Actor's British Road Trip Goes Off The Beaten Path Robbie Coltrane, best known for playing Hagrid in the Harry Potter films, takes time away from potions and spells to talk about his new DVD. In Robbie Coltrane: Incredible Britain, he drives on country roads from London to Glasgow, Scotland, to reveal a different side of Britain.
NPR logo

Actor's British Road Trip Goes Off The Beaten Path

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Actor's British Road Trip Goes Off The Beaten Path

Actor's British Road Trip Goes Off The Beaten Path

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

(Soundbite of film "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone")

Mr. DANIEL RADCLIFFE: (As Harry Potter) Excuse me, who are you?

Mr. ROBBIE COLTRANE: (As Rubeus Hagrid) Rubeus Hagrid, keeper of keys and grounds at Hogwarts. Of course, you know all about Hogwarts.

Mr. RADCLIFFE: (As Harry Potter) Sorry, not.

Mr. COLTRANE: (As Rubeus Hagrid) No? Blimey, Harry. Didn't you ever wonder where your mom and dad learned it all?

Mr. RADCLIFFE: (As Harry Potter) I don't know.

Mr. COLTRANE: (As Rubeus Hagrid) You're a wizard, Harry.


Most of you may know Scottish actor Robbie Coltrane for his role as Hagrid the Giant in the Harry Potter films. What you may not know is that the actor began his career as an artist, that he worked as an improvisational comedian, appeared in several British television series - "Black Adder," the detective series "Cracker" - and that he has had many roles in movies, including a star turn with Eric Idle in the comedy, "Nuns On the Run." Now Robbie Coltrane is up to something completely different: a reality road show called "Incredible Britain."

(Soundbite of DVD, "Robbie Coltrane: Incredible Britain")

Mr. ROBBIE COLTRANE: Good evening, ladies and gentlemen, and welcome to celebrities making an ass of themselves.

HANSEN: In three episodes now available on DVD, Robbie Coltrane drives from London to his home in Glasgow on the back roads. Along the way, he introduces us to some amazing places and some very quirky people. Robbie Coltrane joins us from a studio in Glasgow. Welcome to the program.

Mr. COLTRANE: Hello. Can you hear me?

HANSEN: I sure can.


HANSEN: The magic of radio. I have no pun intended here, but is this kind of reality show a departure for you?

Mr. COLTRANE: I guess it is, yes. I mean, it all came about because I live in Scotland and work mainly in London. I mean, all the studios are in London. I quite often drive that road, and you see these little turnoffs, the (unintelligible) little places. You see church spires just over the horizon, you know. And I got to talk to lots of other people. They said, you know, how often have you thought, just for once, instead of doing this dreary journey as fast as possible, just go off and see what's happening?

HANSEN: Had you visited some of these places before?

Mr. COLTRANE: I'd never been to any of them before.

HANSEN: You know, you found some really interesting things and people. You had the weighing of the mayor in High Wycombe.

Mr. COLTRANE: Fascinating.

(Soundbite of DVD, "Robbie Coltrane: Incredible Britain")

Unidentified Man #1: Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to this, the ancient weighing-in ceremony.

Mr. COLTRANE: Now you certainly can't accuse the locals of failing to get into the spirit of things.

Unidentified Man #1: All things. All these bag pipes.

Unidentified Man #2: Here you go. Good luck, son.

Mr. COLTRANE: The big moment arrives.

Unidentified Man #1: The retiring mayor, Councilor Darren Hayday(ph).

Mr. COLTRANE: It sounds a wee bit like the sort of thing you would invent in a delta to get tourists in. But actually, it goes way back to the time of Queen Elizabeth, which is about the 1570 or something like that. What used to happen was that the mayor and the head of the local militia and the landowners and so on, who administered the area, appeared to be getting fat off the land. It's an expression, isn't it? Queen Elizabeth said that every year they had to weigh the mayor and all the notables of the town, and if they weighed more than they weighed the last year, then this town cryer shouted out, you know, 15 stones and four pounds and some more, whereupon rotten fruit could be thrown at them.

Unidentified Man #1: Councilor Darren Hayday, no more.

