7 Days – Northern Echo – 31st January 2008

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Simon MacCorkindale as Harry Harper in CasualtyThriller tour

Busy Simon MacCorkindale chats to Viv Hardwick about leaving BBC1 ‘s Casualty, taking on a stage tour and finding time to breed expensive Arabian horses

YES sighs Simon MacCorkindale with mock irony, “I have gone down in history as the man who sacked Charlie Fairhead in Casualty.” The plot of the Christmas episode of the BBC1 drama made the right kind of headlines for the programme as actor Derek Thompson became the last member of the original cast to leave after 21 years.

We are discussing MacCorkindale’s role of manager and senior consultant Harry Harper in the series which has seen his character become a widower with five children over five years while embarking on a further four love affairs.

Now he’s quitting the eventful world of Holby City’s accident and emergency unit again to take up a theatre tour opportunity – he came out of the series last year to appear in a revival of Agatha Christie’s The Unexpected Guest. This time he’s the star of Sleuth, alongside former TV Robin Hood Michael Praed, which tours to Darlington Civic Theatre and Billingham Forum and is casting an eye towards a West End run.

But he admits it’s the Charlie sacking that has rattled him recently.

“Harry had to sack Charlie. He didn’t want to, but Charlie had punched a patient and although Harry had faced the prospect of sacking Tess (played by Suzanne Packer) or Charlie, the decision was made for him by an incident becoming a disciplinary matter,” explains the actor, who will be 56 on February 12.

“That plot got slightly lost in the way it came across in the media and I became ‘the guy who sacked Charlie’ rather than the way it was shown in the episode,” he muses.

While actor Derek Thompson is set to return to Casualty the same cannot be said of MacCorkindale. He’s initially more tight-lipped about Harry’s own exit from Casualty and will only say “watch this space”. “But I can tell you that Harry is put in a position which becomes untenable and his departure becomes a matter of principle.”

Which is just what we’d expect from his “good guy with a weakness for the ladies” role.

The incredibly busy actor somehow manages to combine his stage and screen work alongside a 13-year project with actress wife Susan George to breed the world’s best Arabian horses at their Georgian Arabians Exmoor stud farm.

Simon MacCorkindale and Susan GeorgeThere are currently 50 horses stabled at the farm. “The dream is that one day you’ll own a horse that is worth in the region of one million euros, if the right buyer comes along. You have to appreciate that in the show horses side of this business you are dealing in an extremely expensive market where there can be a ‘money no object’ person,” says MacCorkindale.

“Susan has a lot more knowledge about this and has been running the stables for 13 years while I’ve got more and more involved over the last seven. Breeding Arabians isn’t as exclusive as you’d think. The competition is remarkable. In addition to the Arabs themselves, there are horse breeders from the US, Europe and Australia, so we have to keep working hard,” he says and agrees with a laugh as I suggest that a reality TV series about Susan and Simon’s farm would be a winner.

The international acting stars are already focusing on having horses ready for future Olympics.

Currently, MacCorkindale is touring in Anthony Shaffer’s Sleuth and feels that the recent release of a film re-make was more of a hindrance than a help.

“A year ago I actually agreed with Bill (Kenwright) to take part in a tour of the play and the view was that a lot of plays do well on the back of a film and I never felt it was a conflict.

“Unfortunately the film didn’t do terribly well. I feel it was the wrong choice to modernise it which took some of the charm out of the original screenplay. Our play is the original with no embellishment, along the lines of the one starring Laurence Olivier and Michael Caine.

“I didn’t think it worked using the gimmickry of having Michael Came playing the senior role in the new film and having Jude Law as the younger man, because all it did was use the Alfie link between Jude and Michael as a stunt.”

MacCorkindale viewed this casting as a distraction which changes the plot into “two men fighting” rather than the table-turning mind games played between his character, Andrew Wyke, who arrogantly sets out to destroy the reputation of his wife’s less sophisticated younger lover, Milo.

I do point out, for the record, that Michael Praed is just eight years his junior and the actor admits that this did become a topic of conversation.

“I don’t think it matters so much about the age difference. It is the difference in attitude that matters. Andrew’s personality is one of dealing with a problem created by his wife who he regards as a possession. I don’t think it matters whether he’s grey or not.

“I feel that the similarity in ages makes me appear less of a bully because I’m taking on someone who is physically my equal,” he explains.

One thing is sure. Sleuth will end each performance with a casualty.

Sleuth runs February 18-23 at Darlington Civic Theatre. The production returns to the region in the summer and runs June 16-21 at Billingham Forum’s Theatre

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