IT is all go in Cranford.
The stars were out at last night’s premiere of the major new BBC1 period drama.
They included cast members, led by Dame Judi Dench and Dame Eileen Atkins.
There were also plenty of candles and oranges at the post-screening party, where I had a chat with Life On Mars star Philip Glenister.
It was held at the very elegant Dartmouth House in London’s Mayfair.
The reason for those candles and oranges will become clear when you watch the first episode at 9pm this Sunday.
Phil leaves Gene Hunt behind, just for a while, to play Mr Carter, land agent to Lady Ludlow (Francesca Annis).
He’s a reformer and has some lovely scenes later in the series when he becomes determined to educate 10-year-old Harry Gregson.
The delicious opening episode features a performance from Mr Glenister of elegant economy, as they say in Cranford.
He also gets to shout: “The trout can wait!”
Fans will know just how hard Phil works – and how generous he is with his time when promoting projects.
He attended last night’s Curzon Mayfair screening with actress wife Beth Goddard.
But as the clock neared 10pm, his interview commitments meant he had yet to join her at the party.
And he was due back on set bright and early this morning for filming of Life On Mars spin-off Ashes To Ashes.
“It’s going well. We’re on the last two. We’ve got six in the can,” he said.
“And it’s a different kind of show, it’s a different feel to it.
“We set it in the eighties, obviously Keeley’s come in and she’s fab.
“From my point of view Gene, from being the big fish in the small pond, he’s now become the small fish in the big pond, by joining the Met.
“That’s what I wanted to explore.”
Phil said the success of shows like Life On Mars and Cranford was down to the writing.
“Everybody says it must be the Cortina, it must be the Curly Wurly bar.
“It’s not. It’s down to writing – storytelling is everything.
“And Cranford is a great story.
“It’s an amazing piece to be a part of,” he told me.
“Incredible cast and very chuffed to support the Dames, basically, which is what I’m there for.”
He added: “It’s what the BBC does best – it’s what we do best in this country.
“What’s wonderful is it’s being carried by actresses of a certain age, who just bring that wisdom and that experience and that talent.
“You can’t buy that. You watch it and it just knocks you out. It just does.
“Anybody that wants to get into the acting profession, you just watch people like Eileen and Judi and Imelda. They’re just amazing.
“It’s not nearly as intensive as Life on Mars, where you’re effectively co-carrying the piece – John and I.
“This was very much a supporting role, but a great part.
“It had some similarities…but I’m not the sort of actor that thinks, ‘I have to be the lead in this.’
“It’s a very ensemble piece and to be a part of this kind of ensemble was a real privilege and honour – amazing people to work with.”
The five-part serial is based on the works of Cheshire author Elizabeth Gaskell, who lived in Knutsford – the town she called Cranford.
The first episode features Phil in scenes filmed at Lacock in Wiltshire and also in the Long Gallery at Syon Park in Middlesex.
Among other guests last night were a number of actors not involved in Cranford, including Colin Firth, Sarah Lancashire, Denis Lawson and Emilia Fox.
BBC director general Mark Thompson, no less, introduced the screening.
I interviewed members of the Cranford cast and production team earlier this year.
The first feature ran in yesterday’s MEN. The online version, with photo gallery and audio file, is here.
Cheshire-born producer Sue Birtwistle and writer Heidi Thomas were also there last night.
Both deserve huge credit for creating a classic piece of television, set to delight viewers over the next five Sundays.
It’s must see TV – but will be in direct competition with ITV1’s ratings winner I’m A Celebrity…Get Me Out Of Here!
I asked Phil why viewers should choose Cranford instead of the TV jungle.
“If you want to watch proper celebrities, watch Cranford,” he replied.
“If you want the A-list, watch BBC1.”
You can listen to short extracts from last night’s chat with Phil via the three audio links below.
And there’ll be more on Cranford – and Mr G – in next week’s MEN.
Philip Glenister on Cranford: Audio File.
Philip Glenister on Ashes To Ashes: Audio File
Philip Glenister on Cranford v I’m A Celebrity: Audio File.
Author’s Love Letter To Community
Syon Park Great Hall
Dartmouth House, Mayfair