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Interview: Craig Cash -CASH CRISIS; Craig Cash on the fall out with Caroline Aherne that threatened to wreck his new comedy, Early Doors.

Byline: David Edwards

Making his latest sitcom, Early Doors, was no laughing matter for Craig Cash. Just days before filming was due to start, he had a massive bust-up with his writing partner and former lover Caroline Aherne over the show's direction. She dramatically quit, putting the entire project in jeopardy. And reports of her continuing battles with depression and alcoholism only gave extra spice to the whole sorry saga.

"I can't tell you what happened because I don't want to wash dirty linen in public and it would be unfair to Caroline to comment on what the row was about," says Craig, 42. "Let's just say some things are best left unsaid from my point of view.

"Me and Caroline have had rows before. We are friends again now and she has wished me luck with the show. I still speak to her every other day and there's no animosity, so everyone's happy."

Early Doors, which starts on Tuesday, is about a bunch of working-class Northerners who gather at local pub The Grapes. Caroline, 39, was to have played the landlady in her first collaboration with Craig since the Bafta- winning Royle Family. Hopefully, their row does not spell the end for one of Britain's most talented comedy duos.

Craig was a presenter on a Stockport radio station when the then unknown comedienne Caroline sent in her CV in 1989. He took her under his wing and, in 1994, they notched up their first big TV success with The Mrs Merton Show, a formula repeated five years later with Mrs Merton And Malcolm, in which Craig played the batty housewife's simple son.

Soon they were partners in all senses of the word. Craig ditched his fiancee, Stephanie Davies, to set up home with Caroline in Didsbury, Manchester, but it didn't last. He went back to Stephanie, 37, a couple of years later. They are now married and have two sons, aged seven and five.

Caroline's personal life has been less successful. In 1994, her two-year marriage to New Order's Peter Hook ended. She then romanced 27-year-old TV researcher Matt Bowers, and was heartbroken when he died of a rare stomach cancer in 1997 after their relationship had finished.

She split up with actor Alexis Denisof in 1998 after only a few months, and was admitted to hospital after drinking three bottles of champagne and taking a bottle of anti-depressants. Three years later, following a spell in The Priory, Caroline left England for Australia citing the need for privacy. She lived there for a year and wrote the sitcom Dossa And Joe, before returning to London in 2002 with wealthy Australian internet entrepreneur Brett Whitford in tow. But Brett went back to Sydney a few months later and their long-distance romance has failed to survive.

"I don't know what her plans are, but at the moment she just wants to take a bit of time out," says Craig, who doesn't rule out working with Caroline again - although it wouldn't be on a new series of The Royle Family.

"I very much doubt we'll do another one," he says. "We felt 20 episodes was a lovely round number. Plus, it was great to finish on a high. But if Oxo asked us to become their new family we would rethink for a six- figure sum."

Craig is well aware that people's expectations of Early Doors are high.

"You can't worry too much," he shrugs. "If you keep thinking about what you've done in the past you'd never work again because you'd be scared of living up to things.You just have to do the best you can, put it out there and let the people decide."

The six-part comedy also stars John Henshaw and Craig's co-writer Phil Mealey.

"It's the same old b*****ks, but set in a pub," says Craig. "I play Joe who goes in there after work and is friends with a guy called Duffy. And that's about it. God, I'm making it sound crap, aren't I? I suppose it's a cross between Cheers and One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest with a bit of The Royle Family thrown in.

"I definitely prefer writing to acting. It's much more satisfying. My children still get embarrassed when they see me sitting on that sofa on the telly. They go, `Oh, it's dad with Auntie Caroline and she's smoking again'. It's funny, but fatherhood changes everything, although it doesn't mean my career will take a backseat. After all, I've got to feed them now."

l Early Doors, Monday, BBC2, 9.30pm.

CAPTION(S):

COMEDY DUO: Craig and Caroline (top); as Mrs Merton and Malcolm (above); and in The Royle Family (below); PUB PALS: As Joe in Early Doors with Duffy (Phil Mealy, right)
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:May 10, 2003
Words:793
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