FOR 25 years, Graham Cole OBE trod the Sun Hill beat. Before that, he was a monster in Doctor Who. Many monsters actually, from Marshman to Cyberman, Melkur to a Jacondan, he played them all.
“I was encased in rubber for the BBC for far too long,” laughs the 61-year-old.
However, it was as PC Tony Stamp, driver of The Bill’s area car, that Cole, currently starring in White Christmas at the Festival Theatre, became a household name.
“One of the fantastic things about The Bill for me, was that I’d never played a policeman before,” he says.
“I’d been an actor for 20-odd years and always played villains. But I had done a lot of stage fighting, and they wanted an actor who could handle himself and do the stunts.
“Then, when they found out I had a racing licence, they said, ‘Oh well, let’s make him the area car driver’.”
It was a part Cole not only loved playing, but one he took very seriously, going out on shifts with real life area car officers two or three times a year, and sitting the Metropolitan Police driving course on no fewer than eight occasions.
“I was never doubled on any stunt,” he says, proudly, adding that he “did the Metropolitan Police driving course at Hendon, so that they didn’t have to shut the streets off when I went out in the car.”
“I loved that part of the job. You could never do it now, but in those days, the camera crew would come in and weld together this little A-frame with a camera on it. Then they’d strap it to my side of the door and tape my dialogue as I was driving around the Elephant and Castle with white van men heading towards me every 30 seconds...
“The crews would even put little white chalk ‘stop’ marks on the kerb where the car was to come to a halt, and on my tyre... then have bets on how close I would get - the more difficult the stunt, the more I enjoyed it because the more fun I had.”
It was his role as a copper that gave Cole the opportunity to become familiar with the Capital too, he reveals. Having narrated the crime series Police Stop!, he found himself in great demand to present police training videos at Fettes.
“They flew me up to do so many of their inhouse Health and Safety training DVDs... How To Search A Skip Safely was one of them, I remember,” he laughs.
“I had to wear this white suit and search for a knife with a pitchfork, and it was a real Edinburgh day - you had to lean into the wind and the rain. During filming I’d put in all these little asides, like, ‘Well, here we are, soaked, cold, fed-up, but at least we’ve searched the skip safely.’
“That wasn’t in the script, which had been paid for by the Home Office, but when we went to the opening, the chief exec was there... and they’d kept every aside in.”
Recalling another incident, he says, “We were doing a riot sequence and I picked up a dustbin lid, looked at the camera, and said ‘Well, they wouldn’t give me a real shield,’ and ran down the road with it. It was all left in.”
Cole left The Bill in 2009, but is still fondly remembered as the unlucky in love PC 595.
“When they came in 2009 and said the show was going young and sexy, I knew that was it... I am neither of those,” he smiles.
There may be no fast cars associated with his character in White Christmas, which sees the actor swap his blue serge for a general’s uniform, but retired army man General Waverley is a role he’s relishing just as much.
“When I was initially asked, I had no doubts that I wanted to do it. It’s one of those roles that, having seen the film, you relish. It’s a pivotal role and as an actor you selfishly think, ‘I’ve got the two best speeches’,” he laughs.
“I have to say, as well, and again rather selfishly, that this will be my 31st Christmas show, 30 of those being pantos, and I will be first in the bar after the show because I haven’t got any schlap to get off.
“Normally, playing Abanazar or Scrooge or any of those, you have the full make-up on. In this, I’ve just got to be me. Which will be fantastic.”
Cole sees himself as an old school character actor who “goes to work to be someone completely different.”
“It’s fun that the audience get to see you in something really different,” he says, “That’s why we, as actors, do it.”
And should you notice something familiar about General Waverley’s gait, well...
“John Wayne is a big idol of mine. As a kid I used to sit and watch all his movies at the Saturday Morning Cinema. Now, those who watched The Bill will know that if Tony Stamp had done a particularly good job, he would do the John Wayne swagger all the way back to Sierra One... you may just see General Waverely go for it too.”
• White Christmas, Festival Theatre, Nicolson Street, until 4 January 2014, 7.30pm (matinees 2.30pm), £13-£46.50, 0131-529 6000