There was a major shock in tonight’s Holby City, as cancer-stricken medic Arthur Digby took a sudden turn for the worse and tragically lost his battle with the disease.
As actor Rob Ostlere says farewell to the wards of Holby, he talks about filming his final scenes, recalls his fondest memories from the show and reveals why he might not be ready to put down the stethoscope just yet…
Rob, we can’t imagine there’s a dry eye in the house after tonight’s episode of Holby City. What was it like filming Arthur’s final moments knowing that these were your final scenes and that you were actually leaving the show?
“Obviously, Arthur’s cancer story itself was really sad and, because I knew I was leaving the show, it made a big difference, so it did get to me a little bit. A lot of the scenes towards the end included things that I probably would have said anyway like, ‘I’ve loved every single minute of working here’, like Arthur said to Hanssen. And there were the ‘goodbyes’ early on in the episode, as Arthur was preparing to go off travelling with wife Morven (Ellie Fanyinka) – I remember thinking: ‘Oh no, this is goodbye in real life!’”
Arthur and Morven are all smiles as they prepare to go off travelling
One of the saddest things for us was that Arthur had just come to realise what he wanted from life… then lost his battle with cancer!
“Arthur’s always been very closed-minded about certain things and, suddenly, he opened up emotionally and revealed a different side to himself. Arthur developed a real sense of freedom through realising what’s important about life… and what’s important to him. But then, just as he realises that, he dies!”
When did you learn that this was going to be Arthur’s fate?
“Quite a while ago, actually. I’d been on the show for almost three years and I told the producers that I’d like to do another six months – I’d had an amazing time on Holby but, as an actor, I had to try different things. So I knew I was leaving, but it seemed like absolutely ages away. Then, one day, I went in to see producer Simon Harper and he said: ‘We’ve got your exit storyline’. I was like: ‘OK, great’… And then he told me that Arthur was going to die of cancer. Then I remember being a bit shocked and upset!”
Did you hope they might leave the door open for Arthur?
“It’s more just that I’d been able to make a gradual decision about leaving then, suddenly, it was so final! Holby’s such a great show to be a part of and such an amazing place to work and you do get really attached to the environment, the characters and, of course, all the people – I made some of my best friends there – and you just suddenly realise: ‘Oh gosh, I am actually going now’.
“From an actor’s point of view, though, this story was a challenge, so I was keen to try and take that on.”
Not least, we imagine, because in your last few episodes you’ve been playing more of a patient than a doctor?
“Yeah, it was strange. I remember filming one scene where Arthur’s in a hospital bed and Jac (Rosie Marcel) is talking to Zosia (Camilla Arfwedson) in the middle of the ward, but I’m lying there in the background almost asleep. It just felt really strange seeing them in the distance and not being able to wander in and hand them a file or give them my opinion. So yeah, it’s a really different perspective.”
Holby boss Henrik Hanssen was the last person Arthur spoke to before he died. Did you enjoy working with Guy Henry, who plays him?
“I was really lucky that I got to work with Guy quite a lot throughout my last few months and he’s brilliant in that final scene we had together in Hanssen’s office. You see a slightly different side to Hanssen in Arthur’s final moments, which is really lovely.”
Arthur talks to Hanssen in his office before taking a sudden turn for the worse…
Your final episode included some nice surprises for Holby fans, too, as favourites Malick (Jimmy Akingbola) and Chantelle (Lauren Drummond) returned. And Casualty’s Ethan (George Rainsford) even popped up from the ED! Was that fun to film?
“Yes, I do think it’s a really upbeat, lovely episode until Arthur’s final moments: Malick appeared on Skype, Chantelle turned up in Arthur’s dream, then Ethan came along. George and I were at the National Youth Theatre together about 14 years ago and we’ve been friends ever since. I remember him auditioning to play Ethan, so it was fun that we both ended up at Holby. We’ve been petitioning Oliver Kent, exec producer on Casualty and Holby, to give us some scenes together and now we’ve done it.”
What are your fondest memories of your time playing Arthur?
“Oh gosh, that’s really tricky. I can distinctly remember phases; so, coming into the hospital as Arthur, who’s a bit hapless, clumsy and geeky, and trying to impress Chantelle, this gorgeous nurse and then trying to impress Malick, this really cool doctor.
“Later on, I don’t think the plan was to have Dominic (David Ames), Zosia and Arthur getting on so well, but because the three of us got on so well in real life and have a really nice dynamic on screen, they developed that and it became a real friendship rather than rivalry. Camilla and David are two of my best friends now and I had a huge amount of fun working with them. Holby’s such a lovely environment to work in; you’re really around friends. All the stuff that everyone says about Holby, it’s all true!”
Rob enjoyed working with David Ames, who plays Dominic
Sounds like you’ll really miss playing Arthur…
“With Arthur, we could do lots of different things: comic stuff, lighter stuff and silly stuff. We could also do more complex, emotional and slightly darker things as well because he was quite a complex character in that he was always struggling to work himself out and deal with his flaws. So I was really lucky to have a character that I could do lots of different things with.”
What’s next for you? Will you be in a hurry to play a doctor again?
“Well, the last six months of filming at Holby were really intense, so I’m just having a break at the moment, catching up with people I haven’t seen for ages… and trying to decompress a bit!
“I’d be really happy to play a doctor again, straight away – I really love it. They’re such interesting people to play because they’re under huge pressure, they’re tired, they’re always struggling against limited resources or limited time and it is literally life and death situations that they’re dealing with, plus they’ve got their own personal lives going on. I now realise I’ve spent the past three-and-a-half years walking around a fake hospital, which is a weird thing to do. But I will miss it!”
Holby City continues weekly on BBC1. Transmission is subject to change throughout June, due to coverage of Euro 2016 football