Charles Lawson talks to TV Times about his Coronation Street comeback as Jim McDonald…
Were you surprised to get the call from Coronation Street?
“Not really, in the sense that I’ve been back a lot and, unless they decide you’re going to die in jail, there’s going to be a time when they want you because of the nature of the character. I spoke to Stuart Blackburn, the producer, and he was aware that if you’re going to use a character, you should use him. I wouldn’t have been interested in doing one episode.”
We hear there’s a new prison set for you at the Coronation Street studios…
“Well, we used to go to Strangeways, but I think they started charging too much and you’re also limited to the times you can film in there. So yes, the set’s built here now. I actually knew one of the guards at Strangeways, so all I did was sign autographs for various people on various wings. But it was good – it was atmospheric, shall we say!”
What did you think of the robbery that resulted in Jim going to prison?
“Stupid. I thought it was daft. But Beverley [Callard who plays Liz] was ill, and people had to write something pretty damn quick. We played it to the hilt, but it was a bit silly.”
Has Jim changed much during his time inside?
“I don’t think he’s changed much at all. He loves Liz and misses his children. But he knows why he’s inside – as they say in Belfast, his only crime was loyalty. He’s one of the daddies in there. He was in the army for 16 years so it’d be a piece of cake, really.”
Jim is set to get a visit from Liz. What’s it like working with Beverley again?
“Easy. We worked together for 10 years and that gives you a bond. Not many actors get that, and actors have now wised up to what people do in our building and down the road at EastEnders. In the Eighties, I was very po-faced about soaps. I was doing ‘serious’ stuff at the National Theatre and, when I was asked to join Corrie, I turned my nose up. But in more recent years, actors have realised how good the soaps are. People do a remarkable job in very little time.”
Are Jim’s sayings – like ‘…so it is’ – something that you created?
“Yes. At first, my scripts would come in Mancunian and I’d say, ‘He wouldn’t say that; he’d say ‘What about you?’ So the writers gradually got into all that and now, they write it in.”
We hear that, off-screen, you now have a farm shop?
“Yes. My village – Prestbury in Cheshire – didn’t have a food shop, so me and my wife Debbie set one up. We specialise in game – pheasants, wild fowl, red deer and so on – and I shoot them myself and get to indulge my passion for hunting. It also means that we have an income so I don’t have to go out on the road touring all the time. I don’t need to take jobs just for the sake of the cheque.”
Do you serve behind the counter?
“No – I can’t work the till! But I’m very good with the customers. We get lots of kids in and I’ll show them how to skin a rabbit and, if they show an interest, I’ll give them stuff to take home and try. We’re surrounded by game and don’t eat it enough – and we should.”
Would you like a permanent return to the Street?
“If the writing is there, and Jim’s with Steven and Elizabeth. The only time it doesn’t work is when the writers are fed up with you. When I left in 1999, I said to the then producer ‘I’ve got so much to offer, but at the moment you’re getting so bored with the character, you’re going to kill him, and that would be such a shame, so why don’t we just say cheerio?’ So I said cheerio and now, 15 years later, Jim’s still here.”