Derek Thompson is a man who needs very little in the way of introduction, for he is known to the nation as Casualty’s favourite Nurse, Charlie Fairhead. I am extremely privileged to have been able to interview the man himself about his time on the show and the 30th anniversary episode.
Thank you so much for talking to Break A Leg, Derek, what can you tell me about the 30th anniversary episode?
Well they broadcast it last year, really because we did actually make the anniversary episode of the 30th series last year and they got Paul Unwin in who was one of the originators of the show and one of the original writer along with Jeremy Brock. They asked Paul to write two episodes and direct them, he did a wonderful job on it, how he’s not a dead man, I don’t know, the energy that he put into it and the commitment, he never sat down for something like two months! He turned out two beautiful episodes. This anniversary episode actually means that we get a second bite of the cherry because the publicity department decided that it wasn’t the real anniversary, the actual anniversary is the end of the 30th series and the start of the 31st series for some reason. We’re celebrating having done 30 series, so you can view it either way, but we get to do another special.
The Paul Unwin one was intense but it was really particular, heavily focused right up close to the main characters. This is much more of a cyclorama view of the place with a really heavy disaster in the middle of it which threatens everybody. It has much more of an overview and less of an up close and detailed perspective. It’s a different approach and it’s successful from what we’ve seen of it it’s an excellent job. A great deal of which is due to the director, Steve Hughes, who always manages to turn out something that looks like it costs ten times as much as it actually did cost. It looks like feature film stuff, and the writing is great too, of course.
What’s it like to have Duffy back in the show with you?
I can’t compare it to anything, really, because working with someone that you really like or really admire is one thing, do it repeatedly and it’s a really nice thing to do. To slip into that kind of relationship just works and it’s like a clock going tick tock as opposed to a clock going tick tick tock. It’s a very complimentary relationship. We’ve always kept the speculation alive as to whether there was going to be a romantic relationship between those two, it’s had a rhythm to it where they got very close to each other emotionally through storylines and then it was really easy to slide that into a strong buddy relationship. Almost like a brother and sister relationship.
There was even a nod towards romance at the end of Charlie and Baz’s wedding….
Yes, exactly and it’s been moments like that, that have fuelled the speculation. The scene between them in that episode was a bit of a tease because you knew that they meant it but that neither of the would push it.
How did this journey start for you and what do you think of the character development of Charlie over the last 30 years?
There are two functions to Charlie, one is the personality of Charlie which is very closely based on what I think are the aims and objectives and attitudes of the guy that the character is based on. He’s a lovely fellow called Peter Salt, who is now full time medical advisor on the show. He was one of the first people that Paul Unwin and Jeremy Brock talked to about doing a medical series and they trailed him around while he was on a night shift. Then they thought why not set it in A & E? Then they met Peter and they thought he would be the perfect ‘maypole’ for everyone to dance around because of the way that he managed to run this place and keep everybody motivated and in the best of spirits, but at the same time he made sure that nobody was badly treated or exploited by the system. When they were casting, I had been doing a lot of TV at the time and they saw a few things that I was in and they brought it down to a list of three people, in the end there was one other guy and another fellow who was a really good mate of mine. His name is Sam Dale and I’d actually just done a TV series with him. I was stuck between hoping that I got it and then at the same time I was thinking if I get it my mate doesn’t get it! As I studied Peter Salt I put into place a theatrical function that was like a Master of Ceremonies that you can hang all sorts of issues on and he keeps the audience informed about how this is all developing. He takes you from scene to scene.
Then there’s the element of the real Peter Salt character, the man! You don’t often get to see that, you get little glimpses of it. You do see it now and again in his professional attitude, you get just a little indication of how he feels about people and how he feels about events.
Why do you think the show appeals so much?
I think it appeals to younger viewers because they get to see adults showing their vulnerabilities. I think it appeals to the wider audience because you get what you call key-hole drama in that you’re looking through a door that would normally be locked to you. You see them in the staff room, you see their attitudes, their emotions and the emotional effect that their work has on them.
Finally, have you got a message to the viewers to encourage them to stay tuned?
You will be surprised, they’ll see things from both Charlie and Duffy that you’ve never seen before.
Thanks go to Derek, it was a treat to be able to chat with him and share some memories.