Sergeant on pa­rade

Now that he is fin­ished with prob­ing the na­tion’s politi­cians, John Sergeant can in­dulge in lark­ing about, prefer­ably on the barges of Great Bri­tain if his new TV se­ries is any­thing to go by, says Sally Saun­ders

The Sunday Telegraph - Sunday - - Cover Story -

a lot of emo­tion on screen – tele­vi­sion is par­tic­u­larly good at that. Facts are easy – facts are Google. So I am keen on tele­vi­sion to con­cen­trate more on feel­ings and in­tu­ition, things you can get across quickly and so pow­er­fully, so much more than just a line on the in­ter­net. “But what you also need on tele­vi­sion is a rhythm. It’s bet­ter if you are say­ing some­thing to have a joke or a twist in it. It’s your job to pro­vide some­thing that makes peo­ple smile or think. You have to strike the right note and keep it. “A lot of it is about be­ing true on screen – it’s not faked. You might have done some­thing more than once but it’s still real. I think that’s just fun and if you have it, it works.” He par­tic­u­larly loves work­ing with by­standers (“Peo­ple are much bet­ter than they used to be when they see a TV cam­era now. They know what’s go­ing on and they play to the cam­era”) and an­i­mals. One of his favourite parts of the se­ries is when he has a heart-to-heart with a horse that has been tow­ing the barge down part of the canal. “When else are you go­ing to be al­lowed to talk to a horse on screen?” he asks. “The whole se­ries was un­scripted. That was an amaz­ing level of trust, a real hon­our for them to trust me with eight episodes with no script. But it was so much bet­ter that it was, be­cause if they’d scripted ‘and then John will talk to the horse, and give him a mint’ it would have seemed re­ally faked. As it was, it was true, and that’s why it works. “I can’t do things I am be­ing told to do. A lit­tle voice in me thinks, ‘I’m not do­ing that, and I’m cer­tainly not do­ing that!’” But again, thanks to the free­dom of not wor­ry­ing too much about his ca­reer any­more, there are lots of things that he is pre­pared to do now. “At my age you prob­a­bly per­form bet­ter – you can be your­self more now, you are not look­ing in the mir­ror the whole time. I get on and do this the best I can – not as oth­ers would do it. So when I did a se­ries on trains I didn’t watch Por­tillo’s se­ries, I wanted to do it like me, not like him. That’s when you start hit­ting runs, start scor­ing sixes, be­cause it’s just you.” But for all his devil-may-care at­ti­tude, he still clearly does care about what he does a great deal. He speaks pas­sion­ately about his work on tele­vi­sion, and sud­denly his tran­si­tion from an early life in com­edy (when he joined the BBC as a jour­nal­ist, he was re­ferred to as Alan Bennett’s side­kick thanks to an early role in On the Mar­gin) to a po­si­tion at the

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