Casualty’s Harry Is The Unexpected Guest
IT was typical of a doctor to keep you waiting. When have they ever kept their appointment times?
But as my consultation was with one of Holby City’s finest medics, the stoical Harry Harper, I was prepared to wait.
In the four years that actor Simon MacCorkindale has worn the lead stethoscope and a furrowed brow in the BBC’s flagship Saturday night soap he has set more than a few hearts fluttering on and off set.
But can the 54-year-old actor cut the mustard while temporarily back in civvie street on stage at Milton Keynes Theatre this week in Agatha Christie’s The Unexpected Guest?
Simon started out in theatre in the early 1970s but soon made the transition into television where his clean cut good looks and resonant, terribly nice, English patois, made him the male crumpet of choice to millions of viewers on both sides of the Atlantic.
He made a decisive return to British TV with his appearance in 2002 as the new clinical lead consultant of Casualty. Now he is having five months off to tour with Christie and explore other options before returning to the drama.
We met just before curtain up on the first night with an unspoken secret between us. Truth is I’ve always had a bit of a crush on our faithful medic from his days in the big US/ UK dramas like Falcon Crest, Manimal, Dynasty and appearances in Hart to Hart, The Dukes of Hazzard, Quatermass, I Claudius and Jesus of Nazareth. His introduction to Christie came with the cinema version of Death on the Nile in 1978.
Off stage he’s been married for 21 years to actress and now champion Arabian horse breeder, Susan George, once dubbed the sexiest woman in the world and lives at their stud farm in Exmoor with 50 equines. No wonder he looks so contented.
In Unexpected Guest he is something of an enigma, part of the Christie puzzle that keeps the audience guessing until the end as to the identity of the murderer.
Sitting opposite me it’s difficult not to get Harry Harper out of my head. Dressed in casual jacket, cords, a pink striped shirt and contrasting pink tie (a colour so beloved by theatricals) he looks like a country GP. The once blond hair is now darker but the voice is still as rich as honey and quite seductive. His maturity has brought with it a certain gravitas. Yes, I believe he could possibly run a Casualty department single handed and still have time for the odd affair with a pretty blonde nurse or two.
“With all these types of plays it’s difficult to tell you too much without letting you know too much!” joked the affable Simon.
“It’s set in 1957, typical Agatha Christie territory. It’s a stylised production to give it a more modern, contemporary feel but without getting out of the period. There’s also shades of Hitchcock’s North By Northwest.
“I’ve been in two Agatha Christie’s. Death on the Nile and this. To be honest, I’ve seen the Poirots and Miss Marples on TV but I haven’t seen another at the theatre. I’m probably the only person not to have seen Mousetrap!
“But I do enjoy them. Everyone loves a good mystery. It’s very interactive. You hear the audience chatting about it as the play goes on – even granny who probably gets it three days later!
“They all seem to enjoy Christie as a period piece. If you try and bring them up to date you would struggle. There’s so much TV of the moment, reality stuff, people like to wallow in the nostalgia of the past.
“I had a window of opportunity with Casualty. They asked me over a year ago whether I’d like the idea of doing the storyline they’ve got running (Simon’s character, Harry, is vying to become an MP to halt the closure of his A & E Unit) which would mean a five month break from the show. After nearly five years I thought the break would be rather pleasant.
“After five years there’s always the danger of getting bored with the character. That’s why people don’t sign long-term contracts. I’ve got used to them because that’s very much the American way but I believe in making a commitment to the show.
“If you believe in a show enough – it’s not just a job to earn some money – you can really really invest into it and I believe I’ve done that and I feel I can do it a bit longer, how much longer I don’t know. I’m contracted until the end of the year”
Simon is quite affronted when I suggest Harry’s a bit of a rogue when it comes to the ladies. Are there any left that he hasn’t made a pass at?
“I don’t know where this reputation came from! He’s had a few near misses but he’s actually only had one affair, with the Ellen character, and when it ended he was awfully nice to her.
“Harry is a very rounded character! He is the rock of that department and I like that.
“When they started doing negative things with the character, like his drug dependency, I did think why does TV force us down this road? Why can’t he remain the Rock of Gibraltar?
Why not show that this is just a consultant doing his job and he’s 100 per cent reliable. I’d like that.”
Simon had spent 15 years abroad before returning with Susan to Exmoor and set about re-establishing himself in the UK.
“I had got tired of all the travelling and wanted to bed down somewhere. Casualty came along at the perfect time.
“I like the fact that he’s old school and new man and thought I could do something with it. It’s a challenge sometimes with all the medical stuff. The medical experts come on set and try to catch me out with something that I can’t pronounce but I just enjoy the challenge. One of the joys of being an actor is learning new things and after five years on a medical soap I’ve obviously picked up a few things – though if someone collapses in the front row I’d probably ask them to make less noise!
“We do try and be, medically, accurate, I want to show the profession in the best possible light.
“Holby City, on the other hand, have someone come in a bit poorly, find they’ve got cancer and treat them immediately with chemo. Wow! The NHS at it’s finest. If only it was that easy!”
Simon is convinced that his career is about to enter a golden era.
“I feel like I’ve only just started. I have always believed I would have a latter day career and that I’ve just been building blocks until now.
“I felt under the right circumstances, with the right part, this would be the time things would come good for me.
“I finish the play in April on a Saturday then I’m back on the Casualty set on the Monday morning.”
When does your wife ever get to see him, I ask. “She’s quite happy to see me less!”he jokes.