Inspector Wexford star George Baker is joining Coronation Street temporarily. The acclaimed actor will take on the role of Corrie legend Bet Lynch’s besotted love interest Cecil Newton for seven special episodes.
“I’m playing Cecil Newton, the chairman of the brewery that owns the Rovers Return. It was absolutely terrific fun actually - but very hard work, they don’t hang about. You get six episodes done in about 10 days. It was a very, very good script and I thought what a lovely idea, let’s do it. A slightly lighter side of life.”
George especially loved working with Corrie legend Julie Goodyear. “Working with Julie was absolutely lovely. She was smashing to work with, most of my scenes were with her - that’s how it goes when there’s romance in the air. It’s very funny really, the idea of Wexford meeting Bet Lynch. An unlikely combination.”
And despite a 50-year career, including more than 20 appearances as Wexford, and a host of other film and TV roles including Tiberius in I, Claudius, this is the actor’s first part in a soap. “It’s absolutely a new experience - I’m amazed at the standard when you consider at what speed they film because Coronation Street is a very high standard,” he says. “I didn’t know Julie but that was a very nice friendship made I think.”
While he’s a big fan of Corrie, George isn’t impressed by some of UK TV’s current offerings. He says: “I think TV in general is poor. Reality TV has destroyed everything. There is no story in shows such as Big Brother and I’m A Celebrity… Get Me Out Of Here! Programmes like Who Wants To Be A Millionaire are done on the cheap. They are all in slots that were once reserved for great dramas.”
After releasing his autobiography The Way to Wexford last year, the actor is taking the opportunity to share a few anecdotes from his life with a one-man show, which he hopes will tour the country soon. It all started during the publicity tour for his book, he explains. "From a 20-minute after-dinner speech, I moved on to 45 and then on to 90. So now I’ve got a one-man show. And people seem to like it, which is lovely. I’m very delighted for them - and for myself. You get people saying, "I remember you in so-and-so’, and that’s lovely. That I enjoy very much, because you think to yourself, “That’s what I’ve done with my life, that’s why I did it’.”
Baker has no intention of slowing down either. “I’m not going to retire if I can possibly avoid it. If somebody makes me slow down, then I suppose I shall have to.”
His family - five daughters, eight grandchildren and two step-grandchildren, courtesy of his third wife Louie Ramsay, who played his screen wife Dora in Wexford - are all very supportive, he adds. And there are no health problems to slow him down either, he says, after successful treatment for prostate cancer four years ago. “It was removed and the cancer seems not to have returned. So while healthy, why stop? If the offers come.”
The roles certainly haven’t dried up - Baker is appearing in a film called Whisper The Way Of The Child, alongside Beth Winslet and Jude Akuwudike, and is writing his own play “about age and forgetting”, he says with a wry smile.
“The film is very difficult to explain what it’s about. But it’s a fascinating, absolutely lovely script, set in the 1950s. It is gentle, you keep returning and thinking about it. How I can best describe it is it’s full of relationships that never really get resolved and they just hang in the air. You’re never quite certain of where they’re going to go. It has a sort of autumn feel about it.”
The actor doesn’t dwell too much on his own autumn years though. "I try not to worry about time running out, but every now and again I remind myself I am in the departure lounge. Any minute now they might say, "Your number is up’. If you look at the obituaries, you find most people are only about 74 or 75, and you think, “Well, I don’t feel that old, but I’m only a touch away from it’. So because I enjoy the life I want to live every day as fully and as well as I can, which includes doing some work.”
No more Wexford
He’s adamant he won’t be returning to Wexford though. “I am 72 - they retire policemen, Detective Chief Inspectors, at the age of 55. I want to move on with dignity, and get on to something else.”
But he does miss the cast and crew. “It’s sad to say goodbye, a lot still correspond and we see each other. It was an extraordinary event, very, very close-knit. I do miss it - although I’m missing it less and less. And of course, the nice thing is, I’ve got old Dora at home with me,” he laughs. “That’s one way to keep contact, marry them!”
Bet bounces back
Julie Goodyear says her second Coronation Street comeback left her feeling terrified. On Friday, soap fans saw her begin a seven-episode stint which could lead to more appearances in the future.
The last time her character Bet Lynch returned to the cobbles, in June last year, Julie suffered fatigue and dropped out after just 24 days. Julie told The Sun that it took a great deal of courage to sign up again.
She added: “It was more than embarrassment going back. It was sheer terror. On that first day, I felt as if I was going into the front row of the England scrum for a kicking. It was scarier than putting my head on the end of Jonny Wilkinson’s foot. Daniel in the lion’s den was having an easy time of it. But for me, it was something I had to do - for my own self-respect and for the viewers. Last year I didn’t know what I was letting myself in for.”
But Julie is certain that her latest comeback, which was filmed on location in Blackpool, will be a hit with viewers. In the new storyline Bet falls for retiring Newton and Ridley boss Cecil Newton, played by Inspector Wexford star George Baker.
Julie told the paper: “As soon as I met George, I knew that I had made the right decision. He is an absolute gentleman and a damned good actor. We had great fun together - he’s a very kind man. These latest episodes are the closest Bet has ever come to lasting happiness - and will probably ever come. Viewers will see the chemistry on screen and her honesty after all those years of broken hearts.”