ROBSON Green went to school just up the road from me. He was at Seaton Burn High just after I left my Sixth Form to embark on a career in journalism.
I met up again with Robson recently and asked him if he had ever gone back to his old school.
“No. I think there’s always something wrong about that. It’s just weird,” he replied.
“When I was there, you’d get guys and girls who had left and they’d hang around the gates, for some unknown reason.
“I couldn’t think of a worse thing to do, other than being invited and talk to the kids. But not to hang around. Definitely not.”
Mr Green returns to TV tonight as a new regular cast member in Waterloo Road.
Well, at least for the next 10 weeks.
You can also see him presenting ITV1’s Perspectives documentary on the true story of the Pitmen Painters at 10:15pm this Sunday.
My MEN feature is below, followed by some interview extras for those who want to read more – including his thoughts on Being Human.
ROBSON Green grins: “I just had this image of Glee in Rochdale. Dancing and talking about things I’d have no idea about. And they were wonderful.”
A new term is about to begin at the nation’s favourite comprehensive school with fresh faces among the cast.
Waterloo Road (BBC1, tonight, 7.30pm) sees the arrival of Robson, 46, as site manager Rob Scotcher. “Posh words for caretaker,” he explains.
The Geordie actor stayed in Manchester for 10 weeks to film his episodes of the show, voted Most Popular Drama at the National Television Awards in January.
“I was as nervous as anyone else going into a new series. It doesn’t change. If anything, it gets worse. Especially walking into Rochdale. Someone had described it as a holding pen for The Jeremy Kyle Show. I disagree. I think it’s a lovely place.”
His fears of Glee evaporated when he arrived on location at the former Hill Top Primary School in Kirkholt and discovered the young cast who play the students were every bit as professional as the more seasoned stars.
That includes Warrington-born Britain’s Got Talent winner George Sampson, 17, whose character Kyle is taken under Rob’s wing.
“You know my views about reality television,” says Robson, who is not a fan of the genre. “But George is talented. I think Britain’s Got Talent is a different beast. And George is a phenomenal dancer. Supremely confident in front of the lens. So a joy to work with. I hoped he was going to dance but he never did.”
The former Wire In The Blood star filmed Waterloo Road at the same time as shooting his final scenes as werewolf McNair in BBC3’s cult hit Being Human.
“With the Rochdale set being an old school, I was talking to the director and you’ve got your hands behind your back because you think you’re talking to your headmaster.
“At first there was an uncomfortable two hours of, ‘I’m not really happy in this place.’ Stupidly, I went, ‘Can someone direct me to my caravan?’ We all had classrooms for dressing rooms – it was a nightmare,” he laughs.
Rob has a son at the school called Aiden, played by Oliver Lee. “Basically my character’s objective in life is to care for his son. He wants to be a role model for his child. Not the teacher or, as we do in life, call footballers role models. I think it’s ridiculous.
“Wayne Rooney’s a role model? For who? Poor him. What a burden to have, being responsible for other people’s children. People say I’m a role model. Rubbish. No I’m not. Look after your own kids.”
Former Coronation Street star and Manchester drama graduate Debra Stephenson arrives later in this seventh series as Rob’s ex-partner. By which time the caretaker’s relationship with head teacher Karen Fisher will have taken a romantic turn.
Karen is played by Amanda Burton, who will be seen on screen with Robson for the next 10 weeks before they both leave the series, nominated in the Continuing Drama category at the British Academy TV Awards later this month.
“She’s a headmistress and I’m a caretaker. So we go for the awkward romance. He asks her out for dinner and, yes, there are kissing scenes. I’ve met Amanda socially many times but never had the chance to work with her.”
Robson had been asked before to join the cast but was working on other things. “To be deeply honest with you, the reason why I took on Waterloo Road was because Mark Benton was in it.”
The two actors have co-starred together in many TV dramas, including Manchester’s Northern Lights and Clash Of The Santas. Mark plays bumbling new maths teacher Daniel Chalk.
“Mark’s character arrives on a bicycle. It’s hilarious. We have fun. He’s just a joy to work with. And I think as the 10 episodes progress there’s some lovely stuff with me and him.”
Having filmed a new series of Extreme Fishing, Robson can be seen in ITV1’s Perspectives documentary at 10:15pm this Sunday night, exploring the story behind The Pitmen Painters.
He’s also been spending time in Hollywood. “I think I’ve made inroads to Los Angeles,” he smiles, having attended Elton John’s post-Oscars party this year. “We’d been on the road driving there for about 40 minutes when I realised I’d forgotten my ID. So I had to turn round and go back for my pasport, because you go through all this security.
