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How did you get the role of Paul Merroney ?

The producer of the series, Ken Riddington, wanted someone to play a young city banker in two episodes in 1973. I had worked with him twice before when he was Floor Manager on War and Peace in 1970, and Cousin Bette a year or so later. He knew I had trained as a solicitor and that I could handle the complicated business dialogue, so he contacted me to ask if I would come along and do it, although it wasnt a major role. I agreed because I liked Ken and enjoyed the series, which was perhaps one of the BBCs most popular programmes at the time. I did it and shortly afterwards a regular character, a banker with whom my character Paul Merroney worked, played by the actor, Murray Hayne left the series and they decided to write my character up and asked me back. And the rest, as they say, is history. Had the part been originally conceived as a major role, I guess I would have had to fight off every other young actor in the country. I was lucky.

Did the cast welcome the appearance of a new sensational character to their ranks? Is it difficult coming into an established series?

They were a little suspicious of me at first, particularly as my character was very quickly a pivotal one in the development of the story lines and to a certain extent the suspiciousness of the characters was matched by that of the cast! But gradually I was taken on board (literally and metaphorically!) And yes, one hears stories of other series where new actors find it quite hard to be accepted by the long term regulars, which is if you analyse it quite ridiculous as they were all new once but it is all insecurity and anxiety about the future of their characters and you do get quite possessive about your characters storyline if youre not careful. But we very quickly all became one big happy family!

What did you think the strengths and weaknesses of Merroney were?

Paul Merroney was once voted the most hated man in Britain, when the series what at its height. And although that is a compliment in a way, I suppose, I got quite defensive about him. He was not “J.R. Ewing” although that comparison was often made. JR lied cheated and broke the law. Paul Merroney never told outright lies, never broke the law. But he was ruthless in his ambition for the company and did not allow anything to stand in his way in achieving the best for Hammond Transport. He was a workaholic and in a way a prototype of the yuppie culture that emerged in the decade after The Brothers ended. His weaknesses were very clear. He concentrated so much on his business life that his personal life and ability to form relationships with other people was adversely affected. (His secretary, his wife etc)And even though he showed glimmers of humanity with his story about his father, his relationships with Brian and Bill Riley, whom he admired basically his default state was a cold fish.

He was certainly sharp tongued with virtually everyone, a joy to play I presume. Who in the cast did you feel you had your best scenes with?

Yes he certainly didnt suffer fools gladly and could be very acerbic on occasion, which was of course great fun to play. This was particularly true in his dealings with Edward (the lovely Patrick OConnell who was a great chum offstage because he was as silly as I was much of the time in between takes) and Jennifer, whose dislike of Merroney was huge and he took every opportunity to thwart her. I greatly enjoyed my scenes with Richard Easton, an actor I had admired for many years since I had seen him in Richard II when I was a student. He had an effortless style and was great to work with particularly in the scenes where he was having a mental breakdown when Merroney untypically supported him and got him onside.

What particular storylines were your favourites?

I dont recall having any storylines I didnt enjoy. The battle with Kate OMara when she joined the cast was great. She was a tough lady and both Paul Merroney and I enjoyed the battle, as did she I think.

I loved the boardroom scenes, too. No one would have the courage to put a 15 minute boardroom scene in a TV programme today but they were gripping and very good drama.

You recorded the series at the BBCs Pebble Mill studios. What famous people did you meet in the canteen?

Well the Archers were around of course, though of course one didnt know what they looked like then! So Terry Molloy may have been around though I didnt know him then. I am not sure when he joined the Archers. As the studio complex there was so small, we tended to be the only programme being made on the two days a fortnight we were there. So there werent that many “famous folk.” Pebble Mill at One was going then, so there were occasionally guests of that programme in the canteen and, of course, Ann Diamond and the lovely Nick Owen who is currently battling so strenuously to keep his beloved Luton Town FC from sliding into the Conference. I wish him luck.

Two leading ladies of The Brothers are no longer with us. What are your memories of Jean Anderson and Hilary Tindall ?

Jean Anderson was completely wonderful. She was in every sense the matriarch of the series and of us. She kept us in order and spent a lot of time in rehearsal checking the form of racehorses and contacting her bookie, being a great follower of the nags! And a wonderful actress too. I worked with her again in 1996, shortly before she died, aged (I think) 93! It was a German made film called The Harpist and she was as sharp and proficient as ever. A remarkable lady. I joined the series, sadly, just after Hilary Tindall left it. Her character was fantastic a superbitch supreme, which she did far too well, really. So much so that everyone assumed that she was like that herself, which was far from the case. On the few occasions I met her before her untimely death I found her to be a delightful and witty lady

You had a wonderful on screen feud with Kate OMara. You then worked with her on Doctor Who almost ten years later. Was it fun playing those high voltage scenes with Kate?

