Foyle’s War
Wednesday, 07 January 2015

FOYLE, THE 1940s AND ME

As the classic detective drama returns, what secrets are lurking in the shadows? Foyle’s War actress Honeysuckle Weeks spills the beans to Melonie Clarke

Written by Melonie Clarke
Only five minutes after meeting Honeysuckle Weeks, I think she is great. Not just because she stars in the much-loved ITV series Foyle’s War (playing Samantha Stewart, Christopher Foyle’s trusted ally), but also because she had to learn to dance for the role (lindy hop, to be precise). As a lindy hopper myself, I was particularly chuff ed when she told me that ‘it was one of the most fun bits’.

As she says, ‘When there was dancing to be done – when the GIs came – I had to learn a lot. Not that I can remember it, it’s quite complicated, all that lindy hopping. It’s so sexy. ‘In our grandmothers’ day, they had all the dance halls to meet their husbands and have a great time in, but now they’ve turned them into bingo halls and nailed down the tables so no one can dance,’ she continues.

But back to Foyle’s War. Starring Honeysuckle and Michael Kitchen, and written by Anthony Horowitz, the detective series leapt on to our screens in 2002. It’s now on the nation’s list of essential viewing, alongside the likes of Poirot and Downton Abbey.

So as the ninth series – set in the late 1940s – begins, did Honeysuckle ever think the public would take the drama so much to heart? ‘No,’ she admits. ‘I thought I’d do one pilot and that’d be it. I’m extremely proud and very grateful.

FoylesWar-Jan02-03-590-quote

‘It’s made me well known among a certain age group – mainly the over-80s,’ she laughs. ‘But, hell, they write good letters and I’d rather have those sorts of people than anyone else, frankly.’

Honeysuckle started on the series in her early 20s and now admits that her co-star Michael Kitchen, who plays Foyle, has become a father figure to her (he even read at her wedding in 2007 to Lorne Stormonth-Darling).

‘It’s a very similar dynamic to what you see in the show; in fact it’s almost identical,’ she says. ‘Initially, I wouldn’t speak unless Michael asked me a question or unless he spoke to me first. Now I’ve earned my stripes a bit I can actually just about aff ord to be cheeky here and there. We get on very well.’

It’s no secret that writer Anthony Horowitz researches meticulously for each series, often using real people and events as inspiration. So where does Honeysuckle think he will take her character, Sam, in future series?

‘To the top, right to the top,’ she exclaims. ‘Why not? She’ll have to get a bit more cut-throat first and cut out the chaos element of her character,’ she laughs.

After all, there have been female heads of the real MI5. Why not this fictional one?

‘Anthony does so much research and his storylines are often based on real people. You’ll often get at the back of a script a page detailing the historical facts and the people on which he based all the characters.

FoylesWar-Jan02-05-590-quote

‘That’s why it’s so popular with historians and people who love that era in history because people who really know their stuff recognise the characters.’ A grasp of the period certainly helps her performance. ‘The more information you have at your disposal the more helpful it is in terms of choices you make [for your character]. You don’t want to be too jolly in a scene where there might be consequences.

‘For example, Sam can’t be quite as plucky in this era as she was initially. People have written to me and said, “Oh, we so miss the Sam of old who’s full of enthusiasm and young and always eating sandwiches”. And I think, “Well, okay, you might miss it, but it would be inappropriate for me to be like that in a situation where as a people, as a nation, we discovered all the things that were going on in Auschwitz”.

‘I just feel that I had to take it down a bit, given the environment in which the series is set. Also, it’s MI5 and I think anyone behaving like the Sam of old wouldn’t be taken seriously.’

Period drama also means fantastic costumes. So which pieces would she love to keep hold of? ‘The jackets and the skirts – the suits are lovely,’ she says. ‘The clothes are fabulous for a woman’s shape. They knew how to dress women despite the fact that cloth was rationed. It’s like the less they had, the better they produced it. The way they cut everything, it was so brilliantly designed.’

The hairstyle is also a big part of the character for Honeysuckle. ‘When I’m having my hair done, that’s the time I get into character. I love having my hair done, it’s so glamorous. It can really lift your cheekbones…’

Just don’t upset the wrong people, though – they may take revenge on your locks. ‘If you tick them off [the hair department], you can get some atrocious hairstyles. I’ve had some funny ones in the past – a sort of Heidi plait around my head… I obviously did something wrong in that series.’

A NEW CHARACTER’S VIEW OF THE SERIES

In episode one, John Mahoney plays Andrew Del Mar, an oil baron with possible connections to the American oil companies who worked closely with IG Farben (Germany’s biggest oil company) to provide fuel essential for Hitler’s war machine. The new series of Foyle’s War is set in 1946, when John was aged six.

FoylesWar-Jan02-04-590John Mahoney as Andrew Del Mar

‘I was born in Blackpool in 1940 because my mother had been evacuated from Manchester,’ John says. ‘But we actually came back to Withington when I was around three months old. I think she was only sent to Blackpool for my birth and until she got back on her feet.

‘I don’t have too many memories of the war and 1946. But I do remember playing in the bombed-out buildings in Manchester. We had an air-raid shelter in the back garden and we played in that. And I remember, of course, the rationing. But I don’t remember bombs falling, although my sisters did. They all had gas masks and said when I was born I had a gas pram, which were for children too young to wear gas masks. They told me how they used to love to decorate it and make it fun for me.

‘I’m a huge Foyle’s War fan. I’ve seen every episode and have given dozens of box sets of it away at Christmas to various relatives and friends. Now they’re all dying to see the new series because they’re big fans and they know I’m in it. It’s a special thing.’

AND SAM’S HUSBAND SAYS…

Daniel Weyman plays Sam’s husband, Adam Wainwright. At the end of the last series, Adam was a naive, idealistic MP. He’d worked at Bletchley Park during the war, is well educated and had risen quickly through the political ranks but had just been fired from his position as a Parliamentary Private Secretary after exposing his minister’s corruption. He’s a bit of a moral crusader.

FoylesWar-Jan02-02-590Parents-to-be: Sam and Adam

He has also just found out that Sam is pregnant with their first child.

‘You hear eight or nine million people watch the show and you think you can’t possibly have an understanding of what that means; it’s far too big a number,’ says Daniel. ‘Then you go and film. When we filmed in Chester… a massive crowd of people gathered to watch. Lots of them clearly love Foyle and the characters. It’s very, very gratifying.

‘It reminds you that you need to do a bloody good job; you can’t mess around with something that is so close to people’s hearts. It was taken off the screen a few years ago and it was really only public opinion that brought it back. The last series was set in London and was a little murkier. It has taken the story a step forward; it’s really exciting and really gritty. The underworld stuff is thrilling.

‘It’s really interesting in the way corruption figures in Adam’s life and the fact that he is so moralistically bound. I think it would be interesting if he turned out to be an evil character after all. It would be great to play someone who seemed whiter than white and then turns out to be playing everyone all along. That would be really exciting. I’m not sure if it will happen but it would be great fun. You never know.’

Foyle’s War returns to ITV on Sunday 4 January at 8pm.


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