Charles Dale reveals the secret anguish of Holby General’s war hero porter in Casualty (BBC One, Saturday)…

Big Mac isn’t his usual, laid-back self since the arrival of bossy receptionist Louise. What’s wrong?
“Mac feels pushed out by Louise. She’s a strong character and Mac’s been feeling less like part of the gang and more stressed and fed up over the past couple of weeks. This week Noel takes Louise’s side for a quiet life and Mac feels let down by his friend.”

What do you think leads to his heart attack?
“Mac’s not looked after himself particularly well over the years – he doesn’t eat healthily and he drinks a fair bit. Also, the stress and the pressure just gets to him I think.”

Why hasn’t he taken better care of himself?
“Mac’s a damaged man who is trying to make his way in the world. Since he lost his friends, who had been on the Galahad with him in the Falklands War, in some ways, he’s been waiting to die. He’s got huge survivor guilt, which is why he hasn’t looked after himself.”

Mac’s past influences how he lives his life now. Is this something you’ve discovered in the course of your research for the role?
“The link with the armed forces has always been really important for Mac. The rates of alcoholism, marriage break-ups and things like that among men and women who have come back from combat situations are phenomenal. It’s heartbreaking how many people living on the streets are ex-soldiers. Whenever I do interviews I always like to highlight the work of organisations like Combat Stress. They do a huge amount to help people come to terms with what they’ve been through. It’s a fantastic charity.”

Was it difficult to film the heart attack and resuscitation scenes?
“The only problem I had with it was the hairs on my chest were being pulled out while Suzanne Packer, who plays Tess, was resuscitating Mac. I had to lie there with my eyes closed pretending to be unconscious, but inside I was wincing. It was like getting a mini chest wax for over four hours! Alex Walkinshaw threatened to rip them off – and he was told in no uncertain terms what would happen if he did!”

What sort of reaction do you generally get from fans?
“I’ve been quite lucky in the respect I’ve either played really nice men or total homicidal maniacs, such as a knife-wielding man in The Bill, who murdered one of the regulars! In either case, people don’t give me a hard time because they think I’m lovely like Mac or Dennis Stringer in Coronation Street, or that I’ll kill them!”

How will life change for Mac after his heart attack?
“He will feel like he’s been given a new lease of life. He’s going to try and get fitter and dress better too. I think we’ll see him making more effort.”

Perhaps he’ll attract a lady?
“You never can tell! I don’t think the writers will want Mac too happy, otherwise you’d lose the tears-of-a-clown pathos of the character. Besides, he’s got Noel!”

They make a great double act!
“Noel’s the sunny one who sets them up and Mac’s the grumpy one who knocks them down! Tony Marshall, who plays Noel, is a ray of sunshine. He keeps everyone going on those long days of filming – he’s a fantastic guy.”