Doctors Celebrating 3,000 Episodes – Lorna Laidlaw Interview

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 final cast interview of the day was with, the ever-bubbly, Lorna Laidlaw who plays The Mill receptionist Mrs Tembe. Lorna was extremely popular so I teamed up again with Roz Laws from the Birmingham Mail and we were also joined by the team from What’s On TV to put some questions to Lorna.

Lorna Laidlaw with a photo of herself as Ursula in the Frank Skinner comedy "Blue Heaven" from 1992

A smiling Lorna Laidlaw with a photo of herself as Ursula in the Frank Skinner Channel 4 comedy “Blue Heaven” from 1994

Before we started the interview I gave Lorna a set of photos from episode two of a 1994 TV series called Blue Heaven. One photo shows Lorna, sporting a red baseball cap and a catering uniform, along with that trademark smile, playing trolley attendant Ursula at Stourbridge Station.  Her reaction to the photos was fantastic (see left), and it put a huge smile on her face as memories of filming the show nearly 21 years earlier came flooding back to her.

Roz started the group questions by asking about Mrs Tembe’s role in the special episode.

Lorna explained, “Mrs Tembe has organised a health promotion day and they are trying to get more people to donate more organs and to give blood and specifically people from ethnic minority groups and the other person who is organising it, Mrs Tembe has what I’d like to call a little, mini, romance with.”

The What’s on TV team asked Lorna if she had any particular stand out stories that Mrs Tembe had been involved in.

Lorna said, “Oh my gosh, there have been quite a few.  When I first started it was all about establishing the character to get people used to what she’s like.  Then we did a massive racism story, which was pretty harrowing, and it was fantastic as we had Mrs Tembe leave at the end of it, to go home just to recover from it. We had loads of people saying ‘Please don’t let her go, please’ so you get a picture of what they think of the character.  Then we had the romance of course, with the vicar, which was very popular and people really embraced that and they really wanted it to happen, they were ready for her to have a romance.  It was a very slow burn, the romance happened really slowly and people started to buy hats, I thought, don’t they know it’s Doctors, someone is bound to get killed off somewhere.”

Lorna Laidlaw takes time out to check her phone while waiting for her next scene in Centenary Square

Lorna Laidlaw takes time out to check her phone while waiting for her next scene in Centenary Square

Lorna explained what was great about the show by saying, “You can suggest things. You can go, I’d really like a romance, so you’d talk about what you want and they will write it. I said to them, I really want to do something about forgiveness, because forgiveness for a Christian is a big thing and also we choose what we forgive, so I said it needs to be big enough so she has to struggle to forgive this person and that is how the rapist story came about. [You can suggest] even little short stories, I said I’d like to do a story about Mrs Tembe having a bad back and her having to go for massages and again, that thing about people living on their own [dealing with] physical contact, so it’s really interesting that you can go there and suggest things, it’s absolutely brilliant.”

It was clear from speaking to Lorna that her accent and that of Mrs Tembe were quite different, so I asked how she had managed to perfect Mrs Tembe’s Botswana accent.

Lorna joked, “It’s when you are at the supermarket and somebody goes, ‘Oh my God, I didn’t know you were a Brummie’. I’ve done a few shows in a South African accent and the Botswanan accent is just north of South Africa so you just soften all the edges on it. I did go to a voice coach, and she was the voice coach of the The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency, so I was in good hands and I really trusted everything she said, and she said ‘your accent is really brilliant but I’d just soften it,’ and that’s all I did, and she said ‘that’s perfect’.  I’ve met some people from Botswana and they absolutely thought I was from Botswana.”

Lorna Laidlaw gets some finishing touches to her make-up

Lorna Laidlaw gets some finishing touches to her make-up on set in Centenary Square

Lorna explained the fans reaction to Mrs Tembe by describing the character as “…like Marmite, you either love her or can’t stand the sight of the woman, but she’s a brilliant character to play. Sometimes people that are in love with her say, ‘I didn’t like that storyline’ and people who didn’t like her before go ‘Oh my God, I’ve seen another side to her that I didn’t know was there.’ I find it quite interesting how you can play with people’s emotions and they are with you sometimes and against you others and that is brilliant, I think it’s the whole idea of really good drama. I think on the whole they absolutely LOVE her, they really do love her, because she’s quite complicated. She’s Christian, she’s quite forthright and the romance story has softened all the edges, but people quite enjoyed seeing that, she’s quite vulnerable, I think she’s a very interesting character to play.”

Roz asked if Mrs Tembe would still find love, Lorna replied, “Do you know what, I think her time has come again, and again I think it should be complicated and difficult. I think it would be really great to get somebody that Mrs Tembe would never think she would be with. I think she really loves people in professional roles, she’s very respectful of that, but actually somebody like a plumber, I think it would be really interesting if it was a struggle for her to try to find a connection, but who knows with the world of Doctors.”

On the subject of romance, I took the opportunity to ask Lorna who she would cast as Mrs Tembe’s love interest. Lorna had already clearly give this some careful thought, and said, “Ok, listen to this, I’ve already put it out there, because sometimes when you put it out there it happens. Me and Denzel [Washington]. I’ve already put it out there, because sometimes you never know, he might be looking at Hello magazine or something like that, and be like ‘Oh that’s interesting, I’ve not seen that lady before, she looks hot’. I think it would be awesome, me and Denzel.”

Lorna spoke briefly about the recent TV soap awards and was thrilled that all the other soaps congratulated Jessica Regan on her Best Newcomer award and said it was about time they were recognised. She added, “It’s really brilliant, because actually there are just twelve of us, just twelve people hold this show together for a year and you think of the vast cast in Emmerdale and Eastenders and Hollyoaks, we have a tiny amount of people, so it’s a big thing. When we were in triple banking at the beginning of the year, we were juggling twelve scripts, that’s a big thing. The budget is tiny, you know, two pound fifty and a packet of wine gums, that’s not going to get you anywhere love. It’s not going to get you Denzel.”

Mrs Tembe has some issues with Rick Joseph

Mrs Tembe clearly has something to say in the special hour long celebration episode.

To finish with I asked Lorna what she thought of Lenny Henry’s recent stage adaptation of Rudy’s Rare Records at The Rep and if she planned to do more theatre shows herself. Lorna said, “I thought Lenny’s show was absolutely fantastic, again really celebrating Birmingham and Handsworth, places like the canals, it was just fantastic, and I’m just waiting for it to come on telly. I went to the live screening at The Drum and it was just great, real good belly laughs. I was at The Rep last year, I did a [Bertolt] Brecht [The Mother], I did a show in The Studio [For The Past 30 Years], I write and I direct as well, so I juggle all that in between Doctors. If you are working with a young writer then you help them, because one day you know they will pay you back, so let’s get you doing what you need to do, because there is no money for new work at the moment, and it’s a real shame. Supporting new work and developing new work is absolutely crucial.”

Lorna ended by saying, “I’m very lucky, I love theatre and having that creativity in Doctors, you can suggest things, you can work on the script, so that creativity is still there, I KNOW I am very, very lucky and the thing about Denzel, I’m still pushing it.”

More photos from the day will be published later this week after the special hour long episode has been broadcast and the Doctors filming location now features in the Birmingham TV & Film locations walking tour that operates in conjunction with Film Birmingham.

You can see What’s On TVs video interviews with Lorna on their website, where she talks about Denzel and Romance.

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