‘Focused, Principled, Supportive, Veteran and Dependable’ says Derek Thompson on being asked to describe his character in five words.
Back in Series 1, Charlie Fairhead was a Charge Nurse without many cares or worries. A thick mass of curly brown hair which has steadily gone grayer through the stress of his years. Charlie, who was also then a smoker, was famed for wearing his sheepskin flying jacket and driving his battered yellow Beetle.
Charlie had a great sense of humour but also stood firm in his role of Charge Nurse. And his trademark looks of standing with his hands in his pockets when people asked the impossible, or rubbing the back of his head are still seen today.
Back then Charlie still didn’t have much luck with women. First meeting young but ambitious Baz, who he had a fling with in Series 1 but which ended in disaster when she aborted his child and then moved on to further her career. Charlie was left to pick up the pieces back in his homeground of A&E, which is where he would stay for the next 18 years. He then went on the rebound by having a one night stand with Nurse Karen O’Malley, who sensed his non-commitment and a romance with Administrator Valerie Sinclair looked promising, however as they were fighting opposing sides of the hospital sector, they soon clashed.
His next romance didn’t happen till Series 6, when at a bereavement group, he met Social Worker Trish Baynes. Which even Derek Thompson thought looked hopeful at the time. “I felt sure the relationship with Trish Baynes was going to develop
into marriage and was looking forward to it but I think the writers preferred to make a point about the loneness of the man.” Trish ended up leaving him due to his over-obsession with his work.
By the end of Series 7, Charlie was in the depths of despair and Duffy helped him to overcome a bout of severe depression. Derek remembers the storyline well, “As an actor, you have no control and the anxiety and distress do get to me,’ he explains. ‘But Charlie’s personal problems come off with the scrubs at the end of a day’s filming. That’s why Charlie’s depression in series seven was fun. I didn’t like looking a mess, but I enjoyed the breakdown. I imagined a piece of plutonium in the back of my head.”
In Series 9, Baz returns to Holby A&E with a Locum position. Surprised to find Charlie still in the department, while she has moved on and married. They soon rekindle their romance. Derek describes Baz as ‘the woman who can unlock his frozen emotions’. Within the next few years, Baz and Charlie have a son Louis and get married, but instead of a happy ending, the couple go through a rocky patch, and through the strain of Charlie commuting each weekend to see them, their relationship slowly crumbles.
Baz then ups and leaves to Canada, and when she next returns five years later in Series 18 with seven year old Louis in tow – she has again remarried to Canadian, Dan. Throughout the years however, Charlie remained as smitten as ever over Baz. ‘Charlie has always known that Baz is the love of his life,’ says Derek. And under the Northern Lights of Lapland, while Dan lay in hospital due to a snowmobile accident – Charlie and Baz again get close.
Just as it looks as though they are getting their relationship back on course, a car accident has tragedy in store, when Baz sadly dies.
And now Charlie faces a struggle to keep custody of his son Louis, over Dan – who is determined to take the child he has brought up back to Canada. And in upcoming episodes, we see Charlie show a battle of emotions as he doubts his worth as a father.
Derek Thompson was delighted to have such a good storyline to work on – after being in the show 18 years, he is always surprised with what the producers come up with and with a number of characters in the series now – Charlie is often kept in the background. ‘We’ve got 40 episodes and so many running characters and they have to keep the temperature so high,’ he says. ‘I think they keep characters like mine on the sideboard and every now and again give us a shake.’
Derek adds how much the show has changed from the early days of when the show was more about the hospital and guest stars to now focusing in on the regular characters. ‘They’re using much more of the mechanisms of the intensity of a soap opera between the regular characters to arrive at what they want,’ says Derek. ‘The producers aims are edged somewhere it hasn’t been before. They have now applied a vacuum pump as such which they’ve sucked all the air out of it so there isn’t a gradual sense of development for the regular characters – they’re at it hammer and tongues like the guest storylines are.’
‘That intensity could have come a cropper and it could go very wrong had they not been wise enough to recruit young very good actors to take the weight off all that stuff. As not one of them has that soap opera feel. They all know that acting is about pretending you’re not being watched,’ he continued. ‘So they’ve managed to get the intensity of a soap opera into this without it being as consciously exploitative of high drama as soap opera generally is.’
Derek remains full of admiration for the show’s younger cast. ‘I don’t know how those kids cope with all that dramatic demand because they have to undercut it all the time to make it feel real, bleach out the tone often – we (the older cast) don’t suffer that as much as they don’t throw us as many soap opera tablets, we tend to get the daily grind of things and when they do it’s a bit of a shock.’
Derek’s other memorable storyline this year was back in Episode 6, when Charlie and Josh spend a day together, reminiscing about the old times. Derek enjoyed working with his colleague Ian Bleasedale, as they don’t often get many scenes together – even though it was filmed on a cold early morning on Weston-Super-Mare beach. ‘The producer came up to us with the idea – it frightened the life out of the Executive Producers but they couldn’t be seen to back down, so they had to consider the idea. So the producer approached us and asked us if it was a good idea and we both did!’
‘We thought it would be a great laugh, in the context of 17 years of being a regular down in the mouth Joe, I thought we’d saved up enough stamps to show our arses!’