Yes Kate and I contrived to switch roles between the two series. IN the Brothers she tried to thwart Merroneys Machiavellian schemes and in Doctor Who it was I who fulfilled that role. Kate is a total pro. She has actress written through her like Blackpool rock and is great to work with for that reason. It was a great pairing, which I greatly enjoyed.

The show became massive in Scandanavia or Israel, tell us about the reaction you got when you went abroad...

The overseas devotion to The Brothers was extraordinary. Sweden, Holland and Israel all succumbed to the appeal of the programme and we got to visit all those countries individually and as a company. We were feted every time and had a brief glimmer of what it must be like to be a pop-star more so probably than even the power of Doctor Who, which appeals to a smaller number, albeit that they are passionate about it Doctor Who fans do not line the streets and cheer as happened on several occasions in those countries. In the late 70s we all spent a lot of time visiting our European and Israeli fans; and many of us worked in the theatre in Sweden (and Norway too). In fact I met my wife Marion doing a Scandinavian tour of Private Lives by Noel Coward. She is English, I hasten to add and appeared with me in the play.

You won a Gold disc for your rendition of “White Christmas” on the Brothers LP. If you made another now as Paul Merroney what song would you like to tackle ?

Oh blimey! Who knows? Of all the many things that I would never have predicted would happen to me I think receiving a gold disc must rate pretty highly! What an experience! But no challenge to Bing, I have to concede! I will leave the pop songs to others now!

The Sun voted you the Most Hated Man In Britain. Was Paul Merroney misunderstood or a complete bastard ?

Oh misunderstood totally misunderstood. He was very kind to animals.!

But seriously his motivation was never to do the other person down. He merely saw what he considered the best way to achieve his objectives and didnt allow consideration for the feelings of others to get in his way. He had those good “northern” values of “I speak as I find” which others might construe as rather rude and selfish! But it is those characters in drama that create the tension which drama needs!

The BBC never told the cast that they were not continuing with The Brothers. Why do you think the series has been cruelly overlooked for repeat seasons on satellite and terrestrial TV over the years when clearly it was a huge success at the time?

Yes, the ending was a little “Not with a bang but a whimper” ish. Bill Sellars who was the producer in 1976, told us that he would be in touch “next year” to sort out the next series. But after that it was tumbleweed. We never heard another word from anybody at the BBC. And this for a series that was consistently attracting huge numbers of viewers and was very popular. The BBC back then was notorious for not wanting to be seen to making popular television and as Bill Sellars had taken over as producer of “All Creatures Great and Small”, so there was no one left batting for the show in the Beeb. And we just faded away….

Who were your closest friends on the show and did you remain in contact with them after the show finished ?

I am still in contact with Derek Benfield (who played Bill Riley) and Richard Easton, (Brian). Richard lives in new York now and indeed won a best actor Tony a couple of years ago for an off-Broadway production. We exchange Christmas cards. Derek I see from time to time too. As I always did with Maggie Ashcroft, who played Gwen Riley, but she suffered a stroke last year and is in poor health, which is particularly sad as she was always a vital woman, who cycled all over the place and had a great enjoyment of life. I lost touch with Carol Mowlam, who played my long suffering secretary. She and Derek and Maggie and I used to find a different hotel within driving distance of Birmingham to stay at when we were in the studio and sample their restaurants.

Do you think the BBC could bring The Brothers back today and if so how would we find Paul Merroney thirty plus years after we last saw him ?

Well of course I think so, as Paul Merroney was a sufficiently interesting character to want to see how he had panned out in later years. Sadly there are very few viewers left who will remember the series from its heyday sufficiently to want to share my desire for an update, I suspect. But I think if a standalone series that did not depend upon pre-knowledge of the seventies were well enough written, it could work very well. But then I would say that, wouldnt I?

In the wider context of your career, how do your rate your performances as Merroney ?

Thats really for others to say but I am quietly proud of Paul Merroney and have a great affection for him, the series and the cast.

Tell us something we didnt know about your time on The Brothers!

One of my closest friends is Douglas Watkinson, who was the script editor on the series and wrote some of the episodes. We see a lot of each other. He lives not too far away from me in Buckinghamshire and he also has four children, the youngest of whom is the same age as my oldest daughter. His name is often to be seen as the writer of episodes of Midsomer Murders.

Thanks go to the Potteries Prydonians - Steve Worman and Paul Wood - for their help, Ron Brunwin for supplying artwork and Garry Jones for being a regular stalwart of the news section.
Extra special thanks go to the mighty Colin Baker himself for casting his mind back and helping catalogue his career.

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