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AXEMAN OF SOAP; Sacking stars is just a job for Paul Marquess.

Byline: PHIL PENFOLD EXCLUSIVE

AS soon as Paul Marquess appears on the scene, actors know they are in a TV war zone and that the tears and P45s will soon be flowing.

The producer has been nicknamed the Mad Axeman by his victims - and that's the ones who are polite about the serial sacker.

On his first day at Brookside, he summoned a group of actors to his office and fired them on the spot.

He was responsible for Derek Wilton's heart attack in Corrie quickly followed by Mavis' demise.

And his arrival on the set of The Bill immediately heralded the end for eight of the show's actors.

But the 27-year-old insists that effectively ruining actors' careers does not give him sleepless nights.

Marquess said: "There is no easy way to tell people they are fired. I'd rather do it as swiftly as I can, like a guillotine blade falling, rather than having them sweat things out for months and months.

"It's not nice, but at least I am direct and honest. I am ruthless, yes. But that is what I am paid to do.

"Some other producers haven't got the guts. This is nothing against the actors involved, it's the characters they play. Do they work or not?

"And if someone higher up the scale needed to fire me, then I would hope that they'd have the courage to do it in the same way. Swift action, no messing."

His regime of terror hit Coronation Street in 1996, when Marquess joined executive producer Brian Park to oversee sweeping changes.

And in 1997, the culling commenced. Peter Baldwin, who played Derek Wilton, was summoned to see the two executives and was told that his character was to die.

And so he did - of a heart attack after a road rage incident. Peter's next job, ironically, was playing Baron Hardup in a pantomime in Nottingham.

Outraged by the treatment of her long-term screen partner, actress Thelma Barlow handed in her resignation and it was readily accepted. So out went Mavis, after a quarter of a century.

Next to leave the Street, in quick succession, were the characters of Don Brennan, Percy Sugden, Andy MacDonald, Anne Malone, Bill Webster, Billy Williams, Maureen Houldsworth and Scamper the Dog.

DELIGHTED with their work, they headed for pastures new. Park started up his own production company, while Marquess had a call from Brookside, where the show was in the doldrums.

In the case of the Channel 4 soap, Marquess disposed of the entire Musgrove family at one swoop.

He said: "They weren't going anywhere, there was no relevance to their being in the Close, so they went."

There was a showbiz tale going around that when the actors were called in to meet their new boss, he said: "I expect you know why you've been called here?"One of them joked: "To learn that we've been fired?" And Marquess replied: "Yes, that's right."

Marquess said: "What's the point of getting into a nice social and convivial conversation and discussing their career moves, when you have to tell them that their contracts are up? You just get on with it."

The Bill's ratings at the moment run at about seven to eight million. Marquess is determined to get that viewing figure up - well up. Within days of his arrival earlier on The Bill set earlier this year, the axe had fallen again.

On their way to pastures new are eight leading characters - Ben Roberts (Chief Inspector Conway), Matthew Compton (PC Harker), Ben Peyton (PC Hayward), Colin Tarrant (Inspector Monroe), Gary Grant (DC Riley), Raji James (DC Singh) Tanya Emery (DC Spears) and Jane Wall as PC Worrel.

The Bill's press officer said: "The story will kick off in late January, but how and why they go has yet to be revealed."

It is rumoured a fire at Sun Hill Police Station will wipe out most of the rejects.

Marquess said: "I came into The Bill, and I said 'seven have got to go'.

"It's not a pleasant thing for me to do. I don't enjoy it.

"But I'm aware that The Bill needs a shake-up. Our audience is now strong in the 55-plus group. Fine. But we're losing out in the 16 to 24 group and the 24-55 group as well. They're drifting.

"We have to make a connection. I have to make that connection because ITV aren't wanting me to sit around twiddling my thumbs. They want strong drama on Tuesdays and Fridays and I'm going to deliver it.

"What I am very pleased about is that we have some fantastic women coming in. Beth Cordingley, who was in Family Affairs, is one of them.

"The first thing I did when I got here, the first decision I made, was to say 'double the size of the ladies' toilets, because that's where the women collect, and where they talk'."

Marquess loves television and when he's not wielding his axe, he is watching his rivals.

He said: "I don't love EastEnders, but I admire it. I love Coronation Street but it's not as good as it was. I think they ought to kill the stuff between Dev and Geena - it's gone on too long.

"If I were in charge now, I'd be having Rita, Emily and Blanche all returning to chew over the issues of the day, just like Minnie, Martha and Ena used to do.

"I loved the little story about the Duckworth's gas fire. Vignettes like that make Corrie great, not the huge stories. Corrie is best when, paradoxically, nothing is happening.

"Emmerdale is the best of the lot at the moment. It does what it says on the tin. But I see that they're getting rid of Kathy Glover - and about time, too - how many more men could she possibly have an affair with?"

BROUGHT up in Belfast, Marquess, had to rely on his tough attitude and outspokeness after realising that he was gay at "about 13".

He said: "It was a very repressive atmosphere. No gay pubs or bars, nothing. No role models.

"Belfast was a dreary and a bad place to be a teenager in the Eighties.

"My parents wanted me to go into the law with the aim of becoming a barrister. But I decided to get out and to go to Manchester to study drama. They had my life all mapped out for me, but I didn't see it like that.

"I couldn't see myself in the legal profession. Manchester was an eye-opener."

After studying theatre in London, he became the general manager of the The London Lighting Theatre company, but became disillusioned by the stage and joined Granada TV. It was there he met and worked under Brian Park.

Marquess' dream is to originate and produce his own shows and to many people his rise looks like some TV fable.

But there's also been a downside.

He said: "Being queer-bashed outside a pub in London was a particular low point.

"It was about midnight and we were trying to get into a gay pub when two guys came out of the blue and beat me up.

"It wasn't because I was Paul Marquess, it was because they simply wanted to beat up a queer.

"I went to the hospital, missing a vital meeting at Granada and was admitted immediately with acute toxaemia which I'd got from the dirt going into the wounds I suffered in the beating. If I hadn't been treated then, I could have been dead within hours."

The two attackers went to court, were found guilty of assault and were jailed, while Marquess received a payment of pounds 300 in compensation.

He said: "The funny thing is, when the police and the people in the court found out that I worked on Coronation Street, all they wanted to know was 'What's going to happen to X, Y and Z......'.

"And the judge who handed down the sentences was black guy. Perfect, eh? You couldn't make it up. Not even on The Bill."
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Copyright 2001 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

 
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Nov 30, 2001
Words:1338
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