TV - Vera

Vera returns to ITV with six new feature length episodes, with the first one starting on 15th January. Read a press interview with lead actress Brenda Blethyn ...

Press Release

Award winning actress, Brenda Blethyn dons her iconic mac and hat to play the unorthodox but brilliantly perceptive Detective Chief Inspector Vera Stanhope, in six new feature length episodes set against the backdrop of the North East.

DCI Vera Stanhope (Brenda Blethyn) returns, leading her diligent team of detectives as they investigate some complex and murderous crimes. Kenny Doughty also returns as Detective Sergeant Aiden Healy, a strong and reliable partner to DCI Stanhope. Completing Vera’s team is Jon Morrison who plays DC Kenny Lockhart, Riley Jones who plays DC Mark Edwards and Ibinabo Jack as DC Jacqueline Williams. Paul Kaye returns to three of the new episodes as Pathologist Dr. Malcolm Donahue whilst Sarah Kameela Impey joins the production from the episode entitled For the Grace of God as Pathologist Dr. Paula Bennett.

The six self-contained crime stories (two episode from series eleven and four episodes from series twelve) have once again been inspired by the best-selling novels and characters created by acclaimed crime writer Ann Cleeves, who received the Diamond Dagger Award at the Crime Writer’s Association in 2017 for a lifetime achievement for sustained excellence.

The first episode is Vital Signs. The charred remains of local GP, Doctor Lucy Yo, are found in the back of a burned out car that’s been abandoned in a deserted quarry. Her husband states that she was called out to a patient on the evening in question but we soon discover from her colleagues at the surgery that there is no record of any patient. So who lured Doctor Yo out that night and who would want her dead?

As Vera probes further into Doctor Yo’s life she uncovers a web of intrigue, betrayal and deadly secrets. An elaborate affair, accusations of malpractice and an investigation into prescription fraud are just the tip of the iceberg with this case. As Vera seeks out the truth amongst the bed of lies the real Doctor Lucy Yo is revealed.

Q: What can Vera fans look forward to in 2023?

“There’s been a little wait but Vera fans can look forward to six new feature length episodes, instead of the usual four. To be followed by a seventh film - The Rising Tide - later in the year, which we only finished filming just before Christmas. That’s based on the latest Ann Cleeves’ Vera novel of the same name which was published in September. We began making that in November and wrapped in December.

“The six new films also include an adaptation of Ann’s previous book, The Darkest Evening, which marks the 50th episode of Vera. I feel rather proud of having reached the landmark of 50 episodes, now having filmed 51 in total. I think it’s wonderful. A great achievement for everyone involved. Ten of those 51 films are based on the books by Ann Cleeves. She has created such well defined characters, allowing the other story writers to bring them to life on screen as well.

“Who would have thought when we made that Vera pilot 13 years ago that we would be talking about having made 51 films? I know the character better than anyone so when we have new writers coming in I just look at the scripts for tiny anomalies. I also throw little comical bits in there as well.”

Q: You filmed in 10 of the 12 months of the last year. What challenges did you face?

“We encountered extremes of weather. We shot one episode during that intense summer heatwave. It was 37C when we were filming on a golf course and I had all of Vera’s clobber on. I thought I was done for. It was so hot I had to unbutton Vera’s mac. I kept asking, ‘Could I take the mac off?’ I could if I really wanted to. But I tell myself I’m not going to be any cooler if I take it off.

“Then we go to the other extreme doing The Darkest Evening when I’m frozen through to the marrow. The heated waistcoat came out for that one. But then I can’t button up Vera’s mac. So I had to take the waistcoat off. Vera’s costume is designed to make me look broader. So everything underneath finishes at the hip. While people might think there is some insulation inside Vera’s hat during winter filming to keep me warm. But, unfortunately, there isn’t.”

Q: Can you tell us about the first new film ‘Vital Signs’?

“That was one of two films filmed in the summer of 2021. It features a story about a local GP Dr Lucy Yo whose remains are found in a burned out car in a quarry. It’s quite a puzzle for Vera and the team. All of the endings come as a surprise and that one certainly was.

