Life After Soap: Dean Sullivan

There are some characters who somehow rise above the soap they’re in. You don’t have to have any idea of ‘EastEnders’ to know who Pat Butcher or Dot Cotton is. Hilda Ogden and Ken Barlow perhaps on ‘Corrie’. But perhaps more than all of them, Jimmy Corkhill became bigger than Brookside.

Here, to mark the release of ‘Brookside’s Most Memorable Moments’ on DVD, we have a little chat with Dean Sullivan about his role on the show and what he’s been up to since.

Soap icon: Dean Sullivan played Brookside's Jimmy Corkhill (Credit: 4DVD)

Can you remember where you were when you got the role?
Yes. I remember I’d been away for the weekend and returned to my house in Chester and obviously this is before mobile phones, so I can still remember the red light blinking on my answerphone. It’s funny because I’d gone up for another role a few weeks before and been really nervous and not got it, so when Jimmy came in, I was determined not to care. I just went and did it and of course they liked me. So then, when I got back and saw that light flashing, it was a call from the casting director.

What did you do to celebrate?
We had a big bottle of champagne. But we didn’t think it was a big thing. It wasn’t a main role. It was just a recurring role at first. And then soon after they made him a main character. I didn’t have any idea.

Did you enjoy your time as Jimmy?
Yes! It was amazing. I mean, it was just one big family. You’d all go out and see each other. The whole cast and crew were just brilliant.

So you’re still friends?
Yes. Of course. We had a big 30th anniversary reunion the other day and it was just such a good laugh seeing everyone all over again. So many good friends.

What was your highlight making the show?
I think the most poignant moment for me was the end. Jimmy was the last person to speak or be seen on screen. And the last thing he does is add a “d” to Brookside Close, to make ‘Brookside Closed’. A nice wink to the audience. That was very poignant.

And a highlight of being Jimmy?
My favourite storyline was when Jimmy Jr died and Sinbad and Jimmy lost the body, so they filled a coffin with turf and had to stop Jackie taking one last look inside. There was a lovely desperate black humour to that. I loved it.

And you never considered leaving before the end?
People asked me that while I was doing it – but where else would you find a character who did as much as Jimmy? He had everything from drug use to love to bipolar depression. He was always challenging. I could see why other people wanted to leave – there were people there who got bored and I could totally understand that but Jimmy was so marvellous to play. You're not going to get that chance that often. ‘Brookside’ always wanted to take on issues. We never wanted it to be wallpaper TV. It always had to engage viewers and that's why people liked it.

Was it hard work?
It really used to annoy me when people asked “what do you do the rest of the week?” They don't realise how much goes into those three shows a week we do. I remember Ken Campbell, a brilliant, brilliant actor who we had on as a guest star - he's now dead, sadly - but he told Paul Usher [who played Barry Grant] and me that he really couldn't understand how we managed it. Learning lines and reacting quickly, that was how we did it. I remember having literally minutes before shooting, hearing that we had a re-write and having to re-learn the scenes. You train part of your brain. People have no idea how hard it is.

So what happened afterwards – did you find it hard to find something as good?
I've been busy all the time, really. I had a daily radio show up here in the North West for years and finding three hours to fill on that wasn't easy. I also did a thing called ‘My North West’ for ITV1, where I toured around meeting people. Then I directed a short film, I've done a musical about Wilfred Owen. That's on top of the normal guest roles on ‘Doctors’ and 'Come Dine With Me' bits.

I've done some teaching – which is what I was doing before. I tell you, when I started out, all I ever wanted to be was a teacher but going back has taught me, I never want to go back and do that again.

Why not?
Just schools now. There's no discipline. All these liberal schools, I've heard stories that would turn your hair white. Attitudes have changed. Still, that's the way of the world now. isn't it?

You clearly like doing a lot of different projects. Do you need to be consistently creative?
Oh, yes. Definitely. I need something to challenge me all the time. What next? Well, I'd like something like 'Hollyoaks'...

‘Brookside’s Most Memorable Moments’ is out now on 4DVD – Buy it here

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