Cold Feet’s
warm glow

Thirteen years after the last series, comedy drama Cold Feet is back. Its star John Thomson believes it’s a feelgood antidote for a grimmer era

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John Thomson is very much at home, both literally and figuratively. Literally, because I’m calling him at his family home in Didsbury after a late night return from London, and figuratively because we’re talking about the long-awaited revival of Cold Feet, the classic 1990s comedy drama that helped make Thomson – and castmates such as James Nesbitt and Helen Baxendale – into household names.

Not that Thomson was a stranger before Cold Feet, of course. He’s had one of the most varied and successful careers in British television, from early comedy work alongside Steve Coogan, Reeves and Mortimer and on the iconic Fast Show, to drama such as Playing the Field, Waterloo Road and a 60-episode stint on Coronation Street. Even if you’ve somehow missed him in all of those, you’d probably recognise his voice as the narrator of Channel 4’s Obsessive Compulsive Cleaners.

“Pete and Jenny, they’re struggling a bit because of the recession, so Pete’s working extra hard.”

Through all that time, the rumour persisted that Cold Feet might make a comeback, following its bitter-sweet 2003 send-off. It’s been a frustrating process for fans, but maybe even more of a rollercoaster for the cast. “I was in the loop,” says Thomspon of the churning rumour mill. “It went quiet for a good while. It was hinted at or implied that it might come back and then there were talks but that all fell through, and then it came round again.”

It was only in March last year that the new series was finally confirmed. “I took it with a pinch of salt because it’d started and stopped a few times,” Thomson recalls. “I remember my agent saying: ‘Are you sitting down? It looks like it’s got a green light.’ And here we are doing the publicity for it. It went incredibly quickly.”

Set 13 years later – otherwise “ITV would have had to shell out for Botox” – the new series picks up the stories of Adam (Nesbitt), Pete (Thomson) and his wife Jenny (Fay Ripley), Karen (Hermione Norris) and David (Robert Bathurst) as they face very different life choices. Plot details are, inevitably, subject to intense secrecy, but Thomson is happy to explain where his character is when we meet him again. “Pete and Jenny, they’re struggling a bit because of the recession, so Pete’s working extra hard. It’s a three-job household; Jenny works and Pete does two jobs. Pete’s been made redundant from the IT firm that he worked for, so he’s had to seek income in other places. They’re feeling the pinch a bit.”

The other big change is that while the show went off air in 2003 with the characters as young parents, those kids have now grown up. For Thomson it was this aspect, rather than figuring out what Pete had been doing for over a decade, that posed the biggest challenge. “That was the hard part – kind of thinking, oh my God, how old are my kids? The kids are 13 now. They were all babies when we did the show. We’ve all got older, extended families now. Like my dad said to me: ‘When your kids grow up it doesn’t get any easier, it gets different.’ And I think it’s a great thing.”

The passage of time has also affected Cold Feet in other ways. The original series aired in the first flushes of the New Labour government, the internet was in its infancy and the future looked very bright. “When Cold Feet first came out, it was on VHS,” Thomson recalls, illustrating just how much has changed. “Back in the 1990s it was reflective of the climate then. There was no recession – everyone was kind of ticking along very nicely.”

The same can’t be said for 2016, but that’s to the show’s benefit, he says. “The timing couldn’t be better for it to come back because the world’s in a terrible state and as an entertainer, an actor, I’m pleased that something that people want on TV has come back in such a terrible time in the world.

“The climate in the world, with Brexit and the swap around of the politics in England and then the resignations and all the violence in the world and everything – I feel that need for nostalgia to take people back to a time where they felt safe, comfortable, happy. When I get up in the morning I dread putting the radio on because I’m terrified, you know. I don’t know what’s going to happen next. I feel that the timing’s really good because it’s a deeply loved show and I just pray that we do the fans justice.”

We’re living in an age defined by remakes, reboots, sequels and prequels, where cynical terms such as “brand leverage” seem to drive entertainment more than anything. Relaunching Cold Feet in such a climate seems risky, but was this something that worried the cast?

“Of course, hugely, because it’s so popular. That was one of the biggest fears but what we didn’t want to do is mess with it. The read-through was a bit nerve-racking but it only took a matter of, like, days before we all found our feet again and the analogy I’ll make – it was like putting on a nice pair of old slippers that you really like getting into when you’ve had a long day. We just seamlessly stepped back into the roles again. The great thing is we do all get on. It’s not a myth – we do get on great and it shows.

