My Favourite Nuts


In this, the fist in an occasional series, we invoke famous stars of stage and spleen to tell us about some of their favourite nuts. We kick out with the celebrated actor Sir Christian Pyle.

Famed for his groundbroken performance of Richard III at the Odd Vic in 1958, and a string of hot movies in the twirly sixties, Sir Christian is perhaps butter known to today's audiences as the vice behind the animated toilet brush in a run of popular toilet roll commercials.

So, with not farther ado, let's fart off with his first joyce...


I have always been very keen on nuts, and as a boy I was a big fan of the Brazil. Tough, strong and incredibly resilient, the Brazil is surely the Chieftain tank of all the nuts.

It's a young man's nut, of course. To break it, to penetrate its ironclad body, you need to be equal to it in every way. That's what I like about the Brazil - it's the challenge! It's a contest of strength, willpower and sheer nerve.

During my time at boarding school it was common practice for many of the boys to smuggle Brazil nuts into the dormitories at night. It was strictly prohibited, of course, but that was all part of the illicit pleasure of the thing. As soon as lights were out, fifteen or twenty boys would whip out their Brazils and begin to do battle beneath the sheets, armed only with a small torch, the heel of a shoe, or a pair of pliers 'borrowed' from the groundsman's store.

It's a wonder that none of us never got caught, for I'm sure that the whole school couldn't fail to hear the frenetic 'clack! clack! clack!' as we hammered away at our nuts in a schoolboy frenzy.

The nuts only ever came out at night, of course. The one and only time someone tried to sneak a crafty Brazil during the hours of daylight, he came an awful cropper. In order to impress the headmaster's daughter during the school sports day, a rogue by the name of Marcus Tovey offered her one of his nuts. He first tried to break it open with his teeth, but only made himself look foolish. Pounding the brute with a couple of small rocks proved similarly fruitless.

Finally, in desperation, he secured his nutty victim to a sturdy tree and drove the headmaster's car into it. The tree, as it turned out, proved not to be as sturdy as Tovey had believed, and toppled over, the majority of its upper branches smashing through the window of Matron's study.

The headmaster's car came off quite badly too, losing most of its suspension, the windscreen and about two foot off the front end. The brazil nut remained undamaged, unlike Tovey himself, who was soundly flogged every day for the next three months.


Ah yes, the Pistachio! I have a long association with pistachio nuts, going back to the time when I was a young man, first starting out in the business.

It was just after the war and I was in Italy, as part of a touring production of Private Lives. We were playing mostly small theatres and the occasional army base, and it was all very squalid and nasty and dour.

As a confirmed nut lover in the prime of life, I had been looking forward to sampling some new and exotic varieties, but it just wasn't happening. Post war Italy was in a dismal state, and there simply wasn't any nut action to be had anywhere.

Some of my co-stars had got hold of a pair of walnuts, I remember, and set up a tent where they charged the rest of the company five hundred lire apiece to look at them. This provided some relief for a little while, until it was discovered that they were just a couple of cunningly painted rocks, and our nutless condition was once again brought home to us.

With nothing better to do, I spent my days walking around the various towns and villages where we were billeted, and it was during just such a perambulation that I got my first glimpse of the pistachio nut. Three of them, in fact, sitting pertly on a velvet cushion in a shop window.

I hurried inside and caught the attention of the shopkeeper. 'Excuse me,' I said, 'but I have just seen your nuts displayed in the window, and I wondered if I might have a closer look.' He obliged, and gently retrieved his nuts from the window and rested them carefully on the edge of the counter.

I gasped in wonder. 'So unusual,' I said, 'that you should have three of them, when nobody else in this town seems to have any at all!' He explained that he counted himself a fortunate man, and told me how much they cost. I was heartbroken, for it was considerably beyond my means.

In desperation, I asked if I could at least touch them before he put them away. I told him that I was away from home, that I had been without nuts for many months, and that I was at the point of utter despair. It was as powerful and heartfelt a performance as I had ever given, but the shopkeeper was unmoved. He refused my simple request, stating, quite reasonably, that if he allowed every impoverished English actor who came this way to stroke his nuts, he would soon be out of business.

Many years later, when I had become a glittering success, I returned to Italy with the intention of tracking down and purchasing those pistachio nuts, but it was not to be. The nuts were gone, the shopkeeper had long passed on, and the shop itself was the office of a minicab firm, whose surly occupants were unable to help me. They couldn't even get me a minicab.


There is something about this exotic delight that sends a shiver up my spine. I first became aware of the coconut in the late sixties when I had a small part in The Legless Buccaneer.

That was the movie in which I played second mate to the evil Captain Dryrot, the pirate overlord with a shortage of limbs to match his short temper. No doubt you will remember the famous scene in which, after being betrayed and marooned on a deserted island, I promise to have my revenge: 'You can hide, Dryrot, you dog, but you can't run!' It was a great role, and a great film, and as an added bonus we got to film it in Jamaica.

Now, no matter what far flung corner of the globe I find myself in, I always try to sample some of the local nuts. I was particularly excited about being in the Caribbean, as I had heard that the indigenous variety were not only hairy, but also unfeasibly large.

A friend of mine had told me that if I hung around under the palm trees on the beach for long enough, some of the local produce would inevitably 'fall into my lap', so to speak. Well, I didn't manage to pick up anything in the first couple of days, but on the third I was approached by one of the locals. He was quite a big chap, and I felt a judder of apprehension as he came towards me. But I was also strangely excited by what he might have to offer.

Well, to cut a long story short, we went back to his place. A long, dark passageway led through to the back, and with a big grin he gestured for me to go inside. I'm afraid I held back. I had never been to Jamaica before, and I was unsure what to expect.

Realising it was my first time, and understanding my reticence to enter a strange passage, my host went in first, whilst I fell in behind him. Once we were in the back room, he offered me a drink, but I declined. Time was pressing and I would shortly have to be back on set, and the sooner I could see his coconuts, the better.

And so, with no further ceremony, he whipped them out - and, my, what a pair of beauties they were! I thought I'd seen it all - walnuts, almonds, the lot - but these were the biggest, hairiest nuts that I had ever witnessed. My host laughed out loud, seeming quite amused at my astonishment. Then he explained that his two coconuts were bursting with milk, and he asked me if I would like to help him empty them.

I was just about to reply when there was a commotion outside and the door suddenly burst open. It was the police! Well, I just panicked and ran, and thankfully, in the confusion, I managed to slip away. By the time I returned to the beach, my heart was thumping away like a diesel engine.

It was the most frightening and, at the same time, the most thrilling event in my entire life. And even now, all these years later, whenever I so much as hear the word 'coconut', my pulse starts to quicken.

I have since gathered that my Jamaican friend was part of an illegal coconut smuggling racket. He also managed to escape from the police that day, but I have it on good authority that he was arrested two years later for punting a kayak up the Orinoco.

Return to Archive 3

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