Mark Addy’s latest role revolves around one of the most notorious murder cases in recent decades. Phil Penfold talks to the Yorkshire actor.
He starred in The Full Monty – the highest-grossing film in the UK until it was nudged out of the way by Titanic – and he added weight to the cast of Game of Thrones as Robert Baratheon. He was Hercules in Atlantis and Fred Flintstone in Viva Rock Vegas. He’s featured in Doctor Who, played Friar Tuck in Ridley Scott’s Robin Hood, and recently popped up as Mr Bakewell in the big screen version of Downton Abbey.
Add to all of that a more than distinguished career on stage and you have quite the actor. Yet for all his fame, York-born Mark Addy, his wife and three children all still live in Market Weighton.
“We are all very happy there,” he says simply. “People are used to seeing me around. I just love that Yorkshire reaction. I walk into a pub that I don’t know very well and someone will clock that my face might be a bit familiar, and someone along the bar will say, ‘I don’t care if he’s the King of Belgium, it doesn’t impress me!’ and that’s how it should be, and I’m very happy with that. Come to think of it, it’s often not my face that gives me away, but the way I sound – the voice. That’s how I get identified.”
Addy is in that great tradition of British performers – a character actor with a strong presence – and to start the New Year, he has a lead role in a new six-part drama series for ITV called White House Farm – a warts and all account of the infamous Jeremy Bamber case.
On the night of August 6, 1985, five people were shot and killed on a remote Essex farm. The victims were all related, including parents Nevill and June Bamber, their adoptive daughter Sheila Caffell and her two sons, Daniel and Nicholas, aged just six. Police initially believed that Sheila, who suffered from schizophrenia, had committed the murders before killing herself. However, weeks later, her adoptive brother Jeremy Bamber was arrested in connection with the crime and was convicted of the murders in October 1986.
The jury found that Bamber staged the scene to implicate Sheila and receive a large inheritance. He was given a life sentence with no possibility of parole, but he maintains his innocence to this day and his lawyers have made repeated attempts to have the case reviewed.
Although police at first believed that his sister Sheila was responsible for the killings, one of the first officers at the scene had serious doubts about the murder-suicide theory from the start, and decided to dig deeper. He was Detective Sergeant Stan Jones, who Addy plays in the series.
“Sadly, he’s no longer with us, because I would have loved to meet him,” says Addy. “There are one or two others who were connected with the case who are still very much around, and some of my acting colleagues were privileged to meet them.”
Stan, he says, was a very interesting man. “He was clearly very tenacious and from the start, at the murder scene itself, he felt that things just didn’t ‘ring true’. Stan started to put together a chain of events, and what he did was heroic, in its way.”
He and his colleagues began piecing the facts together, and for Addy it was a fascinating role to play. “As soon as I read Kris Mrksa’s script it was something I wanted to do – but I’ll tell you one thing, I wasn’t cast because I look anything like the real Stan Jones.
“He was, apparently, tall and thin, and I am, well, rather more robustly framed. But he clearly had integrity and honour and he finally made his little voice heard. Parts like this don’t come along that often, believe me. And while he had a huge role in solving this case, and convicting Bamber, he was never commended or given any award.”
Making the series was a bit of an eye-opener for Addy, who turns 56 this month.
“I can remember the case, probably in the main because of the deaths of the two little boys. And there’s a scene where Stan goes into their bedroom, where they are still in their beds. That was hugely emotional for me, but it is shown with deep compassion, from an angle where you see his face reacting to the discovery, but nothing else. We didn’t want to make this a ‘blood and gore shocker’ in any way. Being too graphic, and gratuitous, would not have been right, nor would it have been appropriate.”
Addy has been doing his own personal bit of detective work recently. His family have lived in York for generations and research a few years back turned up a century-old report, commissioned by philanthropist Benjamin Seebohm Rowntree, which investigated the plight of the city’s poor.
“We think of York as always being a ‘rich’ place because of the employment from the chocolate firms, and the railways. But Rowntree discovered that this wasn’t the case. They found grinding poverty and one guy, in particular, kept a diary for the researchers which is absolutely horrifying.”
The Nevinsons lived on bread and margarine, were sober and decent and had a perpetual bill at the corner shop. They were heavily in arrears with the rent. Mrs Nevinson had – incredibly – 22 children, all but three of whom died in childbirth or as infants.
One survivor, Ivy, was blind, and went to a local school who handled youngsters with her disability. Because he was a proud man, Nevinson wanted his name changed for the reports. His real name was John Thomas Addy, and Mark is a direct descendant.
“My great grandfather went through a heck of a lot and we found through further records that most of the family are buried in Fulford Cemetery. We visited and found the plot – but there was nothing there. They just couldn’t afford any sort of gravestone. So I commissioned one and it now marks their last resting place. They’ve been given the respect that they deserve.”
Back on the acting front, Addy remains much in demand. In March he’s off to Broadway to appear in Richard Bean’s play Hangman. “It’s set in a pub in Oldham,and all about Britain’s last executioner – it’s a pitch-black comedy, so heaven knows what the New Yorkers will make of that.”
He also reveals that he was asked to slip into Berwick Kaler’s panto frocks at York’s Theatre Royal. He says he was “very flattered” but politely declined.
“The family and I go every year to the show and I have nothing but deep admiration for that lovely man and all the lovely cast. But all that frenetic activity, two and three shows a day, six days a week? Not for me, thanks very much. I’d far rather sit in the stalls and watch. They all have so much energy. That gives me so much pleasure – and a sense of connection, because being a stage hand at the Royal was the first proper job that I ever had. It may be a few decades back but I recall it vividly. It was Dick Whittington and Berwick was (as always) the Dame. A young lad called Gary Oldman was playing the cat.”
He pauses and smiles: “I wonder whatever happened to him?”
White House Farm, ITV, Wednesday, January 8, 9pm.