Cold Feet Cast 2016

“I went to a screening [of the first new episode] and the trepidation was huge because it’s not only a big thing for me to deliver as an actor – it’s the whole package. If we don’t get that first step right, people will switch off. So when I went to the screening we had a little bite to eat, we all went into this little cinema and watched it, and I was overwhelmed because I thought it was excellent.

“When you’re in it you don’t really know. You can’t oversee it – you can’t be an outsider looking in. Do you know what I mean? What I do love is watching other people’s scenes because I’ve only seen them on paper. So the scenes I’m not in, it’s a joy to watch. I mean, no actor’s really a fan of watching themselves unless your ego’s off the scale, unless you’ve got issues. You’re very self-critical, so to be objective and see the big picture, that was a joy for me and I found some of the scenes in it very emotive.”

Thomson’s only back in town for a few days. As we speak he’s due to head off to Yorkshire the following Monday, for filming on a BBC adaptation of the Wilkie Collins detective classic The Moonstone. He’ll be back in Manchester for Christmas, when he’s set to play the villainous Abanazar in Aladdin at the Opera House. Are there any acting dreams he’s yet to fulfil?

“I’ve been a James Bond fan since I was about five years old and I’ve always wanted to be in a Bond film, as maybe a baddie or something. Beggars can’t be choosers but that’s my dream – to eventually get into a Bond film. I love horror films and I love science fiction as well. They’re a couple of genres I’ve not really stepped into. I’m a bit of geek. I really like comics, I like gaming and that kind of thing. I like going in that shop, Forbidden Planet. The thing is I’m the only one there that’s not a goth or an emo. I’m not covered in tattoos or piercings. I get sideway glances like I’m the weirdo.”

It’s clear that being back home is a real treat for him and made the return of Cold Feet even more welcome. “It’s great working in Manchester because Cold Feet is set in Didsbury, where I live. So some mornings they said: ‘Oh, your car will be there to pick up to work at so and so.’ And I went: ‘Are you joking? I can walk.’ The great thing about the show was it put Manchester on the map. The regeneration of Manchester after the [1996 IRA] bomb went off and people would see the show and go: ‘Cor, is that Manchester? Ooh, that’s nice.’

“If there was such a thing as the Manchester tourist board – I don’t know if there is – it’s a great advert for Manchester. It’s feelgood and we want to show people it’s not grim up north.”

‘I finally had something worth saying again’

Writer Mike Bullen on reviving his hit series after thirteen years

Cold Feet creator Mike Bullen, born in Bramhall, just outside Stockport, developed the show after becoming disillusioned with the lack of good TV drama for his generation, entering adulthood in the 1990s. After impressing Granada with his 1995 romantic comedy The Perfect Match, he was offered the chance to develop a British show in the style of US hits such as Thirtysomething, and Cold Feet began to take shape.

Worried about running out of storylines, Bullen tried handing the show’s third series over to a team of writers, but eventually came back to the writer’s chair. Similarly, having created Cold Feet as an alternative to soap operas, he resisted ITV’s plan to film 20 episodes a year, and instead wrote a five-episode final series that aired in 2003.

It’s clear that this was not a show that would be brought back without good reason, and after years of false starts and rumour Cold Feet is finally returning. So what changed? “The planets aligned,” says Bullen. “The cast were available, the network was eager, and I felt like I finally had something worth saying again.”

You sense it’s that last part that is most important to him, and just as the show reflected the lives of young, free and single adults in 1998, so the latest series catches up with its characters as they enter a whole new chapter. “Our characters have reached the age where their lives are no longer all about their children. They’re looking beyond their kids, moving into the next stage of life. That’s exciting, and a bit scary – rich territory for story.”

“It took me the best part of a year to settle on the story for the first episode. At the third attempt I came up with a story that felt compelling. Once I’d got that, the rest sort of flowed. The actors flesh out their characters so completely that it’s relatively easy to write them. At times it felt more like taking dictation than writing.”

Much has changed for Adam, Pete and friends in the intervening 13 years, yet the series finds them all regrouping in Manchester, rather than relocating them elsewhere. This, too, was something that was non-negotiable. “It never occurred to me to set it anywhere else. Cold Feet is about provincial life. Manchester is a character in its own right. The city’s come on a lot since we last filmed there. I hope we capture its energy, vitality and optimism.”

Cold Feet returns to ITV in autumn

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