Peter Duncan talks about his role in Birdsong ahead of visit to Buxton Opera House

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Former Blue Peter presenter Peter Duncan comes to Buxton Opera House next week to star in the wartime drama Birdsong which is touring the country.

Ahead of his visit, Jenny Mather talked to him about the production:

Why should people come and see Birdsong?

Birdsong is extraordinary because it tells the human story of WW1, It doesn’t give a solution or answer but it explains something about the wonderful and awful species we are.

Tell us about your character in Birdsong?

I play Jack Firebrace who before the war used to be a ‘tunneler’, digging the London tubes.

When WW1 breaks out they realise they need lots of people with expertise in digging tunnels under enemy positions, Jack is one of these people. He isn’t a soldier (after only a weekend of military training), but importantly he knows how to dig tunnels. He’s the kind of man you’d like to be in the trenches with, he has strength of character and like a lot of men of his time, a faith in God... interestingly, you see that slowly break down as the play progresses.’

Did you carry out research into the conditions on the frontline?

So much of that war has been documented, what it was like to be in the trenches and tunnels. It was extremely hot down there and they spent every waking moment with shells going off, wondering if their life was about to end. The nearest I have come to that was during two weeks’ training for a TV series called Duncan Dares. I had to go into a mock fire, that’s the nearest I can imagine to it: blindfolded in the smoke.

You’ve had a diverse acting career, including a bit part in the film Flash Gordon...

I remember going to the audition for Flash Gordon and meeting the film’s producer, the late Dino De Laurentiis; he wasn’t a tall man, sat behind a tall desk. He actually cast someone else for the small cameo role (obviously an important role on Arboria), but it didn’t work out and I got to shoot it again. When you are making a film like that, you don’t know it’s going to turn into a classic.

Do you have fond memories of Blue Peter?

Blue Peter was a long time ago but I remember it with great affection. Whilst I’m up in Buxton I shall be visiting my co-presenter Simon Groom who runs a farm at Dethick. I loved my Blue Peter days it was a good time, but essentially I’ve always been an actor.

I believe you have a local connection to the area?

I know the area well because I married a girl from Ambergate, we had the ceremony in Belper. I’ve got two sister-in-laws in Ashbourne so I’ll be visiting them.

Birdsong is at Buxton Opera House from February 17 to 21 with evening performances at 7.30pm and Wednesday and Saturday matinees at 2.30pm. Tickets £15-£23. Contact 0845 127 2190 or www.buxtonoperahouse.org.uk