With the recent departure of his friend and castmate, James Norton, from the fields and dells of Grantchester, Robson Green is quick to reassure fans of his series that his character isn’t going anywhere just yet. As the fourth season continues along, Green describes what it meant to say goodbye to Norton, what new changes await his Geordie Keating beyond a new parish priest, and how it felt to team up with Al Weaver’s Leonard Finch on a confusing murder investigation.
Jace Lacob: I’m Jace Lacob, and you’re listening to MASTERPIECE Studio.
The affable Reverend Sidney Chambers has left the country, and his police and backgammon partner, Inspector Geordie Keating, is left to pick up the pieces — criminal, and otherwise.
Geordie: I’m fine. I think you miss him more than I do… Bloody jazz, woman troubles, nice to have a bit of peace for a change.
Jace: After years of hijinks, grade A detective work, and pint after pint in the pub, Geordie is looking after the residents of Grantchester alone — and finding he still needs a priestly companion on his beat.
Geordie You know you really didn’t have to come.
Leonard So how would you and Sidney play this? Do we ‘stake it out’?
Geordie I was just going to go in and ask a few questions.
Jace: Grantchester star Robson Green — who plays Geordie — is famously close with his co-star, James Norton, and the rumors of onset tears during Norton’s final day of shooting this series were only too true, according to him.
Robson Green: I was done, as was everyone else, and there were genuine tears, but hopefully economic and hopefully enough, not too much that the audience goes, ‘Oh my goodness, he’s a blubbering idiot,’ you know?
Jace: Green joins us to talk Geordie Keating, Robson and Jerome, and the mysteries still to come in the remainder of the fourth season of Grantchester.
And this week we are joined by Grantchester star, Robson Green. Welcome.
Robson Thank you very much. I hope you’ve given me a good build up, but I apologize now for the anticlimax.
Jace Change seems to be the underlying theme of this week’s episode. Georide has to face the future without his trusted partner by his side, albeit in a brand new shark skin suit. What is Geordie’s state of mind coming off of Sidney’s departure?
Robson Well it’s a strange one isn’t it? I mean he’s he’s stuck. I mean, the theme for this new series was all about change, progressiveness, people being liberated, people moving forward. But the only person who wants to stay still and maybe go into reverse gear is Geordie. He wants to go back to how things were. And since Sidney has gone I guess the overriding theme and arc for him in that episode is he’s lost and the one person he can rely on, his wife, she’s moving forward as well. Kacie Ainsworth, who plays Cathy, she does a superb job of becoming this liberated woman with this new job, new friends, and most of those friends being men, and in the fifties, for a wife to be in that position in that relationship and be liberated and become the breadwinner… so not only has he lost his friend but he’s lost this anchor in his life as well so he feels so he’s got all those things going on. Plus the fact that he’s got to solve a crime, and who does he look to to help in this episode? Leonard! So you know there’s gonna be comic potential in that, there really is.
Jace I mean what do you feel that Sidney meant to Geordie ultimately? Was he the sort of north star for him?
Robson It’s the son he never had, and maybe to Sidney, Geordie was the father he never had. Their relationship was unique. It was offbeat, but it was rooted in love and there’s so many themes in in this new series, we deal with issues of betrayal, of racism, of homophobia, we deal with sexual abuse at work, but the writing arc was the love that these two men had for one another, the need for each other’s companionship. And I think that you cared enough about how much they loved one another. That’s the reason why I think the series is successful, and people cared enough to want to follow them. And I think that’s what it was based on: trust, friendship, but mainly love.
Jace Your final televised scene with James Norton was fittingly over backgammon and pints at the pub.
Geordie Still trying to make me a better man?
Geordie One last game, Sidney?
Sidney One last game.
Jace What did you make of the hand squeeze as a gesture of friendship and intimacy between them? Was it scripted that way?