“There’s a scene in that where DC Kenny Lockhart, played by Jon Morrison, brings in a cake he has baked. My own lemon drizzle cake won the prize for best cake when we wrapped the final episode of 2022 on the last day of filming before Christmas. We did another fundraiser for Macmillan Cancer Support and a lot of us made cakes and brought them in. I had made a lemon drizzle cake before some time ago and everyone liked it so much that they kept asking for more cakes!”

Q: The second film ‘The Way The Wind Blows’ illustrates one of Vera’s practical skills?

“There’s a brief scene where we see Vera changing a tyre on her Land Rover in the middle of nowhere. It was a very heavy tyre but I lifted it up and chucked it in the back. Vera would have learned how to do all of that from her dad. That’s her dad’s motor. It was her who got it going when he died. She got it out of the shed.

“The Land Rover was adapted to an automatic for me to drive. And I’ve got a little extra step to get in and out. Getting out is easy. I just come out like going down a chute. But it’s quite high up to get in. So they added a little step for me.”

Q: One regular character moves on to pastures new in these films?

“We say goodbye to the wonderful Paul Kaye as pathologist Dr Malcolm Donahue in the third new film ‘Against The Tide’. Paul is one of the most positive people I know. No matter what the circumstances he’ll find something positive to say. There was total respect between Vera and Malcolm along with some very dry humour from him.

“The relationship between Vera and Malcolm has been interesting to play. But his replacement is good news. A pathologist called Dr Paula Bennett played by Sarah Kameela Impey. When they first meet Vera isn’t quite sure what to make of her and thinks she’s a bit too clever for her own good. But she is clever in a good sense.

“We meet Paula in the fourth film ‘For The Grace Of God’. That’s a really good story that deals with ex-Army personnel and homelessness when a former soldier ends up down and out on the streets of Newcastle. While the fifth new film ‘Blue’ is about a murdered copper found floating in a lake in a park.”

Q: Vera’s family background is further explored in ‘The Darkest Evening’ based on the Ann Cleeves’ novel first published in September 2020?

“We have set the TV adaptation of The Darkest Evening in a violent storm and we learn yet more about Vera and her family. A body is found on the outskirts of land owned by some of her distant relatives. At the start of that story, with no signal on her phone, Vera finds herself having to find refuge from the storm to get help having found a baby in an abandoned car. And the only place she can go for help is into the Stanhope’s ancestral pile - Brockburn House - where Vera used to go as a child with her dad. That brings back all kinds of memories for her.

“It was so cold during filming for The Darkest Evening. I spent a couple of weeks drenched from head to foot. I just hoped I would have shrunk but I didn’t. Some of the rain was artificial and then we had real rain when we didn’t want it. We also had wind machines and all the rest of it. We had to use pins to keep Vera’s hat on. Every ploy was used. I think a tube of glue would have come out if all else failed. The whole series would come to an end if I lost that hat!”

Q: What is it like working with Kenny Doughty, who plays DS Aiden Healy?

“Kenny is my mate, my buddy. I never thought I’d get over David Leon (DS Joe Ashworth) going in series four. That broke my heart. But Kenny is also a really good actor and a joy to work with. He’s great company on set along with the rest of the cast, the crew and the directors.”

Q: Vera is said to have one of the best crews in the business?

“The Vera crew are great. Very loyal. When you consider we started filming Vera 13 years ago now, it’s mostly the same crew today. And a lot of local people as well. The loyalty to Vera is phenomenal. Our supporting artists are also very good. They are pretty regular and also loyal. It’s all part of the real teamwork that brings Vera to the screen.

“Everyone needs a huge amount of stamina to get through long days of filming with often a lot of travel to and from set. They can be 16-hour days by the time you also add on costume, make up and so on.

“Then when I get home I’ve got to go through the script for the next day. I might find a little anomaly or something that is not quite right. So then I have to sort that and get it approved and they have to issue re-writes to everybody else. You can never just sit back and think, ‘Right, I’ll learn that now and that’s done.’ It all takes time to do that.”

Q: As the leading lady do you feel a huge responsibility?

“I suppose anybody who is playing a major part in a series has some responsibility to set an example, if you like. There’s lots of young people who come in to work on the show and they only know Vera from off the telly. So they are all petrified when they come in. I make a point of being daft or making a joke to put them at ease. And if they intimate they want some advice I will give it. But they are such talented young people, I usually learn from them. It’s great.”

Q: When not investigating murders are there lighter moments on set?

