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Interview: Dean Sullivan - Dean's soap sorrow; Dean Sullivan reveals why the end of Brookside in November will be like losing an old friend. By Rachel Murphy.

Byline: Rachel Murphy

When Dean Sullivan heard that Brookside was going to be axed on its 21st birthday this November, he felt bereaved. After all, he has played lovable nutter Jimmy Corkhill for 18 years and is the longest-serving cast member.

While Jimmy has ducked and dived through a hilarious and heart-breaking catalogue of crime, drug abuse, mental illness and tragedy, Dean has become a household name. He recently won the coveted Special Achievement gong at the British Soap Awards.

The axe has been hanging over Brookside ever since it was shunted around Channel 4's schedule and then unceremoniously dumped in the Saturday afternoon "graveyard" slot last October.

Despite gripping plots, such as Little Anthony murdering bully Imelda, the siege and the helicopter crash, ratings slumped to 1.3 million. At its peak, 9 million tuned in for the sensational "body under the patio" storyline.

"Even though we knew the end was coming, it was still a shock to have it confirmed and it is sad for everyone," says Dean, 48. "It's like someone being terminally ill. When the time comes you're deeply upset. You think you're prepared for it, but you're not.

"The Channel killed it off. You can't expect to hold on to your audience when they don't know when it's on. My mum has watched it from day one, but she was asking me when it was on... And even I didn't have a clue!

"It's a great shame because Brookie was pioneering in so many ways. Not just in the issues it tackled before anyone else, like rape and drugs, but in being the first to set up helplines and support initiatives, which the other soaps have followed." Like Jimmy, Dean already has an eye on his next scheme. He recently set up a production company in Liverpool called DSTM and has three mini films in the pipeline. He is also on the lookout for other acting jobs.

While he has seen his co-stars move on to greater success - including Sue Johnston, Ricky Tomlinson, Claire Sweeney and Anna Friel - Dean has never been tempted to leave Brookie.

"A few years ago the papers said I was offered a pounds 50,000 golden handshake to stay," he laughs. "How I wish that was true!

"Any thoughts I've had of leaving have been fleeting. Jimmy is so complex and continually reinvents himself. I've loved every minute of playing him."

Of Jimmy's many scams, Dean's favourite was when he first arrived in the Close in 1985 and built an extension for his brother Billy with knocked- off bricks. The '90s saw him descend into crazed drug abuse and manic depression. Three people died because of his addiction, but Jimmy clawed his way back up. He conned his way into a teaching job and rebuilt his marriage to long-suffering wife Jackie. He has now gone full circle. His bogus qualifications exposed, Jimmy has returned to a life of petty crime. This week, he advises Steve and Tim on how to rob a lap-dancing club.

Dean, who grew up in South Liverpool with his sister and five brothers, was a teacher before turning to acting. Brookside was his big TV break and made his name. In 1998, he even met the Queen at a showbiz reception at Windsor Castle.

But fame also put his personal life under scrutiny. In 1995, he called the police when porn pictures were stolen from his home on the Wirral. Three years later, a Sunday newspaper revealed details of a sex video he'd made, which sparked speculation about his sexuality.

Dean, who has been single for four years, won't discuss his private life, but admits he would love to be in a steady relationship.

"There is something to be said for having all this success," he says, "but it would be nice to share it with someone."

Fortunately, he has always had the support of Phil Redmond and his wife Alexis.

"Most actors in a long-running soap will have a run-in with the tabloids at some time," he says. "But I've learned that today's news is tomorrow's chip paper. Phil and Alexis are there for the good times and the bad times, too, and I have the greatest respect for all they've done for me."

Phil is now writing the last ever episode of Brookside, to be screened on November 2, and Dean will definitely appear in it.

"I've been geeing everyone up and trying to keep morale high," he says. "It isn't over yet and I'll make sure we enjoy it to the last. Whatever happens, it'll go out on a spectacular high. That I can guarantee."

Brookside, Saturday, C4, 4pm.

CAPTION(S):

REGAL: Dean meets the Queen in 1998 at a People In Showbusiness reception; CORKHILLS: Jimmy (left) with Billy's family; FAMILY MAN: With Lindsey, Jackie and Kylie; DEPRESSED: Comforted by his wife Jackie; CRACKERS: Jimmy loses the plot completely
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Jun 21, 2003
Words:816
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