Robson It wasn’t scripted, and I wasn’t a fan of it. When Tim Fywell, the director wanted to do it, he said ‘I don’t want you to hug each other that’s too obvious. I need some kind of physical contact…’, and I was kind of against it because, you know, the eyes are the windows to your soul as an actor and we can speak through looks and the visual grammar of the eyes. This they say so much but I went with it and it became this kind of spontaneous moment. Believe it or not we worked really hard at that hand squeezing moment. It was ‘I’m going to miss you.’ And therefore it was this very spontaneous act. And you know as actors you fake sincerity you suspend disbelief and you hopefully want the audience to believe you’re a detective. And I’m sure James wants the audience to believe he is a charismatic member of the clergy, which he is. And there was just no acting required. So, for one of the first times in my 35-year career there was this moment of… it was outside the show. We’re still great friends and I love him dearly but there was something that I will never see the likes of again and I was waving goodbye to so I just held his hand, the hand was a goodbye, and not a dry eye on set. It was a really really difficult scene. I’ve never experienced that before. Ever. You try not to let emotions because we are storytellers. That’s all we do. You try not to let emotions get in the way. I mean I’m not really a detective. I’m not a method actor you know. And if there are anybody who takes their parts seriously, I tend to put a sign up on set saying ‘Danger: Actor at Work’ because, you know we are storytellers and then we’re in a very privileged position. But there was something deeply special about that moment and knowing that I was going to miss him so much, and the joy Robson and James had on that set was was palpable. But as characters it worked as well. You know I’m the old guy. He’s the six foot two charismatic hyper-intelligent beautifully talented James Norton, you know? And yeah it was it was tough. It was really really tough. But the overriding arc of that moment was goodbye. But you have brought so much joy and love and generosity to the show. That will be taken on by our new charismatic member of the clergy, Tom Brittney.
Jace Daisy Coulam specifically said that there were many tears from Mr. Robson Green. Is that true?
Robson Yeah. I mean they were genuine. I try… when you… I’m not a Method actor, as I mentioned, I don’t recall on sad occasions in my life… to bring out an emotion I don’t need a piece of music to spur on a certain emotion, I have to trust the script, I have to trust the moment, I have to trust the relationship. And the beauty of this series, whatever themes were playing, i’s how it affects those likeable relationships that have been created by Daisy Coulam, and she wrote that scene so economically. I can’t tell you how much joy James and I had on set. I mean honest genuine love and laughter and saying goodbye to that was pretty tough. And so when you’re saying goodbye to all those things and you have those people on set who’ve been with you on the whole journey, with some incredibly creative people in this show, and wondrous people to be alongside, and they were all there right at the start. We didn’t know how this was gonna work out but it was immediate, it was it was gonna be great. The relationship that we had was so important, and saying goodbye to all that was so tough, and I just… I just went…take one, I was just done, man, I was absolutely done, as was everyone else, and there were genuine tears, but hopefully economic and hopefully enough… not too much that the audience don’t go, ‘oh my goodness he’s a blubbering idiot…’ you know?
Jace This week’s episode throws together Geordie and Leonard as crime solving partners, as we touched on briefly before. What was it like working with Al Weaver on this episode, one that was overflowing with unexpected elements of humor?
Robson Yeah I mean firstly if anyone have asked me who’s, outside, you know, yourself, Robson, who’s your favorite character to watch outside you and Sidney, and it’s it’s Leonard played by Al Weaver. Leonard has this beautiful endearing quality, incredible vulnerability, and the way he plays his sexuality, the repressed sexuality that he had to have in in those days. He just gets it on the money and Al Weaver has beautiful beautiful timing it’s almost perfect, if not perfect, and it’s not something he works at, it’s an inherent quality that Al Weaver has. So I knew immediately whatever this scenario we are gonna go into, this one being men who like men’s company and where they hang out, is integral to solving a particular crime. And I seek the help of Leonard because of the world I’m about to walk into. It just has, you know it’s going to have very moving and have lots of pathos, but you know it’s it’s it’s gonna be funny, because just the way he times anything. Be it tragedy, be it betrayal, be it loneliness, be it isolation, Al can somehow make it hilarious. He has this wonderful ability that I always kind of compared with Stan Laurel of Laurel and Hardy, he’s able to turn the ludicrous and the absurd into something incredibly beautiful, Al Weaver, and that’s what Leonard does. He turns very bizarre situations into something really endearing, beautiful, likable, and something that you really care about enough that you want to follow. And I just knew, when I read the outline for the episode, I said “ah, this is gonna be a ball,” and you know he delivered, as he always does. He’s a genius. I love him.
Jace My favorite moment might be when Leonard shouts “Stop! Police!” to a fleeing Jeanne Sims on the bridge. How on earth did you keep a straight face filming that?
Robson Well it’s not that, it’s it’s the fact that he says it with truth. All great comedy comes out of tragic moments. You have this bumbling insecure kind of dysfunctional individual believing he is part of the police force and when when he says “Stop Police!” in the way he does, and I’m not doing it any justice in this conversation, but when he does you’ve just felt the crew stifle their laughter. There was this this spontaneous kind of gasp of laughter, it was so beautiful. Again, take one, you couldn’t repeat it. It’s just the way he did it. But he it comes from truth. And that’s why his comedy is so beautiful. And why people love him so much. It’s interesting. Last time I was in America promoting Grantchester, every single American I spoke to, the favorite character’s Leonard. Every single American. Well there’s no accounting for taste is there? I says ‘What do you think of Geordie?’ They said, ‘Who?’ I said, ‘Yeah, that’s showbiz.’ There you go.
