Af­ter two se­ries as Down­ton Abbey’s tor­tured valet, Bren­dan Coyle plays it for laughs in Sky1’s new com­edy drama

The Irish Mail on Sunday - TV Week - - FEATURE -

He’s best known as the an­guished Mr Bates in Down­ton Abbey, valet to the Earl of Gran­tham and now con­victed of mur­der­ing his em­bit­tered and venge­ful wife Vera. A man with a per­ma­nently tor­tured ex­pres­sion, a con­stant limp — thanks to an old war wound — and the vic­tim of un­re­lent­ingly cruel and sadis­tic treat­ment from maid O’brien and foot­man Thomas be­low stairs.

But view­ers get to see a dif­fer­ent side of Bren­dan Coyle this week in his new com­edy drama Star­lings, and it’s lit­tle won­der he seized the chance to show he’s game for a good laugh af­ter his trau­matic time on Down­ton. ‘I re­alised I was get­ting a bit of a rep­u­ta­tion for play­ing an on-screen grouser af­ter the sec­ond se­ries,’ says Bren­dan, 48, who was born in Eng­land to an Ir­ish fa­ther and a Scot­tish mother. He started off his ca­reer in Ire­land, study­ing drama in Dublin, then tour­ing as a stage man­ager be­fore win­ning act­ing roles in pro­duc­tions such as Play­boy Of The Western World at the Lyric Theatre, Belfast. Then came Down­ton. ‘I was of­fered a cou­ple more pe­riod dra­mas where I could go off and be grumpy in a hat or a cloak, or there was Star­lings. I read the first episode and laughed a lot. It was very up­beat, warm and pos­i­tive, so I said, “Bang! This is good. Where do I sign?”’

Bren­dan plays elec­tri­cian Terry Star­ling in the eight-part se­ries, whose ex­tended fam­ily live with him and his loyal wife Jan in a big de­tached house. Jan is played by Les­ley Sharp, also not known for her cheery de­meanour as un­der-pres­sure cop Janet Scott in Scott & Bai­ley, ‘It’s a pos­i­tive piece of tele­vi­sion,’ says Les­ley, ‘about a very lov­ing ex­tended fam­ily who don’t have cash to burn but look out for one an­other and care about the com­mu­nity in which they live. Nor­mally there’s some kind of ter­ri­ble se­cret lurk­ing within a TV fam­ily, some bro­ken re­la­tion­ship, some­thing aw­ful go­ing on. But not with Star­lings. At its heart is a mar­ried cou­ple who aren’t in the first flush of youth but who still love each other. How of­ten do you find that on TV?’ Bren­dan adds, ‘Not only do they still love each other, they also fancy each other. Which is re­fresh­ing.’

The show’s feel-good vibe doesn’t stop there. In the open­ing episode, the en­tire Star­ling fam­ily gather around a birthing pool in the lounge for the ar­rival of daugh­ter Bell’s first child. Gath­er­ings around the kitchen ta­ble — fea­tur­ing Terry and Jan, their chil­dren Bell, Char­lie and Gravy, their baby grand­child, Grand­dad, his long-lost son, Loz, Bell’s es­tranged part­ner Reuben and Jan’s no­madic nephew Fergie — are reg­u­lar oc­cur­rences and nearly al­ways happy oc­ca­sions.

The show’s co-writer Steve Edge in­sists Star­lings is pos­i­tive and warm, rather than sickly sweet. ‘It’s old­fash­ioned fam­ily com­edy drama, about four gen­er­a­tions liv­ing un­der the same roof with no swear­ing and no drugs, which we be­lieve will ap­peal to view­ers of all ages,’ he says. ‘It’s non-cyn­i­cal, but not sen­ti­men­tal and it tack­les the is­sues real fam­i­lies face in their ev­ery­day lives. It’s com­edy with heart but it’s also got a bite to it.’

Bren­dan Coyle and Les­ley Sharp as Terry and Jan in Star­lings

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