Si­mon gets squea­mish on set

‘Blood had flooded the chest cav­ity – it was like a re­make of Reser­voir Dogs in there. “Swab!” I ad-libbed’

The Daily Telegraph - Telegraph Magazine - - Contents -

I SUF­FER FROM white-coat syn­drome. I am a squea­mish man; just typ­ing words like ‘scalpel’ or ‘catheter’ makes me queasy. I nearly fainted spell check­ing ‘haem­or­rhage’. So it’s ironic that I’ve had to play so many medi­cos. Nigel Havers quickly cot­toned on to my weak­ness when we played doc­tors in the 1980s sit­com Don’t Wait Up. Our surgery was stuffed with med­i­cal text­books and be­fore a scene in front of the stu­dio au­di­ence, he’d find a par­tic­u­larly grue­some im­age of a gan­grenous leg or weep­ing ul­cer and flip it open as I was about to speak, then glee­fully watch me turn to jelly.

Once, in Ca­su­alty, I had to per­form open-heart surgery. I knew the ribcage, heart and all the gub­bins in­side were made of fi­bre­glass and rub­ber, but some­how my knees hadn’t got the mes­sage. Ge­off, the jovial ac­tor play­ing my pa­tient, was con­cealed un­der the oper­at­ing ta­ble with only his head show­ing, telling fright­ful jokes.

I had masses of com­plex med­i­cal jar­gon to speak, so I cun­ningly slipped a crib sheet in­side the chest cav­ity, out of the cam­era’s view. With the mag­ni­fy­ing glasses on my nose, the tech­ni­cal gob­blede­gook was a piece of cake.

As we stood by for the first ‘take’, the direc­tor called out, ‘Cue the blood.’ And to my hor­ror, the prop man stepped in and pumped co­pi­ous gore all over my pa­tient’s heart and all over the pages of my script. Ge­off gig­gled. The cam­era was run­ning. ‘Go for it, Si­mon – and, ac­tion!’ The at­mos­phere was tense as I set to work with my ter­ri­fy­ing ar­ray of stain­less-steel weaponry. The first pri­or­ity was to re-es­tab­lish con­tact with my blood­ied script. Ge­off gave me a know­ing wink – didn’t he re­alise his life was in my hands?

There was a hush in the stu­dio – I mean, oper­at­ing theatre. Blood had flooded the chest cav­ity – it was like a re­make of Reser­voir Dogs in there. At last I re­trieved the text from un­der my pa­tient’s left ven­tri­cle, ‘Swab!’ I ad-libbed, and wiped it clean. It was touch and go as I bur­rowed fran­ti­cally into the ghastly tan­gle of of­fal look­ing for each new line. Who cares if I sliced through my pa­tient’s aorta? That’s show­busi­ness, mate. Get over it. Fi­nally, I raised my blood­stained hands, took off my mask and mur­mured hero­ically, ‘He’s go­ing to pull through…’


‘I’m off for a fag,’ said Ge­off, leav­ing his body be­hind. The direc­tor ap­proached, arms out­stretched. I held my breath. ‘Wow, Si­mon, that was just brill,’ he hugged me. ‘The ur­gency, the sense of com­mit­ment to your pa­tient – I had no idea you had it in you.’ Nei­ther did I. Si­mon Wil­liams is keep­ing a low pro­file in The Archers, but can be seen in Post­ing Let­ters to the Moon at The Mill at Son­ning Theatre on Wed­nes­day and The Chip­ping Nor­ton Theatre on Thurs­day

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