DCI Banks: Playing With Fire

Stephen Tompkinson as DCI Banks

A trip north to see Stephen Tompkinson on location between Manchester and Leeds.

He was filming the first full series of ITV1 drama DCI Banks after two pilot episodes last autumn.

Where I also spoke to co-star Andrea Lowe, who re-lives her own real life fire nightmare in the opening story.

And I learned how filming had to be stopped when it was feared the stars were in danger.

My feature is in today’s MEN and below.

Sitting in his trailer, Stephen also compared modern day detective Alan Banks to Gene Hunt.

Unlike his 1970s and 1980s counterpart, Banks has to follow the rules.

“He won’t break the laws in order to get a quick result,” Stephen told me.

“There’s an awful lot of things you have to get correct, otherwise a lawyer will just get people off on technicalities.

“So gone are the days of beating suspects up and all that kind of thing.

“They’ve taken the fun out of it,” he joked.

“Fighting against injustice and having to do it the procedural way that you have to must be incredibly frustrating.

“Especially when you know you’ve got the right person but there’s a thousand loopholes that they could get out of.

“You’ve just got to keep it all under wraps when you must be dying to scream through the red tape and just beat a confession out of someone. But you can’t.

“That’s why Life on Mars worked so well. Things just seemed a lot easier in the Seventies.

“Not necessarily better, of course,” he smiled.


Stephen Tompkinson as DCI Banks and Andrea Lowe as Annie Cabbot.

THE heat was on when Stephen Tompkinson shot a scorching inferno scene for the new series of his TV detective drama.

Filming was halted at one stage when it was feared he and DCI Banks co-star Andrea Lowe were about to go up in flames.

Lancashire-raised Stephen, 45, who plays Alan Banks, recalls: “Our unit nurse was convinced he could smell burning hair at one point but I haven’t got that much to lose.

“We were more concerned about Andrea’s, which had a thick coating of hair spray, as she would have gone up like a Roman Candle if we weren’t careful.”

Stephen escaped serious injury last year when his hot air balloon crash landed in Australia during filming for an ITV1 documentary.

“It hasn’t put me off. I’m keen to do more of those balloon films,” he confides during a break from filming DCI Banks (ITV1, 9pm Friday) on location in Ripponden.

Born in Stockton-on-Tees, Stephen moved to Lytham St Annes when he was four.

“I went to Manchester a lot when I was growing up. I’ve also worked there several times and, hopefully, will be going back to the Royal Exchange before not too long. It’s my favourite theatre in the country.”

Playing with fire.

Viewers will see the blaze drama in the first two-part story called Playing With Fire, which begins with Banks investigating a murder on a canal boat destroyed by fire.

Explains Stephen: “Fire is the weapon of choice of this killer. It was hot filming the blaze scenes but I love all that, lots of gas jets everywhere. You try to get as close to things as possible with the fire brigade there on standby.”

He is currently back in South Africa filming the seventh series of Wild At Heart, which featured its own huge fire in 2008, burning down the animal hospital and claiming the life of Amanda Holden’s character Sarah.

Stephen, who plays vet Danny Trevanion, recalls: “It was white heat. Before you got anywhere near it the cameraman’s arm started to blister. Something that can move that quickly and invisibly just terrifies the life out of you.”

Andrea, 36, who co-stars in DCI Banks as Det Sgt Annie Cabbot, re-lived her own real life blaze nightmare in the six-part series, based on the novels by award-winning author Peter Robinson.

The actress guest starred in Coronation Street as Peter Barlow’s girlfriend Naomi and played nurse Zoe in Where The Heart Is. Her character is rescued from a fire in a burning apartment during the first story.

“I remembered how much hair spray they had put on my hair and I was thinking, ‘It’s going to be like Michael Jackson filming that Pepsi commercial.’ It was really hot but it was only in the last couple of shots where the flames got very close and they had to extinguish them.” 

Andrea reveals: “I’ve actually been in a quite horrible house fire and there was a moment during filming where I thought, ‘This is freaking me out.’

“I was sleeping on my friends’ sofa when a fire broke out in the basement and spread to the living room where I was asleep. I remember not being able to see a thing because of the smoke and thinking, ‘I’ve got to try and find a window.’ It was very dramatic.

“The firemen arrived just in time and rescued me through the window. They said they were surprised I got out. I believe in angels and that really confirmed it.”

Firefighters also rescued the couple she was staying with from a back bedroom. “I hate to think what would have happened if I hadn’t woken up,” added Andrea.

ITV bosses were delighted with the reaction to the two-part DCI Banks pilot last year and ordered a full series.

Stephen smiles: “The day after the first episode went out I was walking down Oxford Street in London. A police car went past and the two occupants saluted me, which was fantastic. It really made me smile. I’m very grateful to the two gentlemen involved.”

The former Ballykissangel actor is used to being stopped by fans. “People often wonder why I don’t have a giraffe with me,” he laughs. “Or there’s usually a comment, ‘Bet you wish you were in Africa?’ You get that quite a lot.

“But there’s all sorts. A lot of people remember Brassed Off and there are a lot of fans of Damien from Drop The Dead Donkey and Grafters. People are very fond of all those things, so it’s nice.”

With many more Alan Banks stories to film, there’s every prospect the detective could be on screen for years to come.

“This could be the show I end up being most proud of. I really admire the character for doing the job he does. I could think of no-one better that you’d want on your side.”

ITV DCI Banks Site

Peter Robinson Official Site

DCI Banks: Stephen Tompkinson

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