*** Spotlight On… Cath Shipton***
After a 9 year break from the role of ‘Duffy’, actress Cath Shipton returned to our screens as the much-loved original character in ‘Casualty’ in August this year. We know there is a huge demand for the character to return full-time and we’re here to lead that campaign with our exclusive interview with the talented lady who has played her, on and off since 1986.
It was a delight to see Duffy return to our screens, we’ve missed her ‘experience’ and it’s evident there’s still a place for her to fit right back into. How did you feel when you were asked to come back, and do you also feel that she’d slide right back in as if she never left?
I was so surprised when I was asked to come back for Eps 1 & 2 – it
came like a bolt from the blue. When I heard that Paul Unwin – one the
series creators had written the scripts and was directing them, my
immediate answer was yes. When I eventually read the scripts, I was
even more surprised to see that Duffy wasn’t just popping in to say
hello, but actually nursing on the night-shift – and what a
I was apprehensive about joining the cast – the only person I knew was
Derek – Charlie and I would be joining them in Cardiff, all new
surroundings. I needn’t have worried. Once I put the uniform on and
stepped onto the set, the years fell away and after a few teary
moments with Derek – who was very moved to see me, it was ‘business as
usual’ It was great to be part of the new talented and very committed
team. No wonder the show has lasted for so long!
Did you find getting into the character an easy transition after all this time?
Getting back into character wasn’t difficult having created Duffy and
played her at various times over the last 29(!) series. She is
obviously based loosely on me, and one new element was that Paul had
given her new skills and an air of quiet authority that comes with age
and experience and so it felt like the character had been developed
and was moving into new territory.
What do you feel you learned as an actor from such a lengthy period on a hit TV show?
One of the hardest things about being in a long running show is to
keep everything fresh. Most characters will be on their own path –
with information only shared by the audience eg Dylan and OCD. Duffy
knows nothing of this and treats him quite harshly – she just sees a
doctor behaving badly. However she does make him think and he must
have gone back to the pregnant woman as the next time you see him he
is resus asking Connie to let his patient go to the Cath Lab instead
of Charlie. He flicks a look at Duffy to acknowledge that he was maybe
out of order. As a character you do share your secrets with the
audience and that is a great feeling. They see the secret side and
thoughts of a character.
One thing that has also amazed me is just how much the audience absorb
and retain – they know so much about the characters. One episode years
ago Duffy had a quiet night and wasn’t on screen much. A member of the
public came up to me on the Monday and said ‘ You were busy on
Saturday’ – I looked confused and he said, ‘Well we didn’t see much of
you, you must have been busy with patients!’ He had built another
scenario of Duffy’s night.
Do you have any comic out-take memories or highlights that you can share with us from your days on the show?
Sometimes the crew have been known to do funny things during takes –
once as I stood listening in a cubicle, with little dialogue, someone
put a tied-up surgical glove filled with banana into my hand –
squishy! Of course I couldn’t laugh but I found out who did it and
threw it at him.
Another time, a young guest artist in resus was very fussy about us
cutting a bandage off his head. He was worried we’d cut his hair. In a
break, Derek and I trimmed bits of hair off the cast and crew and made
a pile under his head. When we revealed our ‘mistake’ the poor guy
went ballistic – bit cruel really. We did let him know.
Once I overheard Ian Kelsey saying he didn’t like goatee beards, when
they were the height of fashion. I told him I’d overheard a make-up
artist saying that was to be the new look for Patrick Spiller. I also
got a script editor to join in. We kept it going for about 2 weeks and
he was really worried and talking about it non-stop. Eventually it got
up to the producer and before the meeting I came clean with Ian that
it was only a joke.
If you went back as a permanent fixture, again (assuming you would want to) where would you like to see the character ‘go’?
If they were to develop the character in the future – there is quite a
lot of mileage already set up – Duffy having left her family in NZ, do
they follow/split-up? There could be dramatic story tensions in the
department with several of the present characters, and who knows even
romance? Lots of scope!
Moving away from ‘Casualty’, you’ve enjoyed a varied acting career, have you any particular ambitions for future roles or shows you would like to be involved with?
I really enjoyed performing the one woman show – ‘Soldiers’ Wives’ by
Sarah Daniels. I was nominated as best solo performer 2012 in
Edinburgh. Until you go solo it is a terrifying prospect, but really
it is telling a story – the foundation of what we do as actors. I am
currently working on the next project with Sarah, as well as a new TV
Future ambitions – classical roles: Shakespeare, Ibsen & Chekhov, and
one day I’d love to play Miss Marple!
Marathon running is one of your passions (and you’ve written a manual about it!) so what inspired you to run marathons and where have you most enjoyed running one?
I have run 4 London Marathons – only London and written a book. I was
inspired because I was asked to run for \the British Heart Foundation,
having lost my dad to heart disease in 1985, once I started running I
couldn’t stop, it just suited me. I did that for over 10 years and
every London was great and I still watch it on TV – the crowd is
amazing and really gets you through.
I’m a trained aerobics teacher – the fad of the 80’s, now I do
pilates, gym and walking. Marathon days are behind me!
Finally, if you cold have a dinner party with any five famous people (dead or alive), who would they be?
John Lennon, Mary Seacole, Dalai Llama, Joan Rivers and Albert Einstein!
Favourite things (quick-fire questions):
Favourite television programme?
The Bridge/any Nordic drama
Some like it Hot!
Favourite childhood memory?
Flying my homemade kite for hours on the cliffs at
Highcliffe in summer holidays.
Favourite holiday destination?