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THE BILL SPECIAL: GETTING SHOT OF TONY; Tony O'Callaghan is glad to have got the bullet after 12 years in The Bill because it means he can now spend more time with his baby daughter, Molly.

Byline: Tony Purnell

Being shot in the chest and left dying in a pool of blood is not exactly good for your health. But what was even worse for Tony O'Callaghan, who meets this sticky end as The Bill's Sgt Matt Boyden, was missing his own funeral.

"It was strange laying there after being gunned down in a market place," says Tony, 46, who makes his dramatic exit from the cop drama on Thursday. "I had to go back to finish some earlier scenes and saw everyone walking around in black ties. The lads told me they had just been to my funeral and that it was a great do. It was an odd feeling to say the least."

After 12 years at Sun Hill, Tony was told his character was being killed off by executive producer Paul Marquess.

"I can't say I was surprised since he'd got rid of six regular cast members in an explosion," he says. "I was upset, but how could I be angry after such a long time in the job? I was booked to do six months - 12 years is a result. It is a shame to kill a character off, but at least it draws a line under things, so you can move on."

Boyden's death sparks off a new series, MIT: Murder Investigation Team, starring Lindsey Coulson and Samantha Spiro as a female cop duo. The opening episode is devoted to the hunt for his killer. And given his dodgy past, there are plenty of suspects. He has been involved with a Triad gang, drug-dealers and incurred the wrath of a vengeful brother after failing to stop a suicide attempt. Then he had an affair with Abi, the 15-year- old daughter of the new Station Inspector.

"At least it means I did not die in vain," jokes Tony over lunch near his home in Crouch End, North London. "It is like being released from prison. I feel like Peter Sellers in that comedy film Two Way Stretch, standing with my brown paper bag under my arm waiting for Wilfred Hyde- White to come along in a Mark 11 Jag to tell me what my next job is going to be.

"I have a cottage by the sea in Ireland and a part of me thinks I should go there for six months, but another part of me says I should start looking for acting work."

It is not the only big change in Tony's life. Fifteen months ago he became a dad when his wife Siobhan Gallagher, who is a nursery school inspector, had their first child, a daughter, Molly.

"We had been together eight years before we tied the knot," says Tony whose wedding day, 29-5-99, is inscribed on the gold band he wears on his left hand. "We were perfectly happy, but got talking about the possibility of children. I said that although I am not mad about marriage, I think kids deserve a bit of security. Siobhan said, `Is that a proposal?' and I said, `I suppose it is'.

"Anyway we got married and had a big party at the same time. We booked a little church in the West of Ireland. We hired the rectory and an Irish band and invited family and friends over. It was very romantic and everyone had a great time.

"Siobhan is 10 years younger than me, so she is not that old to become a mum for the first time, but I came to fatherhood late. I was terrified at first, though now I love it. Molly is gorgeous. I am besotted.

"I'm a hands-on dad. I change nappies and get up in the middle of the night. One of the good things about leaving Sun Hill is I can spend a lot more time with Molly.

"People think I am like Boyden, but nothing's further from the truth. I am certainly no Casanova and I'm no tough guy either. I'm a big girl's blouse when it comes to the rough stuff. In fact, I did my knee in on my last fight scene."

Tony is philosophical about the future.

"I feel positive," he says. "I'm not a millionaire, but I've done well out of The Bill. I don't have to jump into the first job that comes along. I can afford to be patient."

l The Bill, Wednesday and Thursday, ITV1, 8pm.
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Apr 26, 2003
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