Jace Leonard and Geordie are both very obviously uncomfortable at the Ganymede club for very different reasons. In terms of how Geordie responds to homosexuality, is that a sign of his quiet modernity, that he’s actually far more accepting of Leonard than we might expect?
Robson Absolutely. And again, Al Weaver’s decision to have Leonard in an environment where he should be so comfortable being horrendously insecure and uncomfortable was an absolute joy to be part of. And you know, and the way Geordie’s going on, ‘Aren’t these the kind of people you like socializing with?’ and somehow he thinks his cover’s blown. And you know Geordie sees the good in everyone, and the way I deliberately chose to bring those out, I didn’t hang all the washing out at once within the series before this one. You allow the audience to go, ‘Oh, he’s not as reactionary as we think he is. He sees the good in everyone but he has a definite moral choice of what is right and what is wrong and in an upholding of the law.’
Geordie And would you have any idea where University men with such shared interests might be likely to congregate?
Leonard Maybe the classics department?
Daniel I think the Inspector means socially, where men with the same interest – what’s ‘same’ again in Greek?
Leonard Homo… Oh! Oh, I see!
Robson And gross indecency was illegal in those days. And he’s a stickler for the law. Yet that is challenged when he cares and has a a relationship, a very close relationship, with Leonard who is a homosexual member of the clergy.
Jace: Before this next question, a quick word from our sponsors…
Last week it seemed as though Geordie and Cathy were on better footing than last season. This week Georgie visits Cathy at the department store and gets a glimpse of her new job and they celebrate a very disastrous 13th-anniversary dinner.
Geordie When we first met? Bakers knew how much bread they needed to make, they didn’t need a computer to tell them. And men were men, and Greeks were from Greece, people were simpler – like us. How’s the Peach Melba? Divine?
Cathy Can we go home now please?
Geordie Are you alright?
Cathy I’m fine.
Jace What is the state of their relationship at the moment?
Robson It’s one of denial. Geordie and Cathy are, for want of a better term, dancing around the abyss. There is a dinosaur in the room that Cathy is not talking about and suddenly Geordie is thinking ‘What’s going on? She’s got this new job, she’s got this new life, she’s possibly the breadwinner now.’ That’s embarrassing for him. What are the men gonna think about him at his workplace? You know, still those themes resonate today and something is deeply amiss with the way she is behaving, but being the person he is he doesn’t ask her out right and therefore things become deeply corrosive so on the surface the public face is fine but privately, like many relationships today, there is something not quite right in the home of the Keatings and that plays out beautifully and then he rest of the series and Kacey plays it so beautifully. Again she’s an absolute joy to work with. And if you get it right, you really care enough about them. I mean he wronged her badly in the last series and she’s somehow forgiven him but that’s still festering away. Once there is betrayal, the corrosive path is set. And when you’re trying to row a new pathway you come into the ones that are going to cause all sorts of problems. He just wants to go back to how it was, he wants Sidney back. I think he wants to go back to World War 2. As I said, my grandfather used to say you know, ‘The good old days..’ Really? But that’s that’s his thinking. And it’s really nice to play.
Jace This is an episode that’s all about the future, from the shark skin suit to the poster advertising the terror from tomorrow, to computers, or even as in episode one, “Elvis the man with the pelvis” as Geordie likes to call him. What does the future represent for Geordie?
Robson It’s interesting you mentioned the shark skin suit and Elvis the Pelvis because when the episode aired in Britain way before that in fact, Emma Kingsman Lloyd, Daisy Coulam, they didn’t tell you this, when they saw the rushes of me in the suit they went, “Mmm…you’re not gonna be wearing that again. You look too much like Robson.” And it was really interesting because I’d fought for Geordie. I just watched so many episodes of Colombo again. I was a huge fan of Peter Falk and and the way he held himself and the way he paced himself and the way he behaved and his rhythms and stuff. So I plagiarized a lot of Peter Falk did. And suddenly the suits gave it kind of knocked 10 years off Geordie in terms of the imagery, and it was a funny one. I kind of agree with Emma. There was something un-Geordie-like about it and I guess it worked for the episode but looking at it it just made him so young that it was hard to believe it was the same person. And and it’s interesting that the Elvis thing, that we worked on with Emma as a theme, “Elvis the pelvis,” I love the fact that Geordie holds that the downfall and the poisoning of society, at the footstep of Elvis Presley, has poisoned the minds of all these young people. I thought that they they’re great devices but again it was one that we, in the final part of the episode, Emma went, “We’ve got to get rid of this suit.” So, in the actual writing, the suit was going to kind of remain, and it was this new Geordie, and he was moving with the times, Emma went, “Absolutely not.” And Daisy went, “No way.” and the directors agreed, they went, “No, he’s got to go back to that one color,” which again was a Peter Falk-plagiarized notion of of the tone, the mauve. So it was just the one look, and if you followed the series and watch all the episodes, I very, very rarely change my costume, which is just a godsend to be on set because, yeah there’s there’s the very charismatic talented James Norton changing every five minutes and all the other actors because they love the pomp and ceremony of the costumes, and then be in the caravan up having a cup of tea. I love it. I changed my tie. That’s it. So it was a really good device where everybody was moving on but Geordie went, ‘No. There are certain aspects of my life and the way I behave that I will not change and refuse to change.’ And he likes his outfit. So relaxed, and you know if he makes out he’s really uncomfortable in that suit.
