Staying In: Inside the tube

John Thomson is one of our most versatile comedy actors - the bloke next door with a cool catchphrase. And he's a jazz drummer. No, really ...

James Rampton
Saturday 02 January 1999 00:02

Sunny Series

As we hunker down around our TV sets amid the encircling gloom of deepest winter, the schedulers are doing their best to heat us up with some sunny drama. It was just this sort of timing - warm summery series shown in the bleak mid-winter - which boosted the initial popularity of Ballykissangel. Hoping to have a similar effect on viewers is Sunburn (above), a bright and breezy new six-parter which starts later this month on BBC1.

Set on sun-kissed Cyprus, it charts the lives of a team of British holiday reps led by Michelle Collins, latterly EastEnders' Cindy - a character who habitually appeared attached to the epithet "sinful" in the tabloids. The Albert Square theme is maintained by two guest-star appearances by EastEnders alumni: Mona Hammond (Blossom) in the third episode and Anita Dobson (Angie) in the sixth.

The series comes with a good pedigree, having been created by Mike Bullen, the writer behind ITV's recent upmarket hit drama, Cold Feet. It also has Mal Young, a veteran of Casualty and Brookside, as script executive. Sun, sea, sand and sex. It looks like a failsafe formula - but didn't they say the same thing about Eldorado ... ?

Doctor "Dirty" David

Staying with the EastEnders theme, whatever happened to Michael French? His character, "Dirty" David Wicks, was the best baddie to hit Albert Square since the demise of "Dirty" Den Watts. His entangled love life was a source of endless fascination, and when he left the soap a couple of years ago, the world - as Arthur Daley from Minder would have put it - was his lobster. But actors who are strongly identified with one role often cannot immediately shake off associations with it in the public mind - a problem that appears to have beset the splendid Anita Dobson (see above) since forsaking the part of Den's wife, Angie. French (below), struggled in his first post-soap piece, BBC1's frankly implausible slice of sci- fi hokum, Crime Traveller.

He now has a second bite of the cherry with Holby City, the unashamed spin-off from Casualty that follows patients upstairs and into the Darwin Ward. In this BBC1 series due on our screens later this spring, French plays surgical registrar Nick Jordan, who in what may be seen as a canny case of playing to your known strengths, does not seem a million miles away from David Wicks. Jordan certainly has an eye for a well- turned ankle.

"I'd say Jordan was more compassionate, more human than David Wicks, though," French adds hastily. "Like most blokes, he sometimes treats women as playthings - if they're willing. A little bit of hanky-panky is all part of the human condition, after all!" JR

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