(Soundbite of applause)

Mr. COLTRANE: All Darren's time on the treadmill has paid off.

(Soundbite of applause)

Mr. COLTRANE: It's a very practical way of making local government accountable to the people, and they do it every year.

HANSEN: Another place you visited, you met a pastor who provides funeral services for bikers. He outfits his motorcycle with a sidecar for the coffin?

Mr. COLTRANE: That's right.

(Soundbite of DVD, "Robbie Coltrane: Incredible Britain")

Mr. Coltrane: How did you work out that there was a demand for this, shall we say?

Unidentified Pastor: I was church minister in London and I was asked to do some funerals of bikers who died.


Unidentified Pastor: And it really bothered me. We put them in the back of a car.


Unidentified Pastor: We would never give a Catholic a Protestant funeral, and a Protestant a Catholic funeral, so why would you put a motorcyclist through an automobile, for goodness sake? It doesn't make sense to me.

Mr. COLTRANE: And the sidecars are built by the same people who make the bodies for a Rolls Royce. I have to confess. I had a vision of a pretty tacky, old, sort of Harley Davidson with a coffin strapped to a sidecar. But it was incredibly tasteful, believe it or not. Beautifully made little sidecar. Two little openings at the front where the boots go, because if you're going to be cremated, you're not going to want to have your boots on for health and safety reasons. I don't know what health and safety is left when you're going to be cremated.

(Soundbite of laughter)

But of course, they do 170 miles an hour. So quite often he was saying, one of the last requests of the deceased would be, make sure you overtake everything on the way to funeral.

(Soundbite of laughter)

(Soundbite of DVD, "Robbie Coltrane: Incredible Britain")

Mr. COLTRANE: So are you not tempted sometimes just to give them a last...

Unidentified Pastor: Oh, we do. We give them a last blast. We do the only funerals that flash people at the outside lane.

HANSEN: What was your best moment?

Mr. COLTRANE: Oh, gosh! It's such a difficult question. One of them was the bottle kicking. Basically, a controlled battle between two villages who have been doing this every year since, they think, about the time of the Romans, which was about 400 A.D. There's a thing called a bottle, which is basically a small barrel of beer. And one bunch of boys from the village tried to get it to their village, and one bunch of boys from the other village get it to their village. I have to say, it's like a car crash, and you have the see the replay to see where the ball was. There was two scrums. It must have been about 500 in each scrum. So you imagine a thousand people battling it out to carry this thing from one village to another, and it's about two and a half miles, I think it is.

(Soundbite of DVD, "Robbie Coltrane: Incredible Britain")

Mr. COLTRANE: The game can go on for hours. Hundreds of people, all trying to wrestle a wee barrel over their line. I have absolutely no idea how they know which side everyone is on or which direction they're going in.

Unidentified Man #3: It is basically a scrum. It's supposed to be where they got the idea for riots. It's just extraordinary.

Mr. COLTRANE: There's no referee, obviously. So apparently, there's a general agreement there'll be no rough stuff. Yeah, right.

Unidentified Man #4: I might have got a broken ankle.

Mr. COLTRANE: The astonishing thing is that nobody gets killed, and the rules are that you're not basically allowed to kill anybody. That's basically it.

HANSEN: Are some of the traditions in the villages you visited disappearing? I mean, I'm thinking of the dock pudding championships or the cheese rolls.

Mr. COLTRANE: Quite the reverse. Some of them are actually almost bogus. Do you remember the scarecrow?

HANSEN: Yeah. The scarecrow village and...

Mr. COLTRANE: Yeah. That's only 10 years old, and yet it brings two million pounds worth of income into the town because everybody wants an excuse to go out, put on their best dress and wander around the village and have a beer and a hamburger and listen to the band and all that. So I would say to anyone who watches the program who doesn't have a tradition in them, at least to start one right now because even though some of the traditions go back 700 years, there must have been a day when it was the first day.

HANSEN: "Robbie Coltrane: Incredible Britain" is now available on DVD, and he joined us from a studio in his hometown of Glasgow, Scotland. Robbie, thank you so much.

Mr. COLTRANE: Surely. It's nice to talk to you.

Copyright © 2008 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.