Jace My favorite scene from this episode is not only the one between Geordie and Leonard in the pub where they clink glasses over Leonard’s potential role as the new vicar. But the scene in which it all goes to hell in the park, in which Leonard confronts Geordie for outing Bob Guthrie and gives him the doilies which were meant to be an anniversary present for Geordie and Cath.
Leonard You’re always supposed to be a good man! Or was that just Sidney’s influence? I miss him too, but that’s no excuse to behave like that and neither is whatever happened between you and Cathy last night.
Geordie That has nothing to do with this.
Leonard Well have you ever considered that Professor Simms’ relationships had nothing to do with his murder?
Geordie We’ll see about that once we know what’s on this tape, won’t we?
Leonard I don’t think I’m cut out for this.
Geordie I think you’re right.
Leonard Oh. I forgot to give you these. Anniversary present. They’re only doilies — thirteen years is lace. Congratulations.
Jace I mean you touched on this earlier, that this is not really about Geordie, it’s not really about Leonard, but does he mean to hurt Leonard here when he tells him that he’s not cut out for this?
Robson Again, the subtext is, he cares for Leonard. He likes Leonard. But sometimes You tend to hurt the ones you love and care about, and it’s… so there’s always a different agenda going on when you’re angry with someone else. This is about Sidney’s gone. I want Sidney back. That’s why I’m angry with you. It’s got nothing to do with the way you are in the way you behave and the way you’ve behaved. And within the police force and I brought you along. This has to do with Geordie and Cathy. And again, Daisy and John Jackson who’s constructed this beautiful episode, played the guilt card just at the end, when the generosity of spirit comes out and Leonard when he gives him the anniversary present, because Leonard is mindful of people’s feelings and what is going on in their lives. Leonard is in tune with everybody and how they are and really remembers occasions, be it an anniversary or be it a birthday, or be it something one person and a person said to another person that was nice, he’ll always remember them and repeat them and tries to bring joy into the world, you know. And that’s just a brilliant device to to instill Geordie, with guilt, and he’s not angry at Leonard at all. Geordie is just angry with himself and the world and his relationship and the fact that Sydney’s gone and he’s stuck. So that’s great subtext to play.
Jace Geordie once again crosses paths with Will Davenport, who was a thorn in his side in the investigation in Episode One. How did that experience shape his perceptions of Will?
Robson Green Again he sees him as a good person but no one can replace Sidney, so that’s what you play as an actor, as a storyteller this series. No one can replace Sidney. No one will ever replace Sidney. So, the whole relationship arc between Geordie and Will is definitely a slow burner until it plays itself out in episode five, when we really see who the real Will is and how they relate to one another. So it’s just coming to terms with this kind of ying and yang with Will and how he how he viewed him initially in the first episode. But again, people are gonna go to Will and confess their sins. People are going to go to Will, and tell him their deepest secrets, things that they would never tell anyone else. And that is a fantastic device for a detective. So Geordie’s always got that card under his sleeve, if you know what I mean.
Jace Will is younger than Geordie, younger even than Sydney.
Robson No he’s not, only on screen.
Jace Only on screen, we’ll say. How does that age difference help or hinder the bond between these two future crime solving partners?
Robson Well it’s… it’s the petulant teenager syndrome isn’t it? It’s this this arrogance of certainty that young people bring today. And I’m sure during the late 50s and mid 50s when, you know people were being progressive, creative, liberated, speaking out. And while Sidney experienced World War 2, and conflict, and collective trauma, Will didn’t. So there’s always this element within the relationship, is, “You have no idea what life is about”‘ And to coin a phrase that my father used to use many a time and I’m sure you’ve heard it, “You don’t know you’ve been born.” And if you play that initially in the relationship between Geordie and Will, it becomes very very interesting. So initially he’s the petulant teenager who has the arrogance of certainty, thinks he knows everything. But life is not how he’s portraying it. And so therefore there will be this kind of capitulation with Will’s character as the series carries on.