“And then when I finally got there, they went, ‘Hi Robson, Elton’s waiting for you, come through.’ It was fabulous. Just wall to wall charisma. And Elton was very nice. He went, ‘Hello handsome, what you doing here?’
“They were all there – Randy Newman, Smokey Robinson, Nicole Kidman. And the cast of Glee…”
Edited highlights – with some spoilers – from the rest of our round table chat at BBC TV Centre in west London back in March:
Was he ever bullied at school?
“I was never bullied. I always a good runner and good hider. A good runner beats a good fighter, I tell you.”
What were his schooldays like? Did he like school? Was he a good pupil?
“Yeah, sometimes. I don’t know what a good pupil is. What is a good pupil? I got O-levels, I got A-levels but I didn’t have many girlfriends there. I don’t know why. It was kind of weird. I enjoyed some teachers. There were teachers there…if you reflect about your school life, you realise how difficult it was. I was in schools where the classes were 43 kids. That’s impossible. And we’d be put into leagues. We’d have Division One, because the Premiership wasn’t around then, because I’m so old, Division Two and then the Vauxhall Conference if you got a certain percentage in your test. So if you’re in the Vauxhall Conference, you’re frowned upon. It’s like if you had free dinners. ‘Oh, the poor folk.’ You’re like a leper.
“They shall remain nameless but there were teachers there who disciplined by fear. You’re kind of scarred by that, the hitting and the mental scarring. But there were some wonderful teachers there. Their job is impossible. You see them more than you do your parents and they become role models, supposedly.
“But we had some really good ones, guys who nurtured me in what I wanted to do. I wanted to be a pilot or an actor, that was it. And then realised that if the RAF and I were to survive we would have to part. So I pursued this wearing make-up and doing dialogue. I loved it. It was a great way to feel confident and express and learn and educate.
“But that was not encourage in the north east of England because no-one understood why you wanted to be an actor. There were good teachers. But there was a time in my school life where we were disciplined by fear. And I’d like to have a chat with them now but it’s impossible because they’re all dead. Ah, what a shame, never mind.”
What did you get in trouble for?
“Well it wasn’t fighting. (laughs) Talking. I think just expressing myself in a way that was inappropriate. I just wanted to be the centre of attention. It’s what an actor is, you know. If there’s a lull in the room you try and make it a better, lighter and nicer place. That was one of my objectives in RE. (Religious Education)
“I’m not going to tell you the name of the teacher because the last time I told a reporter about my headmaster, he went round to his house and said, ‘You brutalised Robson.’ He did. He used the cane. It was terrifying.
“RE – here’s this man who’s trying to tell us that confiding in an invisible friend is going to sort out our problems. It’s just lunacy. All I’m seeing in the imagery I’m being fed, it’s like, ‘Sir, everything in the name of religion is just war and hatred.’ He said: “Get out. Don’t be so stupid. It’s love.’ And I said, ‘I can’t see it, sir. I really can’t.’ And when I go to church I find these men deeply suspect and suspicious, saying, ‘I’ve just been talking to God.’ No you haven’t, you liar. You’re making it up. But we all accept it. I found religion scary. It’s a guy on a cross being nailed. Horrendous. A spear in his side. Awful.”
The affair between Rob Scotcher and Amanda Burton’s character. Is there kissing?
“Yes. There is. We go for the awkward. There’s something about…you get to a certain stage in your life and the sexual pursuit either becomes awkward or it becomes funny. Or it can become stressful. It’s not easy. I’ve got a responsibility to a child and so has she. And she’s a headmistress and I’m a caretaker. A site manager. Janitor. I’ve met Amanda socially many, many times, but never had the chance to work with her until now.”
Why did he finally agree to join Waterloo Road?
“To be deeply honest with you, the reason why I took on Waterloo Road was because Mark Benton was in it. I’d been asked to do Waterloo Road a few times and, for whatever reason, it didn’t happen. I was kind of humming and harring with my agent. And he said, ‘Mark Benton’s in it. He’s a funny teacher.’ I went, ‘Can I have lots of scenes with Mark?’ He went, ‘Yes.’ And I said, ‘I’ll do it, then.’
“And obviously to work with Amanda. She’s great and very charasmatic and fun to work with. Incredibly committed. It was just great. We worked out a way of doing it and it was very relaxed, very awkward and, hopefully, quite endearing, the way we approach it all.”
We find out in episode three that Rob has completed an Open University degree and is studying for the PGCE. Was this storyline originally designed to turn to turn Rob into a teacher?
