You know where you are with Albert Tyburn, the lead character in Heat of the Sun, ITV's new big-budget drama. The moment he arrives at his new posting as police superintendent in 1930s Kenya, he immediately stamps his authority by smartly punching senseless a rowdy drunk who is clinging to his vehicle. Nothing like letting them know at once who's boss.
It was this straight-down-the-line-ness that drew Trevor Eve (right) to the role of Tyburn. "I thought it was wonderful that Tyburn was this good, old-fashioned hero," he declares. "We've had to go back to the 1930s to find him, which says it all. He sees people for what they are. He has no prejudice in what was a remarkably prejudiced time. I wouldn't say he was naive, so much as clear-thinking. He doesn't accept the social conditions of the time. He takes people as he finds them. Tyburn is politically correct before his time. He's a PC PC."
A well-preserved 46-year-old in a loose blue roll-neck jumper, Eve has previously been associated with rather more angsty drama - the trauma of sexual infidelity and the lust for power in works such as A Sense of Guilt and The Politician's Wife. So this escapist period drama came as something of a relief for the actor. "I liked the lack of responsibility about Heat of the Sun," he confirms. "I don't mean it's irresponsible, but it is a piece of pure entertainment - all byplanes, lions and period motorbikes. I've never been in anything like this before. I'm usually in things that are about corruption and the agonised side of life, where the call-sheets read, `He ties his mistress to the bed'. Here it's more likely to read: `He takes off in a byplane, decks three baddies and then goes on a lion hunt'. Doing this, you get up in the morning and think, `fun'."
Fun is not the first word that springs to mind when trawling through some of the parts on Eve's CV - "cad" is nearer the mark. Eve is unusual among actors in actively seeking dislikeable roles. Unlike most of his fraternity, he is not afraid of not being loved.
"I don't understand it when actors say they don't want to play unsympathetic characters," Eve reflects. "I quite like doing the reverse. If you do The Winter's Tale, you want to make Leontes appear human rather than a monster. It's important to try and make awful characters believable - not to justify their actions, but to fill them out as people. Audiences can hate the characters even more because you've put their arguments on the table.
"In The Politician's Wife, I didn't play Duncan Matlock thinking all the time, `He's a right bastard'. I played him as someone embroiled in career politics. I thought, `How do you survive in that world?' We all know who our least favourite politicians are, but they don't think they're being bastards. If you start saying, `My character's a shit,' then you're doing the audience's job for them. You become smug, and it doesn't work."
That was just one reason why Paula Milne's 1995 series for Channel 4 was such a success. Another, according to Eve, was that it was told "from the woman's point of view. Had it been called The Politician, it wouldn't have worked so well. Had it been a male-dominated piece about how tough it is to be a philandering, corrupt Tory, it might not have struck a chord."
But people appreciated it because it was seen through the eyes of this woman living with a careerist politician - that was the genius of the piece," he continues. "Viewers thought, `How's this woman going to deal with this?' Women have to be married to the party, which is why Tories vet the wives of potential MPs." With a wicked smile, he adds that "the Tories hated the series, but I didn't mind hugely about that. It shows it had an effect."
The other role that had a major impact on Eve's career was the one that first made him, Eddie Shoestring. In its heyday, the easy-going Bristolian detective collared a staggering 23 million viewers a week. Eve claims that the clamour died down once he decided to call a halt to the show after a mere 21 episodes. "I'd never wanted to do something that went on and on," he asserts. "I get frustrated playing the same thing again and again. It must be tough for people who do the weather on television - they're never out of the public eye. I still do get attention, but it's not impossible to live a life."
Will Eve still find it so easy if Heat of the Sun is a Shoestring-sized hit? He certainly hasn't ruled out making more. "Heat of the Sun has got legs in terms of story potential," he reckons. "If you're dealing with Africa in the 1930s, you can pull on political and racial issues, which is good. If you're watching a contemporary British detective, you end up thinking, `Just how many people can get killed in Clifton?'."
`Heat of the Sun' starts on 28 Jan on ITV at 8pm.Reuse content