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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’
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