“No. I was only there for 10 episodes. He’ll probably spontaneously combust, I don’t know. They had this idea that if I was to accept a further series, I would be a teacher there.”
Former Coronation Street star Debra Stephenson arrives in episode four?
“Yes, she’s the ex. But my son’s behaviour is partly because of her leaving and her behaviour and her rejection of responsibility. So basically my character’s objective in life is to care for his son. He’s passionate about his son and his son’s future.
“My son Taylor was watching a bit of the first episode and said, ‘Hey dad, you’re the oldest there. And isn’t Mark funny? Mark’s really good in this dad. He’s better than you.’ Get out. (laughs)
“But again the relationship with Karen Fisher is very adult. I think the way we play it, it’s kind of something you haven’t seen for a while. It’s romance.”
How was it working with Mark again?
“Just like we do all the time. I went, ‘Have you learnt it?’ He said, ‘No.’ With Amanda, she’s just word perfect. An absolute master of learning dialogue in that short space of time. It’s brilliant. But Mark just goes, ‘Do you want to keep it fresh?’ Because I’m always knocking on the door of any actor, saying, ‘Do you want to run it?’ We’ll go through it and we’ll do it and we prep. And I’m a stickler for dialogue.
“But when I know I’m working with Mark, the script goes out the window. In a good way because he just harbours it and then we can play with it. It’s just a joy. It’s just so funny. He has a great entrance. Mark’s character arrives on a bicycle. Say no more. It’s hilarious. It’s so funny. Mark Benton on a bicycle. Why is it funny? It just is. There’s me working away to try and get people to care for the character. He arrives on a bicycle and you’re with him, totally.
“We have fun. I love him and I tell him I love him and he loves me. He’s just a joy to work with. And I think as the 10 episodes progress there’s some lovely stuff with me and him. I hope there is, anyway. Certainly I remember it being good. You know when it’s right.”
Was he really the main reason you took the job?
“It ain’t the money, let me tell you.” (laughs) “Yeah. Absolutely. It was. When I think about it, yeah. I remember watching the first series. I had a couple of mates on it. It’s good and it’s popular and it’s well written and it’s well executed. And the young people in it are phenomenal. I was going to say kids, but they’re kind of not. The way they are and how professional they are.
“They would come in and they’re talking about the script and running lines and stuff. They’e amazing. Because it’s a very quick turnover. I could not have the energy to sustain 20 episodes. It’s backbreaking. And how Amanda got through it, I will not know to this day, knowing how an actor prepares.”
Tricky coming in at series seven?
“No, they were great. Luckily I knew the director, Andrew Gunn who, when I was very young, I started a film company with called Citizen Film Productions. And me and Andrew set it up in the north east of England and we shot pop promos for local bands. And we went our separate ways. I hadn’t seen him for nearly 30 years. And he was there doing it. He was brilliant. Mark was there and working with Amanda is a joy and all the young actors in it were just wonderful.
Why didn’t you want to do it previously?
“I don’t know. I was working. I was doing other stuff. I was doing Wire In The Blood, Touching Evil.”
How long were you filming series seven for?
“Ten weeks. And I was doing Being Human at the same time and The Pitmen Painter’s as well. I stayed in north Manchester. It was very nice. The family came to visit. The set is what it is. It’s an old school.
“And it’s not Vanya’s (his wife) cup of tea, the school, as a place. ‘Can you do something abroad, on a beach. do you think?‘ But Taylor (his son) thought it was cool. They’re all great. I’d take him into make-up and they can do all that.
“But he enjoyed…I was bringing all the stuff back from Being Human, all the werewolf stuff, as that was going on. He kind of likes that.”
Does Taylor want to be an actor?
“He could be one. Easily. He’s got all the ingredients. I see it now. He’s so confident. He adores reading and that’s to do with his mother, primarily. And I enjoy reading to him and he enjoys reading to me. He’s a brilliant saxophonist. He is supremely confident in coming into a room and talking. Has no problems. Comes to LA with me recently and he’s talking there to the big execs and stuff and just has no airs. I just don’t know if that’s upbringing. I’m sure it’s something to do with me, hopefully. (grins) But I just see confidence in the boy and it’s one of the things you need as an actor, that ability to stand up and do this.
“It’s quite terrifying sometimes, it really is. Especially if you’re confronted with someone of a certain stature. He’s ten.”
Waterloo Road winning Most Popular Drama at the National Television Awards this year?
