December 29

Sometimes nice guys do come first

I woke this morning to the (predictable) news that many of Britain’s Olympic medal winners have been – quite rightly – honoured in the New Year’s Honours list. I’ve always felt that the New Year’s Honours – or indeed any honours – are a real British oddity, as are the way they are covered in the media.

Once you get past the headline big name awards, there are always the other ones like famous people you’d assumed already had an honour and  scientists and inventors you’d have expected to have been recognised years before.

This year for me that is Bletchley code-breaker Raymond Roberts, who has been given a MBE. Captain Roberts was part of a tiny team whose code-breaking is credited with helping shorten the Second World War by at least two years. Now 92, I find it staggering that he hasn’t be recognised before.

Then there are the announcements which just leave you thinking why? And for me this that is the news that Cherie Blair has been made a CBE. Here’s just one of the many reasons….! (click here at your peril)

There are also the ones which give you a really warm glow – and this year that’s the news that someone I’m lucky enough to know pretty well, actor Graham Cole, best known as PC Tony Stamp in The Bill, has been awarded an OBE for his extensive charity work.

Graham’s OBE really is proof that nice guys do sometimes come first. I first interviewed him about 20 years ago about his love of being in The Bill. Four years ago, as one of the longest serving members of The Bill’s cast, I approached him about doing his autobiography. A deal was done over coffee in a cafe in Leicester Square (along with our mutual friend Nuala Giblin, who would work closely with Graham on his book) and my company Splendid Books published the result, On The Beat in September 2009.

In all my dealings with Graham, I’ve never known him to be anything other than utterly charming, a consummate professional and 100% reliable whether it’s been attending a book signing, doing  interviews (or dealing with the business side of things). This includes moments when things didn’t go quite as planned, but he always remained stoical and his usual pleasant self. It’s just not me though – he’s the same with everyone: from the scaffolders we met on the way to an interview with Steve Wright on Radio 2 to the little old ladies wanting their books signed at a supermarket in Kent, nothing is too much trouble for him.

Graham has been awarded his OBE for his charity work, which I know he is totally committed to and works tirelessly at. His OBE is totally deserved – and I’m delighted for him – and his family. It’s great to see some recognition for one of life’s good guys.

PS: He’s on Twitter and you can follow him here




February 17

Making a drama out of cold coffee and empty suitcases

Production designers go to huge lengths to make the sets on television shows realistic. So I am the only one who can’t quite believe that when a suitcase or something similar is needed for a scene, props teams almost always let actors carry very obviously empty ones around during filming? I’ve just seen it a couple of times in one episode of the BBC One drama Inside Men. It looks quite ridiculous and I can’t believe it’s because actors can’t cope with carrying a bit of weight…

It was similar in The Bill with coffee. A character would get a boiling hot coffee straight from the Sun Hill drinks machine and would hold it firmly despite it being in one of those very flimsy plastic cups. So either people were only cast in The Bill if they had hands made asbestos or – as is more likely – the cups were empty!

February 9

Remembering The Bill’s Colin Tarrant

I was very saddened to learn of the tragic death of actor Colin Tarrant, who was best known as no-nonsense Inspector Andrew Monroe in the ITV police series The Bill. Colin, who was in the series for 12 years from 1990, was a serious-minded man and this was also true of his character. Monroe was tough but fair, had a calm and understated authority and the character was all the more believable for being that.

In real life Colin was a straightforward unluvvie-ish actor, who had grown up in Derbyshire and had trenchant views, particularly when it came to the Conservative Party and its treatment of miners. I interviewed him when he joined The Bill, shortly after he had appeared with Imogen Stubbs in a BBC One adaptation of the DH Lawrence The Rainbow.

As my 1990 article (reproduced below – update: It isn’t big enough to read at the moment – I’ll fix that ASAP) reported, his contract with The Bill meant he was able to earn a living without filling in between acting jobs supply teaching, where he’d often face classes of pupils who were harsh about actors they didn’t see on television and thus deemed to have failed.

We kept in touch for quite a time in the 1990s and on one occasion we travelled to Derby to research a new television drama he was trying to get off the ground.

Colin had an idea for a series centring on the day-to-day work of a local newspaper journalist. Colin wasn’t to be the star though. He saw the project as a starring vehicle for one of his co-stars on The Bill, actor Kevin Lloyd, who played DC “Tosh” Lines. Colin asked me, who he knew had been a provincial newspaper reporter, and one of his school friends who was now an executive on the local paper in Derby, to give him some background on being a local newspaper reporter and be ‘technical advisors’ if the programme ever got made. Sadly it never came to anything.

I must admit, I wasn’t sure it would have worked anyway (although the BBC had a moderate success with a series called Harry about a journalist around the same time, with Michael Elphick in the lead role). Like estate agents and politicians, journalists have never had a very good press even (and that was before the phone-hacking scandal which has seen some dodgy practices by a small number of individuals and organisations further besmirch the integrity of the majority of straight and decent journalists) whether a TV audience would have much empathy with the trials and tribulations of a local paper man is far from certain, even with someone as likeable as the late great Kevin Lloyd playing him.

Colin, like Kevin Lloyd, died far too young. My condolences to his friends and family.