Jace How would you describe Tom Brittney in one word?
Robson Tom Brittney in one word. Um… Charismatic.
Jace And what about Robson Green in one word?
Jace I was going to say irrepressible, but unquantifiable…
Jace Many listeners may not realize that you and Game of Thrones actor Jerome Flynn were a singing duo called Robson and Jerome,–
Jace In the 1990s. You had several number one hits to your name, and a legion of fans that included Princess Diana. What was this experience like?
Robson Okay, so, what you may not know is we were in a series called Soldier Soldier, and wanted the episodes of Soldier Soldier, a very, very popular program over here, when we only had four channels, we now have thousands, we had four channels in the UK and one of the most popular shows was Soldier Soldier. It was about these young soldiers who were abroad and and how being in the Army affected their lives in conflict. And there was an episode when we were in Germany, filming Germany, and there is a wedding. The band don’t turn up. So Jerome Flynn and Robson Green, “Paddy and Tucker,” get on stage and sing “Unchained Melody.” Jerome was a trained singer. I’m a trained singer. I was in an acapella group put up at the Phil Spector sang for many years, supported Paul Weller and the Hank Langford band, and the flying pickets and Billy Bragg. We did the Red Wedge tour, so I knew things, I was trained singer, he was trained singer, and we sing this number on set and the whole crew go, “Whoa. That’s really good.” And Mandy, “you should release that.” And of course we laugh. We get a phone call after the episode goes out. The phone call is from Simon Cowell who nobody knew. So imagine me going..imagine the phone call: “Hi. Simon Cowell here.” “Who?” Yeah. That’s showbiz. “Sorry mate…what’d you want? A record? You want me to… No don’t be stupid I’m not releasing a record.” he went, “Before you put the phone down. I will pay you this amount of money if you recruit…if you and Jerome Flynn record Unchained Melody.” It was a seven figure sum. Yeah exactly. So I started gargling…so it’s like, okay. Wow. And we record the song. It’s released. It’s the fastest selling single in the history of British popular music. It goes into the Guinness Book of Records. Guinness Book of Records. Outsells the Beatles. We’re talking about the Rolling Stones. Michael Jackson. All of a sudden we’re on top of the Pops, in the audience is Tina Turner, Elton John, David Bowie, and Bon Jovi are there, Oasis, and we’re number one. And Jerome just looked at me and he went, “Our lives will never be the same again…” And they weren’t, and then we went on and had number one hits, and we were trained singers but we were actors within this scenario. The highlight of the music was when it stopped. But there was a… there was a defining moment. I may have mentioned this before. I’m not sure if I have to American press or any radio show. But we had a show over here called Animal Hospital and Animal Hospital was at the height of when the Robson and Jerome records were going out, and in Animal Hospital what people did is they brought in the pets, and the scenario was is the pet going to survive or is it gonna die. And a woman brought in two guinea pigs, and they were called Robson and Jerome, and and when asked what seems to be the problem with your guinea pigs, she said, “It’s Robson. He’s not right.” And Robson the guinea pig, died as did our singing career. But my mum was ringing me up, saying, “You’re on TV! you’re on TV! Robson and Jerome you’re on the other side!” I went, “What are you talking about, mom, this is Animal Hospital…” She went, “Yeah those guinea pigs. They’re Robson and Jerome!” So this very surreal bizarre evening happened, and I think that was the kind of… It was a sign. It was a sign to stop, I think and we did.
Jace Robson Green, thank you so very much.
Robson Thank you. Pleasure.
Jace: For all the tears and bittersweet goodbyes, the most challenging aspect of a lead actor leaving is finding someone to be their replacement. But even more daunting is being that someone: it’s one thing to say goodbye to a beloved and familiar face. It’s another thing altogether to be a new face in an otherwise familiar setting.
Tom Britney: Yeah. Because he made it sort of life imitating art. I was the nervous, new actor on the block and Will is the nervous, eager-to-please new vicar on the block.
Jace: Actor Tom Brittney plays Reverend Will Davenport this season on Grantchester, and he joins us next on the podcast to explore what it’s like to take over from James Norton as the dashing vicar-in-residence in the sleepy village of Grantchester.
MASTERPIECE Studio is hosted by me, Jace Lacob and produced by Nick Andersen. Elisheba Ittoop is our editor. Susanne Simpson is our executive producer. The executive producer of MASTERPIECE is Rebecca Eaton.
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