Graham COLE (1952-)

Graham Cole
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An Actor's Life For Me

Spotlight on the stars of stage and screen


Faith Brown

THIS IS YOUR LIFE - Graham Cole, actor, was surprised by Michael Aspel in Colliers Wood, London, while recording an episode of the ITV police drama series, The Bill.


Having honed his craft in repertory theatre and musicals, Graham appeared in numerous episodes of Doctor Who in the early 1980s. He later presented and narrated the police video programme Police Stop! and appeared regularly on the BBC’s light entertainment show, Noel's House Party.


He is best known to television viewers as PC Tony Stamp in the ITV police drama series The Bill, a role he played from 1984.


“I believed that that would never ever happen to me… but it has!”

Screenshots of Graham Cole This Is Your Life

Graham Cole's autobiography

Graham recalls his experience of This Is Your Life in his autobiography On The Beat...


One of the greatest TV experiences I have ever had was when I was the subject of This Is Your Life in 1998. I didn’t have the remotest idea that anything was going on. The Bill and my family did an extraordinary job of keeping it a secret. All the more amazing as I am a paid up member of the nosey parker club. The rules of the programme are very strict, dictating that if the target has an inkling, the show is cancelled. I’d have been bitterly disappointed if my nosiness had put paid to one of the highlights of my life.


I didn’t think it was at all suspicious when Cherry suddenly increased the number of times she attended aerobics classes from once a week to three. I just thought she was keen to get fit but little did I know that she was actually meeting with the This Is Your Life team.


This cloak of secrecy had been going on for weeks but I was oblivious. On the day itself, I had a late call which made things awkward for Cherry. She had to somehow get herself and the kids to The Bill, to film some inserts without arousing my suspicions. But I wouldn’t budge and Cherry was horrified when I offered to do the school run, quickly bundling the kids into the car with all her might, before I could. She suggested that maybe I should get a move on as she’d heard the traffic was bad. So as I followed her car, she took the usual exit for the school while I headed off to Merton. What I didn’t know was that she then turned right back round again and went home, not setting out for Merton until a little later to ensure there was no danger of me running into them.


Laura was excited about having a day off, but Matthew hated missing school and was so conscientious that he kept checking that Cherry had definitely told the teachers he wouldn’t be in that day. Neither of the kids knew until the day arrived, that they weren’t going to school or why. No chances could be taken that one of them might accidentally blurt something out in front of me and ruin the plan. When Cherry did tell him, both kids agreed, ‘Daddy is going to kill you!’


As I wandered around the building, probably worrying everyone in case I might spot something fishy or detect an air of tension, Cherry and the kids arrived and were whisked off to The Bill set to film some delightful vignettes, including Matthew and Laura being banged up in a cell.


The cover story they used to disguise the This Is Your Life film crew joining me later that day on location was a cunning one. Apparently they were filming a documentary about The Bill and its use of cars. Perfectly plausible but I was a bit miffed that Tom Butcher, who played PC Steve Loxton, had been asked to do the driving and not me. But when I asked why, I was told that my filming schedule was too busy.


Still afraid that I might suss what was going on, I was rushed out of the building as soon as possible. This also really bugged me. I was on two units that day and arrived far too early at the first which meant sitting in a Winnebago for ages. After lunch I was taken to the second location where the ‘hit’ was going to happen. By now I was not in the best of humour. This site was a dark and smelly car park in Colliers Wood, far from worthy of a slice of TV magic but a perfect example of a typical Bill location. The story involved Stamp, along with PC Polly Page (Lisa Geoghan) investigating a series of thefts.


We seemed to be doing this simple scene over and over again. