Geordie actor Kevin Whately talks about his TV role as Lewis
PUBLISHED: 01:15 31 March 2010 | UPDATED: 17:00 20 February 2013
Kevin Whately, one of the best-known actors the North East has produced, talks to Michael Hamilton about his TV fame, his new drama being filmed in the region and his charity work
Tyneside actor Kevin Whately got his big break as hen-pecked brickie Neville in the smash hit Eighties comedy Auf Wiedersehen Pet. He has since gone on to even greater stardom in the ITV detective drama series, Morse, and more recently, Lewis.
Now hes back in the region filming a new Second World War ITV drama - Joe Maddisons War - written by Jarrow writer Alan Plater. Kevin plays Joe, a shipyard worker who joins the Home Guard with his friend Harry, played by Robson Green.
MH: Are you pleased Joe Maddisons War has had funding to shoot it in the North East?
Kevin: I know there was some talk of doing it in Belfast because it involves the shipyards but fortunately when Mammoth, who are the production company that do Lewis as well, looked into it there were enough financial incentives to go ahead.
Its becoming more important now because everyone is feeling pinched, particularly commercial TV.
But I would have been really disappointed if we had to shoot it anywhere else. Alan Plater came up with the idea for the drama, which was inspired by his Uncle Joe. We wanted to do it in Jarrow and there should be enough locations to do it there on the river and at the fabulous Beamish museum, which is nearby.
MH: And do you still enjoy doing Lewis?
Kevin: I finished shooting the new Lewis just before Christmas and that is scheduled to go out on ITV in April in the Sunday night slot.
The reason I keep doing it is that we have the same production values as Morse - theyve kept the budgets high and ITV fund it themselves, so theyve always been very good to us.
Its just like shooting Morse; effectively we are shooting little TV movies. And I really enjoy working with Laurence Fox, of course. He always makes me laugh.
MH: Who else makes you laugh?
Kevin: Eddie Izzard makes me howl and Billy Connolly still, hes always a banker. Geordie comedian Ross Noble is very witty and the lads on Mock the Week. I always enjoy watching that.
MH: Whats the TV or stage role youve enjoyed doing most?
Kevin: I dont have a favourite really but we had more fun doing Auf Wiedersehen Pet than any other show, partly because there were seven of us initially and there was less responsibility, and you could have more of a laugh. But from an artistic satisfaction point of view I suppose it would have to be the series of Morse shows.
MH: This years Sunday for Sammy was really successful again. How did you first get involved?
Kevin: All the Auf Wiedersehen Pet crowd knew him really well. He was Ronnie to his pals: Sammy was his stage name. And he was a pal of all of ours. He played the workie-ticket Martin Cooper in the second AWP series.
My wife Madelaine actually gave him his first job at the Live Theatre in the Seventies. Tim Healy was a leading light in getting the Sunday for Sammy gigs going and Jimmy Nail, of course, with Ray Laidlaw as producer and Geoff Wonfor as director.
MH: What are your memories
Kevin: My main memories were bumping into him in Soho: if you were doing a voiceover or whatever, youd go and have a bevy. The first thing I thought when I heard he had died was that I wouldnt bump into him again and that was a great sadness.
He was universally loved. Everybody adored him. He was one of the best actors around and he had such a great face. He never really fulfilled his promise. He should have been as a big a star as the rest of us, without a doubt.
MH: And what about playing Newcastle City Hall?
Kevin: Well, I remember seeing all my heroes there. You would queue up the first morning tickets went on sale to make sure you got them. I saw The Who there often and Led Zeppelin. You name them Ive seen them there.
In 2006 we took Sunday for Sammy to the Sage - theres nothing wrong with the Sage but for us the City Hall works better for the show. Its slightly less grand and its more intimate for what we do. It works better for the rock music element in the show. So we were glad to be back. It works a treat and its always a joy. Thats why we keep on doing them.
MH: What do you make of the regeneration of Newcastle Quayside?
Kevin: Its just staggering. My wife was one of the founder members of the Live Theatre and she is delighted. In the Seventies she would go around on buses with a bag full of props playing workingmens clubs. You look at it now and its staggering what has been achieved in the last 30 years. Strangely Ive never worked for them, but Im very proud of what theyve achieved. I loved The Pitmen Painters. We went to see that twice.
MH: What are your memories of growing up in the North East?
Kevin: I grew up in the Tyne Valley and with the winter we have had this year it reminds me of the winters we used to get in the Fifties and Sixties. They always seemed to be hard like this. I remember cross-country running in it. I wanted to be Jim Alder or Brendan Foster and I was always slipping around in the snow and mud up to my oxters in it. Snow and cold, and no central heating but I loved it and still do - and I would love to live up in Northumberland.
MH: Do you think youll ever move back?
Kevin: I bet everyone says they would love to retire there. I genuinely would love to live on the Northumberland coast. But from a working point of view, sadly, its just impossible.
* If you would like to donate to the Sunday for Sammy fund, which helpd aspiring young performers in the North East, please go to www.sundayforsammy.org
* This years DVD of the Sunday for Sammy concert can be ordered now and the three previous DVDs from 2004, 2006 and 2008 are also available at www.jgwindows.com Tel: 0191 232 1356