We caught up with the sixth incarnation of the Time Lord on the eve of the release of the last ever series of the classic 1970s drama soap The Brothers, in which Colin Baker played a leading role.
Colin is celebrated for his unforgettable portrayal of the ferocious Paul Merroney in The Brothers, determined to see the Hammond’s family business succeed and improve, at any cost. Merroney was even voted the “Most Hated Man in Britain” by readers of The Sun when the series was at its height!
Colin talked to us about his work on The Brothers, explaining why the series ended so suddenly and unexpectedly, and why TV from the 1970s remains so popular with audiences today – and the classics he’d like to watch again!
SimplyMedia (SM): You trained as a lawyer. What inspired you to become an actor?
Colin Baker (CB): I had always wanted to act since I enjoyed some modest success in doing so at school and suddenly found something that I could do well (I thought) and derived great satisfaction from. But my Father decided otherwise and at 18 I obeyed his diktat and trained as a solicitor.
SM: Audiences are nostalgic for drama classics from the 70s. Why do you think that is?
CB: Well… my generation were spoiled back then by the number of excellent drama productions at the BBC and ITV. And the number of available channels was so few so we all watched them. There is so much choice today, and once again so many good things to watch on Netflix, Amazon etc, that it impossible to watch them all. But we 1970’s watchers share a common memory of The Brothers, The Onedin Line, Callan, Doomwatch, Public Eye, The Trouble Shooters – the list is endless. So they are a shared experience for many households – and therefore subjects for an exchange of views the following day at work.
SM: Tell us about your favourite TV dramas from the time when you were working on The Brothers?
CB: I loved Callan, Rock Follies, The Organisation and Big Breadwinner Hogg, all superb series and unmissable.
SM: If you could see any other TV programme from the past brought back, what would it be?
CB: Anything by Philip Mackie [British filmmaker and TV scriptwriter] – The Liars, Mr Rose, The Organisation and The Naked Civil Servant.
SM: What did you most enjoy about playing your character Paul Merroney in The Brothers?
CB: He wasn’t an archetypal ‘baddy’. He was driven and wanted the best for the company, irrespective of how that affected the people involved. He had little time for sentiment though could on occasion show his softer side (for example, his relationship with Brian when he was ill). He was complicated and those are always more interesting parts to play. And playing a ‘villain’ can often be quite cathartic!
SM: Give us three words that best describe Paul Merroney.
CB: Intelligent, manipulative, focussed.
SM: How did you feel when Paul Merroney was voted the "Most Hated Man in Britain" by readers of The Sun?
CB: Strangely proud. I took it to mean I was doing my job well. Though it was a little uncomfortable at times being jabbed with umbrellas by discontented senior citizens.
SM: What was the reaction from the cast when the BBC brought production of The Brothers to a sudden halt?
CB: We were left in limbo and never heard a word from anyone. All the people working on it at the BBC had moved on to other projects and there was no one to ask.
I know why it suddenly halted. I recently met a lady who worked for the department allocating programme budgets at the BBC back in 1976. She felt the need to confess that they forgot to allocate the budget for the next season, and when everyone realised it was already too late as they couldn’t take back budget from the other programmes that had been commissioned at that point. They took the decision to keep quiet about it and so we faded away! Quite depressing really. I’d love to know what happened to them all….
SM: If The Brothers was brought back today, what changes do you think would be made?
CB: Shorter scenes for a start. Sadly. You would never get away with 20-minute boardroom scenes today. Quick cutting in most TV has led audiences to get restless if they watch any particular scene for more than a few minutes. The excellent Line of Duty has bucked that trend very successfully recently and shown that a ten or so minute scene can be very gripping; but not many programme makers would have that courage.
SM: Which Kate O'Mara character was more formidable to go up against; Jane Maxwell from The Brothers or The Rani from Doctor Who?
CB: Definitely the Rani – she was implacable and evil. Jane Maxwell was just implacable. Kate was superb in both and was able to show more variety as Jane – as she was a human being not a deranged Gallifreyan!
SM: Did your role in The Brothers influence your time playing The Doctor in Doctor Who?
CB: Not in any way that I can think of – they were very different roles and rarely does one role you play influence another in any conscious way.
SM:Who are your favourite television Brothers (other than from The Brothers)?
CB: Oh my goodness. Tricky one demanding research. On film I rather like Loki and Thor (geek alert!). Brother and sister would be Dexter and Debra in Dexter.
On TV? Well I rather enjoyed the interaction between Ken Barlow’s assorted offspring at the moment in Coronation Street
Colin Baker was interviewed by Hannah Page
The Brothers: Series 7 is released on DVD 10th July 2017