My life of crime, by DCI Banks’ right-hand woman

Ahead of the new series of DCI Banks, Andrea Lowe tells Phil Penfold why she’s suited to a life of crime.

DCI Banks, played by Stephen Tompkinson with DS Annie Cabbot, alias Andrea Lowe
DCI Banks, played by Stephen Tompkinson with DS Annie Cabbot, alias Andrea Lowe

There is no irony at all in Andrea Lowe’s voice when she says that she “just loves coming back to Yorkshire”. The fact is that we are sitting in an over-heated room in a small office complex just next to what is left of Kellingley Colliery, betwixt Selby and Pontefract, and Andrea has just been filming some gruesome scenes, involving uncovering graves, for the hugely popular crime drama DCI Banks, based on the novels of our own Peter Robinson.

“I never know where I’m going to be until a day or so before, and, in contrast to today’s place, we also are often in, or filming next to, some of the nicest houses and views in the county. And, actually, that’s what I like about making Banks. The sheer unpredictability.”

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Andrea plays DS Annie Cabbot in the series, starring opposite her old friends Stephen Tompkinson and Caroline Katz. She took some time out a little while back to have her first baby, with her partner, the fashion buyer Terry Betts, and the storyline reflects real-life with Andrea now juggling motherhood and a career.

Stephen Tompkinson as DCI Banks, Andrea Lowe as DS Annie Cabbot and Caroline Catz as DI Helen Morton.

“Every working parent finds it hard to manipulate things so that every base is covered,” she smiles, and then adds: “But going to the gym occasionally, or for a jog, would be nice.” For the record, as soon as this early Friday afternoon interview is over, she’s heading for Wakefield station and the first train back down to London for the weekend with her family, before returning on the early train on Monday.

Banks is a very happy ship, despite their schedule often conflicting with the rather grimmer sort of Yorkshire weather, and the bleak stories. Unless they live locally, during the week, Andrea and the cast and crew are billeted in Leeds, and the headliners of the show live in serviced apartments in the centre of the city. They sometimes socialise in the evenings, maybe meeting up for dinner but, says Andrea, “More often than not it’s an early night after reading through the shooting order and the script for the next day. They keep you on your toes, because things are very liable to change at any given moment.

“Why? Well, if the morning dawns and the forecast is for rain all day, then they’ll maybe switch round from doing exterior shots to interiors. Practical good sense, really. Anyway, we finished shooting just before Christmas, and now we’re all waiting to see the reaction to the latest episodes”.

There’s little to worry about. The Banks tales are lapped up by viewing millions, and are one of the jewels in ITV’s drama crown.

“I know that fans of Peter’s books have loved them so far,” she admits. “But the thing is, we’ve dramatised all but his latest novel, and now we’ve had to bring in other writers to create new stories in his style. Of course, everything is run past him for his approval, but – so far, he hasn’t written in Caroline’s character, DI Helen Morton, who was created as the female interest when Cabbot went on maternity leave.

“There’s a buzz that Helen might arrive in his next novel, but Peter always keeps his cards pretty close to his chest. It’s always lovely when he comes on set, because he’s a charming bloke, and he seems to love what we are doing with his characters.”

That grave sequence today wasn’t for the faint-hearted, so is Andrea squeamish at all? She thinks about that for a moment or two and says: “No, I don’t think that I am. I’m a pretty robust person, and personally, I have a pretty high pain threshold. But I’ll tell you the scenes I don’t like, and those are the ones set in the mortuaries. Because those locations are real. Proper mortuaries, and that makes me a little wobbly. The air conditioning and freezer facilities are shut down as we film, because the background noise is too high, and then you realise that the extractors aren’t working either, and there is... shall we say... A certain smell in the air. And it’s not very pleasant at all. There are real bodies in those slide-out containers, or, as the lady who runs the place calls them, ‘my clients’.”

Born in Arnold, in Nottinghamshire, she celebrated her 40th birthday on New Year’s Day. There wasn’t any acting in the family, but Andrea showed a talent for performing, and was a keen student at the then Carlton TV acting academy. Her first professional stage appearance was at the Sheffield Crucible theatre, in Harold Pinter’s The Birthday Party, and then came a string of appearances on television in all sorts of productions, ranging from Where The Heart Is to The Bill, from The Tudors to Marple and Silent Witness. She has gained herself a reputation as a highly talented actress who is very much an “ensemble player”, and she rather likes that description.

She says: “The sooner that you realise that it’s not just about you and that you are part of a bigger picture, the better. The great thing about Banks is that we are surrounded, week after week, by brilliant guest players, all of whom contribute immensely to the stories. I love watching other dramas on TV who obviously work in the same sort of spirit. I see actors that I know, and whose talents I admire, and they pop up in a scene, and I think, ‘Well, you won’t have done this for just a spit and a cough and a couple of lines, you’re someone who goes for a bit of quality, so something must be about to happen’, and I am invariably proved right.”

Andrew puts Banks’ popularity down to the fact it deals with contemporary stories, comes with added Yorkshire grit and of course it helps that Stephen Thompkinson has a massive fan base. Personally it also allows her to fulfil a need for the odd adrenaline rush.

“One of the ways that I ‘recover’, is through action. I actually like running – I do marathons and things like that. And I am well up for doing 5K on a treadmill, whenever I can. It’s great that Annie is always being given things to do – although I wasn’t best pleased with myself after the car crash sequence last series. I rehearsed it and rehearsed it, and we did it over and over, doing that forward jerk thing – and, as a result, I gave myself mini-whiplash injuries. I was really stiff for days afterwards.”

While she is occasionally recognised on the streets, she has never been one to chase fame.

“In the part of London where we live, there are lots of other actors, so we are all pretty much commonplace. When someone does do a ‘double take’, and I’m out with my partner and my son, well, I feel vaguely embarrassed.

“We went on holiday to a farmhouse in Portugal last year, and the other people staying there knew who I was instantly – of all the more remote places in the world that we could choose, I’m there with the people who turn out to be my ‘number one fans’.

“I’m not on Twitter, and I don’t much care for social media, because I don’t like coping with the intrusion – especially if people are being mean. Frankly, I don’t know how people find the time – phone calls and e-mails keep me fully informed and fully occupied.”

Perhaps the only thing that Annie Cabbot and Andrea have in common, she thinks, “Is that we both speak before we think, 
a trait we both share, but she’s a darned sight more confident than I am, or will 
ever be”.

And has her son, now three years old ever caught his mum on television?

“We wouldn’t want him to watch anything of DCI Banks, he’s far too young. I have popped up in other things, however, and he’s been in the room, looked up from whatever he’s been doing – always far more important, of course – glanced at the screen, said ‘Mama’, and gone back to something radically more interesting. Now that, you see, puts it all neatly into perspective. Very sensible. My son, the young critic.”