Panto Interview: Graham Cole

ABIGAIL SALTMARSH catches up with former Bill favourite Graham Cole as he gets ready to be really bad — and be booed — as Abanazar in Aladdin at Norwich Theatre Royal.

There is nothing Graham Cole likes more than throwing himself into the action and he can't wait to pick up his sword as the evil Abanazar.

Playing the role of Aladdin's wicked uncle in this year's pantomime at Norwich Theatre Royal goes some way towards filling the gap left by The Bill, in which he played PC Tony Stamp for more than 20 years.

'The baddy is the best part,' he admits. 'I love it when I hear the kids really throwing themselves into it and booing at me! I have been Fleshcreep four times before in the past and it was great; all the kids shouted: 'Kill him!''

He adds: 'The great thing about playing the villain in panto is that he looks bad too — he gets to wear these wonderful, evil-looking costumes — and Abanazar is one of the best baddies. He looks really bad and the kids realise quite early on that he must have the lamp and start shouting about it.'

It certainly makes a change from playing the easy-going PC Tony Stamp, a major role he held in the long-running ITV series until 2009. His character was at the centre of a number of important storylines before leaving the Sun Hill station to become a police driving instructor.

'I did enjoy being part of The Bill. It was almost a drama documentary when it first started but then as it became shown more frequently and went deeper into the characters is was classed as a soap opera.

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'I loved it because it was so fast moving. I did all my own stunts and even trained with the Met. I did their driving course eight times and I hold a race licence. But what I enjoyed more than anything was doing the staged fights.'

It was hard work starring in The Bill, often shooting scenes six days a week, and sometimes being involved in extremely traumatic storylines.

'It was very exciting, however, to just turn up and effectively make a feature film every week. It was also a programme that was constantly changing — no week was ever the same.'

Over the years, he says, the cast and production crew became very close. Despite characters coming and going, and an array of different extra being involved in each episode, many of the other well-known faces associated with the programme were also in it for years.

'I do miss the connections I made with the others, many of us worked on the show together for 18 to 20 years,' he says.

'Trudie Goodwin, who played Sgt June Ackland, for example, had kids roughly the same age as mine and we saw them go through the same stages together – high school, university – and they all knew each other.'

Despite leaving the show some three years ago, he is still recognised wherever he goes.

'People shout: 'Hello Tony!' all the time but it is fine. You get used to having a different name when you are in soap opera. What you do hope, however, is that directors are able to see you as someone else.

'The Bill was such an iconic show that I was always worried they might see me as Tony rather than as an actor.'

Since leaving the programme, however, Graham has been busy. Earlier in the year he starred in a new play called Soap Opera, with Leslie Grantham, who played the infamous Dirty Den in EastEnders.

'It is a comedy about a bunch of actors who are in long-running soap, and then there's a murder. I love doing live work.'

As a keen singer as well, he admits many of his loves come together in pantomime and he is especially thrilled to be appearing in Norwich and returning to Norfolk, where he spent many happy childhood holidays.

'Aladdin will be such fun — it is going to be a superb pantomime,' he says.

'There are bound to be some great special effects at the Theatre Royal and playing Abanazar will be great.'

And he adds: 'I can't wait to pick up a sword and to start fighting – for me, once again, it will be a case of boys with their toys!'

t Aladdin opens at Norwich Theatre Royal on December 18 and runs until January 19. Tickets �20-�5.50, except at 13 selected performances �18-�5.50. No shows on Christmnas Day, New Year's Day, January 8-9 and January 14-15. More details on 01603 630000 or visit: