As an actor, writer, director and producer, Chris Jury may have worked extensively in film, theatre and televison, with directors as diverse as Anthony Minghella and Danny Boyle and on series such as Doctor Who and EastEnders, but it’s as Eric Catchpole on BBC One’s Lovejoy that he’s perhaps best remembered by the British public.
Having recently reviewed the re-released complete Lovejoy on DVD, I spoke to Chris about his memories of working on the top-rated programme which baffled TV producers but viewers couldn’t get enough of.
Jonathan Melville: How did you first come to audition for Lovejoy?
Chris Jury: In 1985 I was in a play at The Bush Theatre on Shepherds Bush Green next to the BBC drama offices. They couldn’t find Eric and a secretary in the office saw me in the play and suggested they came and saw me. I was then interviewed by the director Baz Taylor. I heard nothing for three weeks so assumed I had not got the part and accepted a job in Glasgow as Assistant Director to David Hayman for theatre company 7:84.
I was then called back into meet Ian McShane, producer Bob Banks-Stewart, writers Dick Clement & Ian La Frenais, executive producer Alan McKeown and director Ken Hannam. It was terrifying! I was offered the job the next day and had to drop out of the directing gig with 7:84.
The rapport between yourself, Ian McShane, Dudley Sutton and Phyllis Logan seems genuine – did you enjoy making series one?
All the series were a joy to make. Ian, Dudley, Phylis, Malcolm Tierney and I got on like a house on fire. My abiding memory of filming Lovejoy is laughter and friendship. It doesn’t happen very often. I was very lucky. To this day I regard all four of the regulars as among my dearest friends.
Were you all set to return for a second series in 1987 or was it clear early on that the first series might be the only one?
We were hopeful of a second series in ’87 (which would have been filmed in ’86) but the BBC made Executive Producer Alan McKeown an offer he couldn’t accept and all power to him he walked away. The deal’s the thing you see. That’s why Alan is as rich as Croesus and I’m skint.
When did you learn that the programme would finally be returning?
In spring 1989 Michael Grade left the BBC to go to Channel 4 and within three weeks Witzend, Alan’s company, contacted my agent and we were back on. The deal was finally done in the Autumn of ’89 to start filming 10 eps from Easter 1990.
1993 saw two seasons and a Christmas special air, quite unusual for a BBC drama. Did you sense the BBC were particularly fond of the show at that time?
No. I always felt many of the metropolitan TV industry types were slightly embarrassed by Lovejoy. It wasn’t cynical, urban, edgy or cool enough for them. like Heartbeat and Last Of The Summer Wine, it was innocent, rural, funny and nostalgic – and of course immensely popular with the public! My own taste is for drama that engages more directly with the contemporary world but I could appreciate Lovejoy for what it was and that it was done extremely well. The scripts were brilliant!
This sneering metropolitan attitude crops up even now and the show is the butt of jokes from the likes of Catherine Tate and Little Britain who portray the show as a talisman of an unsophisticated middle-England. Very patronising.
Was there a high point for you during the series run?
I think my favourite time was Series Two which we shot in 1990. We’d had such fun on Series One but it had been and gone and we had all moved on…then suddenly there we all were back together again, being paid magnificently and having a ball. What’s not to like!?
Why did you decide to leave?
I was 37 playing a 17 year old. I had been 28 when I was first cast in 1985 and 29 by the time we completed filming. By the time it finished broadcasting in 1986 I was 30! Then we didn’t film series two until 1990 and I was 34! Plus from when I had actually been 17 I had wanted to direct in TV and it seemed if I didn’t do it then I never would. So I left to pursue a directing and writing career.
There have been rumours over the years of a return of Lovejoy. Is it right that Sky considered bringing it back?
Yes. About 10 years ago I was involved as a screenwriter with Ian and Sky in developing a new series that was more closely based on the books. There was a problem with the rights and the opportunity went away.
Do you think Lovejoy could, or should, come back? Would you like to be in it?
With Ian’s success in Hollywood after Sexy Beast and Deadwood I think it is highly unlikely that Lovejoy could return in the form it was. Apart from anything else we’re all ancient. I’m 55 for goodness sake! And I’m meant to be “young Eric”. There has been talk of a sort of Son Of Lovejoy (or daughter) and I think that could work and I’d love to be part of it. I can’t see it happening though to be honest.
Thanks to Chris Jury for his time. Find out more about Chris and his latest projects.