On Saturday 20th June you will have the opportunity to visit a galaxy not that far away (Rochdale’s Spotland Stadium to be precise) and to meet not only the most iconic, revered and downright feared movie baddie of all time, but also a man who managed to save the lives of a quarter of a million children. The strange thing is… they are the same person!
Dale-Con 3: Return of the Jedi to Rochdale (to give it its full title) is the third annual gathering of sci-fi fans, collectors and celebrities and has been moved to the football ground this year to accommodate a whole host of classic movie cars as well as comic book stalls and Jedi training sessions. It’s a convention where self-confessed geeks and nerds dress up like Han Solo, James
T Kirk or even Chewbacca to rub shoulders with like-minded individuals and hobnob with the stars of their favourite films and TV series.
Special guests this time around include Hattie Hayridge, famous for portraying the gormless computer Holly from sitcom Red Dwarf, and Dave Prowse, the 6 foot 6 Bristolian who donned the black helmet and cloak of ultra-evil mega-baddie Darth Vader in the original three Star Wars films. Of course, the booming voice of the Sith Lord was provided by Hollywood star James Earl Jones (“I find your lack of faith disturbing, my lover” wouldn’t have had the same ring), but Prowse contributed the bulk and physicality which haunts the dreams of Star Wars fans to this day.
It is surprising to learn then that his career has not always erred on the dark side; he’s also known for a character that couldn’t be much further from Darth Vader if it tried – the Green Cross Code
“I absolutely loved Star Wars,” says Dave, “but my favourite job of all time was doing the road safety work.
“I was the Green Cross Code man from the mid Seventies till 1991 and it is my proudest achievement.
“There were so many children being run over that something needed to be done, so these adverts went on the television and I travelled to schools across the country to spread the message. In the end they worked it out and we saved something like 250,000 lives which is absolutely fantastic.”
Dave even recently donned the uniform again in order to spread the road safety message to both children and adults in a series of films produced by an insurance company, focusing on people
being distracted by their phones while out and about.
The campaign led to Dave receiving an MBE in 2000 for his good work, but he never had the chance to find out if the Queen knew who Darth Vader was. “No, you don’t really have time to chat too
much,” he explains. “It’s quite quick but I was so proud to receive that honour and it was a fantastic experience.”
The adverts made Dave a star in his own right, due to his face being actually on show in that role, but he says his sidekick, Droid the robot, is in even bigger demand at events like Dale-Con. “People are always asking after him!” Dave laughs.
“I have him in my front room and, wherever I go, people want me to bring him along. The only problem is he takes up the whole back of the car so I can’t give anyone else a lift!”
The mind boggles to imagine what the police would think if they were to pull Dave over on his way to or from a convention, but who would dare question Darth Vader anyway?
Prowse travelled an unusual route into the movies, having decided to become a bodybuilder and weightlifter early on in life. He was immensely successful at both, winning a sackful of awards
including the British heavyweight weightlifting championships title in 1962. From there he opened a number of gyms across London, but all the time he still dabbled in screen work. He made a couple of brief appearances in The Benny Hill Show as well as taking roles in Doctor Who and a BBC production of Shakespeare’s As You Like It.
His big break came when he played a bodyguard in Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange, a vivid and violent adaptation of the Anthony Burgess novel which the director himself pulled from screens following widespread horror at the film’s content. With his experience in the industry, did he know that Star Wars would be as big as it became when he auditioned?
“I never had to audition,” laughs Dave. “I just got a phone call from George Lucas (the director of the Star Wars series) asking whether I’d like to take the role. He said that if I was good enough for Stanley Kubrick, I was good enough for him.”
An honour, indeed, so what was his initial response? “I said, ‘Do you mind telling me who you are?’ I’d never heard of George Lucas in my life!”
Dave did accept the part in the end and the rest is history. The original three films were, and remain, adored by millions around the world, reaching new viewers every year.
Not even the three under-par prequels which were released in the late 90s could take the sheen off Star Wars: A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, so what does Dave
expect to see from the new films in the franchise which begin with The Force Awakens later this year?
“I just hope that they continue the story and make sense with the Star Wars universe,” he says.
“I think everyone agrees that the prequels weren’t very good, but we’ll have to wait and see what happens with these new movies.”
The last three films in the run will be helmed by Lost creator and director of the recent Star Trek films, JJ Abrams, with fans hoping he can create something fitting to accompany the original beloved movies.
Dave Prowse no longer attends the official Star Wars activities following a falling out with Lucas film, who produced the series. He is however a very busy man, with bookings for conventions filling his weekends until the end of the year, not to mention a number already inked in for 2016. All this while getting about on crutches after an operation to fix a bone problem a number of years ago.
“I love doing them,” Dave enthuses. “It’s great to meet the fans of the films and they always know so much about the characters and the backgrounds – far more than I do!”
What sort of questions does he have to field?
“People are fascinated by the cast – we had such a strong selection of people in those films. They ask about Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill and Harrison Ford – what were they like on set, did I get to
talk to them and all that. In fact it was a wonderful time and we all got along so well.”
Dave had actually already worked with Fisher, who played Princess Leia, before Star Wars came along. “It was a number of years ago,” he reminisces, “she was only 16 or 17 and she came over with her mum, Debbie Reynolds, who I was doing the Palladium show with. She was a lovely girl and she’d perform sometimes – she used to do this number with a huge note at the end and we’d all be in the wings, keeping our fingers crossed that she would reach it!”
For your chance to grill Dave on any aspect of his career, you’ll need to get hold of tickets for the Dale-Con event on 20 June which will also feature a host of stars from sci-fi as well as comics, merchandise, movie cars and a whole lot more. And rest assured he’s a lot more like the Green Cross Code Man than Darth Vader in real life!