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Jack and the Beanstalk at Lichfield Garrick: Graham Cole Interview

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by Tony Collins (subscribe)
I am a freelance writer specialising mainly in health and education and living in Staffordshire. Find me on Linked In
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From The Bill To Jack And The Beanstalk
After a quarter of a century helping to maintain law and order, stage and television actor Graham Cole has decided to become a 'right villain'.

The man who starred in ITV's popular crime drama The Bill for all but one of the 26 years it ran until 2010, has now gone from 'good cop' to baddie in his forthcoming role.

Graham Cole, Jack and the Beanstalk, Lichfield Garrick theatre
Graham Cole to play the 'villain' in Jack and the Beanstalk

For Graham is to star in the pantomime Jack and the Beanstalk which comes to the Lichfield Garrick theatre on December 3 and continues through until 3 January 2016.

The actor, 63, is to take on the role of the evil Hemlock, which is a slightly different version of the more familiar but equally nasty Fleshcreep from Jack and the Beanstalk.

I caught up with Graham at Lichfield Garrick as he tried on his costume for the first time, along with the rest of the cast.

So, how fondly does he recall his time stationed in the fictional Sun Hill police station in East London for 25 years?

Graham Cole, Jack and the Beanstalk, Lichfield Garrick theatre
Graham Cole as Hemlock with Ian Adams as the Dame

He said: "The Bill was very unique. It was shot virtually live and was all done in one take. I did all my own car stunts, which was an added bonus, and the audiences loved that. We also did our own fight stunts.

"It also helped that The Bill was shot around the most iconic buildings in London, so it helps if you've got Big Ben behind you.

"There were a lot of programmes around about detectives, but I think it retained its popularity because it was the first time that a production company made the writing about uniform officers.

"We were saying what life was like for policemen, good or bad. It was a wonderful time.

Graham Cole, Lichfield Garrick theatre, Jack and the Beanstalk
TV actor Graham Cole as you would normally see him

"I did it for 25 years of the 26 years that it was on, and would quite happily still be on it if it was still running. I celebrated my 40th and 50th birthdays on the show, and not many people can say they've done that."

During its peak, The Bill was shown in 36 countries around the world, and nowhere more popular than in Australia.

"I love Australia and have been there many times. When The Bill was at its height Australia almost came to a halt when it was on over there.

"We did a lot of promotional tours to Australia while The Bill was on, probably eight or nine trips. And when my autobiography On The Beat came out it almost sold more in Australia than it did here in the UK."

Graham Cole, Jack and the Beanstalk, Lichfield Garrick theatre
The star of Jack and the Beanstalk tries his costume for size

Graham recalls being invited to attend the opening of a Planet Hollywood restaurant in Sydney.

He added: "That sort of thing is normally done by big Hollywood film stars, so I couldn't believe they were asking me. But the popularity of The Bill was huge and I was mobbed by the fans when I was there."

Graham still maintains his real-life links with the police, partly through the work he does for police charities.

But he added: "I am now an honorary member of the National Association of Retired Police Officers after they invited me a couple of years ago. That was lovely.

"And I still get stopped by serving officers who say they saw me on The Bill when they were kids and were inspired to join the police."

Graham said he was first inspired to become an actor at the age of eight during regular visits to watch Saturday morning cinema.

Lichfield Garrick, Jack and the Beanstalk, Tempest Ford
Panto sponsors Tempest Ford pull up at Lichfield Garrick

"You watched a major with John Wayne or Humphrey Bogart in it, and then a B-movie with someone like Jack Hawkins. I just loved British black and white movies and decided I wanted to do that.

"My dad wanted me to do something practical, although I was only ever good at English and sport at school.

"But I also used to be a member of St John Ambulance when I was a kid so I started working at hospitals after leaving school at 16.

"I trained as an orthopaedic technician but it was all just a vehicle for me. So, at the age of 21, I said to my dad I now have this career behind me so can I go off and try acting?

"He agreed and I ended up as a Butlins Redcoat for one season and that got me started in the profession."

Graham Cole, Jack and the Beanstalk, Lichfield Garrick, Ian Adams
Left to right: Graham Cole (Hemlock), Ian Adams (Dame Mary Trott), Tony Stansfield (King Percival)

Graham will be appearing in his 36th Christmas show when he starts in Jack and the Beanstalk in Lichfield.

"I've done a lot of pantomime, but for the last two years I've been doing White Christmas, the Irving Berlin musical. And I have also done Scrooge. In fact, Scrooge would rate as number one out of those 36.

"Unfortunately I started out in panto as Jack and Aladdin, but as you get older you become King Rat or Abanazar, or Fleshcreep which is really who I'm playing in Jack and the Beanstalk.

"The villain's got to be a villain and that's why I like doing it. Apart from the Dame you are the only character who gets to play with the audience, and that's what I adore. So it's good to be back in panto."

Before getting to Lichfield, Graham will be appearing in a two-person play called You're Never Too Old, opposite "the lovely" Diane Keen.

"I am playing an alcoholic so a bit of a change from panto. It will be going around the country and ends in Eastbourne just a couple of days before I start in Jack in the Beanstalk.

"I finish in the play and then get one day off to travel up here to Lichfield. But I'm delighted to still be busy. I guess I'm a bit of a work alcoholic."

Tickets for Jack and the Beanstalk, priced from 12.50 for children and 21.50 for adults, are available by visiting or calling the box office on 01543 412121.

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Why? Read How TV Cop Went From 'Hero' To 'Villain'
When: 3 December 2015 to 3 January 2016
Phone: 01543 412121
Where: Lichfield Garrick, Castle Dyke, Lichfield, Staffordshire WS13 6HR
Cost: Tickets from 12.50 for children and 21.50 for adults
Your Comment
Great interview, fantastic photos!
by dasds (score: 0|2) 2176 days ago
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