High-spirited friendship; Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Harry Houdini are TV's new supernatural crime busters.
They bounded over spiritualism - Doyle was a believer and Houdini a doubter. They first met in 1920 when Houdini toured the UK and two years later Doyle went on holiday with the escapologist after a lecture tour of America - about mediums.
It was during the stay that Doyle's second wife Lady Jean, a practising medium, held a private seance for Houdini, who was haunted about missing his mum's death.
Doyle's wife went into a trance and did automated writing, claiming it was from Houdini's late mum. But among other discrepancies the mum never mentioned an important fact - it was her birthday. Houdini kept quiet but months later stated in an article he had yet to validate any medium's claims. Doyle was enraged at the slander to his wife and Houdini told him of his doubts.
The relationship never recovered and when Houdini, who made it his life's work to debunk those claiming to get in touch from the spirit world, targeted a medium Doyle supported, the Scot stopped answering Houdini's ILLUSION... Weston as Houdini letters. Tomorrow night a new STV show, Houdini & Doyle, takes the friendship of the two famous men and turns them into supernatural crime busters.
Stephen Mangan, 47, who plays Doyle, said: "It's a bit like the Edwardian X-Files. As no one on this planet has yet proven scientifically that ghosts or spirits exists, we can't do that either.
"Not every single crime is explained. It would be dull if that was the case. As much as I love Scooby Doo, as a crime drama it starts to get a little predictable after a while."
Stephen, who is best known for Episodes and Green Wing, teams up with the American star of House, Michael Weston, 42, who plays Houdini. They try to discover the truth about what goes bump in the night helped by the first female policewoman, Constable Adelaide Stratton, played by Rebecca Liddiard.
And while Doyle was a believer in the afterlife and the ability to reach out and speak to loved ones who'd died, Stephen is with Houdini.
He said: "I haven't ever had an experience I couldn't explain. Unlike Doyle I am not a believer in the afterlife, a spirit life. I believe whenever anything spooky or weird believer afterlife Stephen happens, there's normally some sort of explanation."
As well as spooky goings-on the new series has its fair share of action. In tomorrow's opener, the duo are left to drown in a cellar. Stephen said: "They got a shipping container and then filled it up with water. In the scene the water level is rising and we're running out of air. And even though it was a grill above us, so we weren't under a solid ceiling, we were still down to the last few inches of space. You feel your heart really starting to pound.
Because even though intellectually you know you'll be alright, your body is going, 'this is not good, you shouldn't be doing this'."
He also has a permanent reminder of playing Doyle after a fellow actor misjudged a knife stunt.
Stephen said: "He was supposed to throw my head forward, throw it back and then hold up a knife. He threw my head forward, pulled up the knife and took a big chunk off the bottom of my face."
He joked: "It's all part of the war wounds and the mystique of the hardman actor."
Stephen was worried about the actress playing Doyle's wife - because she's played by his real wife Louise Delamere, mum to his two sons.
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Conan not a in the Stephen, who is about to start filming the fifth series of Episodes with Matt LeBlanc, said: "We did have qualms about doing it. We were nervous it might be difficult. We had to kiss in one flashback scene. It felt very weird kissing in front of the camera crew."
Mangan " But their sons won't be watching them tomorrow.
He added: "Our children are going to be in their 30s before they can watch their mother in a coma and their father standing over her crying."
l Houdini & Doyle starts tomorrow, STV, at 10.15pm.
hardman I haven't ever had an experience I couldn't explain. Unlike Arthur Conan Doyle, I am not a believer in the afterlife Stephen Mangan spooky
IN GOOD SPIRITS... Real-life friends Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Harry Houdini
DOUBLE ACT... Michael Weston, far left plays Houdini to Stephen Mangan's Arthur Conan Doyle