“I was in Milan and it was on the TV. They got the Chilean miner, didn’t they? ‘Waahalllooo Rowww…‘ And everybody was going, ‘Who won? Is that us?‘“
Is there a level of snobbery from critics about the drama? I told Robson there was a gasp from some in the Press Room at the NTAs when the win was announced:
“I don’t know. Is there? I think it’s well executed. It was up against Doctor Who which I think has had its day, personally. And it was up against Sherlock. Was there a gasp? Did you gasp? You weren’t surprised? It’s a public vote, isn’t it? It’s not satisfying intellectual vanity, I’m sure. Or theatrical vanity or dramatic vanity. It’s there for the public. I know loads of teenagers who watch it. All the teenagers go crazy. My step-daughter watches it.”
What TV shows does he watch?
“What do I watch? Aircraft Investigation on Documentaries. It’s a guy landed a plane on his own in the Hudson River and saved a hundred and odd lives. I think that’s amazing. I watch the History Channel. I watch a lot of American drama. I love CSI, I adore it. I watch Grey’s Anatomy, I think it’s fab. I watch a lot of American stuff. Downton Abbey at the weekend, I thought I’d delve into that. But that’s the kind of thing I watch. I’m not into series at the moment. I caught the Jimmy Nesbitt thing, Monroe. I watched a bit of that because I’m a mate of Jimmy’s. I love him, I think he’s a great actor. I watch mainly American stuff and DVDs.”
Is he ever starstruck?
“I kind of messed up in Soho House when a lovely Canadian actor who I’d worked with many years ago called Kal Weber went, ‘Hey, stay cool, you just want to be cool. Clooney’s behind you, OK?‘ And I went, ‘George Clooney, where?‘ And he’s right there. The one who did it for me years and years ago was Ralph Fiennes. He walked into a room and I went, ‘Jesus Christ, you’re stunning.‘ And he was. It was extraordinary. And it’s kind of like that in America. You can kind of see why the audition process is like it is. You walk through the door and they’ll have you. They’re just charisma personified. They are. They’re beautiful, extraordinary looking people. And they fit the remit. ‘We want somebody who looks like this, this height and who looks amazing and has the mechanics.‘ You don’t really have to read. Well, I do. But hey.”
I handed Robson a printed copy of a tweet he had made from Glasgow Airport after an encounter with security staff. He then told the story in his own words:
“‘Oh Robson. We’re your biggest fans. I loved that Reckless. Are you doing that again?’ That’s like years and years ago. “Touching Evil, I loved that. And I really like that thing. What was it called? Oh Grafters. You and Steve Tompkinson. Brilliant. Love it. Don’t we? Love you? Oh fantastic…can I see some ID?’” I was going, ‘Are you for real?‘ She did, I swear, she did. I just thought it was a beaut.”
Series four of Being Human?
“Don’t know. They’re talking resurrection. We shall see. It was great fun. And, again, it’s something you don’t do for the money. They’ve got nothing. But what they do with what they’ve got is phenomenal. Surviving for 27 years, it was kind of one of the most enjoyable experiences. It really was. Just the mechanics of it all. I’m in awe of the make-up department. That was just phenomenal. And they’re just a great team. I just love them.”
You seemed to get a new audience from that?
“Yes. Being in LA there was a couple of things I was tested for and they want to test me for something else, because of Being Human. It’s weird. That alone. And it’s very popular. It’s kind of more popular than the American version of Being Human out there. It was just fun. And working with Jason Watkins. Just gorgeous. And Russell.”
Pressure to be on a diet – is it off now?
“It might not be because of this thing. (A possible new BBC role) My trainer is still with me, God knows why. We might have to train a bit more for this next role.”
Still not boozing?
“No. It’s hell. It’s been the worst 10 minutes of my life.” (laughs)
How long has it been?
“Since LA. Since that party. I had two glasses of champagne. And that was it. It’s really hard.”
“They’re developing ideas. I focus on my acting. I distanced myself from captaining the ship. It was a hard 10 years. It needs other personalities to take over now. That was really hard. I did what I did. There’s this whole thing of people getting together. People saying, ‘Well what about drama in the north east?‘ Stop saying it. Do something. You have to be pro-active with it. You can’t just expect things to happen. You have to make them happen, especially in this industry. You do. You have to understand infrastructure, you have to understand investment but you have to understand commissions. And you only get it if you get a decent writer and a decent story. And then you have to pitch that whole package. And if you’re unable to do that, you then have this whole embittered department going, ‘Oh God, there’s no work in the north east.‘ Expecting some knight in shining armour from the south to come up and solve it all. It doesn’t work like that. Never has. But it’s still going and there’s three really good things in development. One with the BBC.”