Back in May 2015 the cast and crew of Doctors went out on location in Birmingham city centre to record scenes for a special hour long episode to celebrate the milestone of reaching 3,000 episodes of the popular BBC daytime soap. With the special hour long episode due on screen on 10th September it won’t be long now before we all get to see what happened
The official press release is cloaked in secret but does give a hint of what to expect in what promises to be an exciting climax to an ongoing story of police corruption in Letherbridge.
A shooting in a city centre, A dance with a whiff of romance, A damaged child saved…and corruption exposed.
I was fortunate enough to catch up with a few of the cast in between scenes. My third cast interview of the day was with Ian Midlane, who plays Doctor Al Haskey and this time I teamed up with Roz Laws from the Birmingham Mail to put some questions to Ian.
Roz opened the interview by asking Ian about his costume for the episode.
Ian explained, “The story is that there is this blood and organ donation drive going on and Howard and Mrs Tembe have convinced Al to take part and he didn’t quite know that there was going to be a very silly costume involved. So I’m dressed as the kidney, and we have the heart, liver, kidney and lungs.”
Roz asked how it was being dressed as a kidney all day, to which Ian responded, “On this job I’ve had a few funny costumes to wear over the years. I played ‘gonorrhea’ in an episode and that was a massive thing, I looked like one of the Monster Munch people. It was a university thing where we were trying to raise awareness of sexually transmitted diseases. I also played a Mummy in a Halloween episode with bandages all over me, in the height of summer, which seems to coincide with silly costume season.”
As we were on the subject of costumes I asked Ian if he was disappointed that the character of Al was not involved in the period costume elements of the Austenland episodes, especially given Ian’s love of a good time travel story.
“It massively disappointed me. I was kind of in the real world, setting up the fantasy stuff and ever since I’ve been asking what’s next as I want to wear some costumes. I worked in the theatre before I came here, at the RSC, so I’m used to wearing a wig or a fake beard.”
I followed up by asking what ‘time period’ Ian would take Doctors to if he could dictate the story line.
Ian confessed, “Well, I’m a big Back to the Future fan, so I’d go a little bit into the past, say like the 50s and 60s. It would be interesting to see how The Mill would be at the start of the NHS, so kind of late 40s into the 50s would be interesting…and then you’ve to go to the future haven’t you. There is a big clock tower in Birmingham University and I often say to the boss, ‘Let’s do a Back to the Future pastiche because we’ve got a clock tower there, I reckon we could get away with that”
I asked Al how thrilled he was for Jessica Regan (Niamh Donoghue) after she won the Best Newcomer prize at the 2015 British Soap Awards.
“Oh, it’s fantastic. I wasn’t there because I’ve been on holiday. I was driving Route 66 and I’d just got into California, when I got all these texts from Owen [Brenman] and Dido [Miles]… I’m sure she thanked me at length. I’ve only been [to the awards] once as I was on holiday last year as well, but it’s quite an event, It’s great that we’ve finally broke our losing streak as it’s been a few years, and I’m delighted for her. We were up for screen couple as well, but Eastenders had such a huge year.
Ian continued to explain why he finds working on the show so enjoyable, “Doctor’s is a bit special, five episodes a week for forty odd weeks a year and there are only 12 or 13 recurring characters, so we really carry our weight, the amount of dialogue that one gets to do on this job is amazing. One of the best things about the job is every other week you get to meet a new guest actor and kind of share a story with them and then they drift off and some actors come back again and again.”
While we were on the subject of ‘guest’ actors, I asked Ian who he would like to work with if he could choose anyone to guest in a Doctors role.
A thoughtful Ian said, “That’s such a good question. I’ve got lots of friends so I’d try to get them a job, but I’m a big fan of Holly Hunter, and bearing in mind time travel, I’m going to go Holly Hunter, from 1987, and my favourite film, Broadcast News…then you go, Daniel Day Lewis, Arnold Schwarzenegger, they would be amazing.”
Ian continued, “One of the things that I think would be amazing for us to do, it may never happen, would be a musical episode. You know there are lots of singers and musicians on the show, Laura Rollins, who plays Nurse Ayesha, went to the Royal Ballet School, so she can dance a bit too. I think we could do, you know, sing live, piano backing, I mean it would take a bit of doing. Sometimes our audience are a little wary of us being too crazy and out there, but we can get away with a little bit of silliness. One of my first big episodes, I’d been here about six or seven months, was an episode kind of based on conspiracy movies, like China Town. I was very lucky and I won the RTS award for it, but some of the audience reaction to that was ‘that’s the worse piece of television I’ve ever seen’, but that’s what’s so nice about this job, because you get to do things in different genres. I think we’ve earned our position in that we can be quirky and a bit peculiar but also we can bring it back to social realism and the afternoon play, and I think Cathy Come Home, you know, that’s our heritage.”
At the time of the interview an episode had just aired where Al had just been in a hostage situation with a shopkeeper played by Derek Griffiths.
Ian discussed filming these scenes with us, “I’ve kind of known his work from The Royal Exchange in Manchester and they used to tour to Bedford, and he had just the best stories. We spent a lot of time just sat on the floor of that supermarket, with our hands tied behind our back, him telling the funniest stories of corpsing on stage. That’s just another example of three other actors coming in and you spend three days really getting to know each other, so I really enjoyed that. I’ve not watched it yet as I’ve been away on holiday so I’m looking forward to seeing it.”
Recalling a conversation with actress Jessica Regan, who claimed she was getting a lot of flack from viewers after Niamh had split up with Al, Roz asked Ian about the his characters handling of a love interest,
Ian was very clearly on the side of ‘Team Al’, saying “What can you say, the course of true love never did run smoothly. Relationships are messy aren’t they. Obviously, it’s very difficult, as I’m on Al’s side, but I think it’s too late for them. I think he grieved, he got over it while she was still angry with him and I think she catches up and maybe still has feelings for him, but he’s regressed into kind of childishness. However, there ‘might’ be a new love, coming on the way for Al, but whether he’s mature enough to move on and go into another relationship is another thing.”
I asked Ian about his first role in Doctors, when he played a character called Brian Flannery, a role he remembered well.
Ian recalled, “In 2004 I was in an episode called ‘Coming to Terms’, I played a strange chap who was a carpenter who was living with the widow of his best friend, and he hadn’t quite come to terms with their relationship and the fact that he’d died. I remember at the time thinking ‘This is a great job, they film so quickly’ and, you know, ten years later I’m aware of how quickly we can go.”
Roz had already asked Ian about his background, where he explained he grew up in Bedford, but had family living in the Birmingham area, who he now sees on a regular basis, and to finish with Ian offered this view of living and working in Birmingham.
Ian told us, “If I walk, and I do walk everyday, it takes me ten minutes to walk into work. If it’s a really early start or if I’m being really lazy it takes me about 90 seconds to drive to work.”
Ian ended by explaining how he has now made Birmingham his home, “I’m a Brummie I suppose, I love the city the people are so friendly, it’s beautiful, it’s cosmopolitan. You know, Broad Street, I love the cinema and the theatre and really nice restaurants, it’s a great city and I feel at home. I think as an actor you long to put down roots and I think finally it’s happening for me, which is a delight, I’m really lucky and I love playing Al.”
You can see and hear more of what Ian Midlane had to say during the filming in a video on the What’s On TV website.
My final interview and further photos from the day will be published later this week in the lead up to the special celebration episode on 10th September and the Doctors filming location now features in the Birmingham TV & Film locations walking tour that operates in conjunction with Film Birmingham.