THERE was plenty to discuss when I met up again with Kevin Whately in London one Friday afternoon in July.
Some of what we talked about will have to wait for another day.
Tonight (Sunday) he takes the lead in Joe Maddison’s War, a one-off film on ITV1 at 9pm.
My feature interview with Kevin was published this week in the MEN but has yet to go online.
So for those who might be interested, here it is below:
KEVIN Whately and Robson Green are self-confessed members of the Geordie mafia yet have never appeared on screen together. Until now.
“I saw Robson in his first show at the Live Theatre in Newcastle probably 30 years ago. We’ve met each other a lot and knew each other well. But never worked together,” says Lewis star Kevin.
Joe Maddison’s War (ITV1, 9pm Sunday) finally brings them side-by-side as best friends at the outset of the Second World War. Kevin plays shipyard worker Joe, shocked when his wife leaves him for a younger naval officer.
Too old to serve, Joe and his pal Harry, played by Robson, reluctantly volunteer to join the Home Guard on Tyneside, which leads Joe on a journey of self-discovery.
“He’s a miserable so-and-so at the beginning. His life is falling to bits. Luckily Harry nursemaids him through and then gradually he rebuilds his life.”
Those with nostalgic memories of Robson and Jerome will be pleased to know that Mr Green returns to singing in the one-off drama, belting out a couple of numbers in front of a jazz band. “It was hard for him because it’s very different stuff to what he was used to in Soldier Soldier,” explains his co-star.
Kevin had dance lessons for the drama, which also features Sir Derek Jacobi as Major Simpson. “I had to learn how to do it badly,” he smiles. “No, my dancing is shocking. I’ve done a Lambada as Lewis and one or two others but I’ve never quite got away with it.”
So no Strictly Come Dancing for him? “Definitely not. They asked about five years ago and I said, ‘No way.’ I’ve always tried hard to dance but never got there.”
The film was the last script written by Kevin’s good friend and colleague Alan Plater before he died in June at the age of 75. “Even though he was ill, he made the cast read through of the script and then, when we were shooting it, his agent was taking the film rushes to him every day. He’d seen a rough cut of the finished film just the week before he died and liked it.
“It’s a personal story in that it’s based on his uncle, who was in the Home Guard in Jarrow during the war and had been in the trenches in the First World War. It’s very typical Alan, very warm-hearted and a sweet story. He was my favourite writer.”
Thanks to Dad’s Army, many people associate the Home Guard with Captain Mainwaring and his merry men. But they were active nationwide, including Manchester and Newcastle.
“I remember my mother talking,” reflects Kevin. “She heard the bombing during the war and can recall things just down the road from her, within 200 yards, being hit. I looked at a lot of photos of the Home Guard up there and you realise how extensive it was. Whole regiments of them all kitted up.”
Joe Maddison’s War begins and ends with a wedding. Kevin still has painful memories of his Best Man speech at a friend’s nuptials just after they’d left school. “I didn’t know anyone there except my friend Dave and his missus, who I’d met a couple of times. It was the worst experience of my life. It’s put me off public speaking forever. I’ve done it once more since but it was hell.”
Even so, he was pleased to film back on Tyneside and thinks the BBC move to Salford will be good news for the north east as well, encouraging drama producers to investigate locations in Newcastle and beyond. “It’s so spectacular up there. I’d be surprised if they didn’t.”
The now closed and deserted Swan Hunter shipyard at Wallsend was used as a production base for the ITV1 film. “I’d been to a lot of the launches there when I was a kid because my dad worked for a shipbuilding institute. And I did the audit at Swans when I worked for Price Waterhouse as an accountant in the sixties. I hadn’t been back there for about 25 years, so it was a big shock to me.”
Kevin is currently in the very different surroundings of Oxford, making four new Lewis films which will keep him busy until Christmas. Over nine million viewers watched him as Inspector Robbie Lewis in the last series, alongside Laurence Fox as Det Sgt Hathaway.
Did he ever fear Lewis was under threat because of drama budget cuts? “No, I never felt it was at risk because it sells like hot cakes around the world. But you don’t want to do it if they’re going to hack right back. If it started to look cheap, there wouldn’t be much point. But, touch wood, it’s been OK.”