“We try to liven things up during filming. Jon Morrison, who plays DC Kenny Lockhart, has a great voice. He can blow the windows out, it’s so powerful. I can’t sing but I am always singing. Everything to me is a cue for a song. Anything to chivvy the day along. To keep spirits up. Things like show tunes and ‘Rawhide’. I also tried to teach Kenny Doughty to tap dance but failed miserably. I can’t do it very well myself but I know time steps and so on. There’s a job to do so it’s not all fun and games, although that does help us through the day.”

Q: Fans like to gather to watch filming. But you can’t get as close to them as you once did?

“It’s all changed since the pandemic because now you just have to be careful, sadly avoiding close contact with people who come along to watch filming. You are constantly using sanitiser. So as not to jeopardise filming.

“But it’s lovely to see them at things like the ‘Viva Vera’ event we had at the Whitley Bay Playhouse in September 2022 with Ann Cleeves and Jon Morrison (DC Kenny Lockhart) to mark the publication of The Rising Tide. The enthusiasm of Vera fans is gorgeous.

“When I walked on stage as Vera a few years back at one of the ‘Sunday For Sammy’ concerts in Newcastle, in aid of young performers and creatives in the North East, the stadium roof almost came off. That’s the enthusiasm for the character. It was like scoring a goal at the World Cup.”

Q: They also love watching Vera on screen?

“The viewing figures we get for Vera are absolutely wonderful. It’s fantastic that people are still so devoted to the show and want to watch it. Ann Cleeves doesn’t really age Vera in her books. Unlike the TV series. You could say I’ve grown into the role.

“I followed the story recently of how Ann lost her laptop in the snow on Shetland with half of the new 11th Vera novel on it. Luckily, Ann is a sensible woman and had already emailed it to herself to back it up. Even so, it was a good job the laptop was eventually found otherwise Vera might have had to go to Shetland to find it!

“Ann also told me how she had seen some Vera hats for sale in a designer store at Heathrow Airport. I did laugh. But why not? Absolutely. Anyone with any sense should buy one. Although they are probably more expensive than down the market.”

Q: ‘The Rising Tide’, to be screened later in the year, is mostly set on Holy Island in Northumberland. What was it like filming there again?

“I have to pinch myself every time we drive across that causeway to Holy Island. It is so lovely. But having filmed scenes for Vera on Holy Island over the years, working on The Rising Tide was the first time I’ve actually been into the village there and the little harbour and jetty itself. Because I’m always up to my eyeballs in work at the location on the island we use for the exterior of Vera’s house. I also went out on a boat from Holy Island this time. It was great but absolutely freezing cold on the boat. Among the locations we filmed at was The Ship pub which is The Seahorse in the story. The people there were very hospitable.

“I do love the North East. Everyone is so friendly. I will certainly continue to visit the area once Vera has finally hung up her hat. I’d recommend anyone to go. It’s just lovely. There is such a variety of locations in the area. From places like Corbridge in the Tyne Valley to the Northumberland coastline and many other varied locations. I also like working in the vibrant city of Newcastle which was the main venue for Sally Abbot’s “For The Grace of God”. The episode also highlights the problem of homelessness.”

Q: What is the future for Vera?

“Every time we finish a series I say I’m not going to be doing any more. But then I change my mind. Usually it means six months away from home in Kent for me and in 2022 it was the best part of 10 months.

“My dog Jack can’t be with me in the North East for all of that time. He’s all right after I’ve been away for a little while. But if I happen to manage to come home for a few days in between filming Vera episodes he goes mad and then my husband has a merry time of it when I go away again with the dog wondering where I am.

“So when we finish filming, as we just have, I always say, ‘I really don’t think I can do this anymore.’ But then I have a rest and get my appetite back again and change my mind. I suddenly might get a bright idea about what to do with Vera and suggest who might be cast in it. “The emotional feeling also comes in - thinking of all of the other people who are still there who do want to do more. And Ann Cleeves is currently writing her 11th Vera novel. So that hasn’t been dealt with on screen yet and you feel like you’d be letting her down. All of that goes on. Never say never. Things happen, circumstances change. Enthusiasm and opinions change. So watch this space.”

Vera starts with "Vital Signs" on ITV on Sunday 15th January from 8.00pm - 10.00pm

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