robert Silverberg, etc., I had another idea…
With my long-suffering wife’s encouragement, and armed only with a coffee percolator and a stack of virgin credit cards, I began again.
Eighteen months later it was finished, and eighteen months after that, with barely fifty pounds credit left, Limbo was published by PanMacmillan, who, crazy fools, commissioned a sequel:
Limbo II – The Final Chapter, which was published a year later. This was followed by The Last House in the Galaxy, set in the tranquil Devon countryside and the far side of the Galaxy, the paperback of which comes out on May 20th 2006.
Endgame, about God, the Devil and Danish Pastries will be published in September.
I am currently working on a fifth novel.