BBC Publicity image of Richard Wilson as Victor Meldrew
Even a year after his alter ego Victor Meldrew was killed in a hit-and-run accident, actor Richard Wilson cannot escape people coming up to him and wanting to talk about One Foot in the Grave.
Complete strangers are forever approaching and shrieking Victor's catchphrase, "I don't believe it!" as though they are the first people ever to have dreamt up this wizard wheeze.
Wilson is remarkably patient about the obsession. "It's never going to go away," he says with a wry smile. "I opened a birthday card recently and it cried out 'I don't believe it'. I was fascinated by it. It was a very good impression. Now I'll only say 'I don't believe it' for charity.
"The other day, a woman came up and said she'd give me £200 if I said it. So I gave her a personal rendition right in her earhole and made £200 for guide dogs for the blind! Then yesterday I was in BBC Television Centre, and another woman approached me shouting 'Victor' Victor.' I had to explain to her very slowly that Victor was dead. 'Sorry, Mr Meldrew,' she replied.
The problem, Wilson says, is that "like the Nepalese royal family, people don't want to believe that Victor is dead. They think that he is going to miraculously reappear and it will all be all right again. They think he can just emerge from the shower like Bobby Ewing did in Dallas.
"I'm quite pragmatic about the One Foot fans now," he continues. "It's only when people persist that it annoys me. Still, I try to put them off jokingly and never lose my rag. Once I walked away from someone asking for an autograph because I was in a real rush. That's the only time it's happened.
"I learnt from Leslie Crowther when I worked with him on My Good Woman [An ITV sitcom that ran from 1972-1974]; he would never walk off when someone was wanting an autograph. He was my trainer in that regard. Still, we actors have it easy compared to footballers or Formula 1 drivers. They get so many requests for an autograph, they end writing something totally illegible. I wouldn't have their lives for anything."
Publicity image of Richard
Wilson as Victor Meldrew
All this interest in Wilson is generated, of course, because Victor strikes a chord, reflecting a general sense of exasperation with all those aspects of existence that are sent to try us.
"People love him because he's a universal character," Wilson muses. "Most of my mail comes from young people. They identify with the idea that Victor can say what he wants - that's exactly what they want to do. It's a young, anarchic quality. The title is ironic - the foot that is out of the grave is the important one, the one that is still kicking at things."
"Being in One Foot in the Grave is very humbling. You get letters from people saying how much it meant to them at a particularly bad time in their lives. I'd rather make people laugh than cry."
In person, Wilson is the polar
opposite of his fictional characater, a warm and witty man who
campaigns on social issues, plays squash and has a great knowledge
of fine wines.
The 65-year-old does admit, however, to the odd Meldrew-esque moment. "I do find it quite easy to get angry, especially after a hard day. In public, you have to try and rein in your temper because people try and goad you into it. But I did lose it with a company the other day. I shrieked at them because they were lying about coming to fix my boiler. I went ballistic. They were just incompetent, and I couldn't be bothered to hold in my anger anymore."
Looking back, Wilson thinks that the filming of Victor's death was ''rather surreal. I was Iying in a gutter in the rain at 3.30 in the morning. [Writer] David Renwick always likes to put me through terrible trials! The tone of the shoot was quite businesslike and even jolly. It was only when I saw it all put together that the full impact hit home.
"I felt a huge mixture of emotions. There was great sadness because it was the demise of someone I had known for a very long time. But for all that, it was the right time to end it. I felt that I had played Victor for as long as I could and that there was nothing more I could do with him.
"T'he whole point about
becoming an actor is variety and changing roles. We never did too
many episodes of One Foot in The Grave and it remained very fresh
but to keep on doing it would have become like a sausage machine."
BBC VIDEO IMAGE
interview was syndicated by BBC Worldwide to promote the
of series 6 of One Foot In The Grave
(including the final ever episode) on November 5 and The Best Of One
Foot In The Grave on
October 11, 2001
Taken from http://www.chortle.co.uk/TV/tvfeatures/meldrew.html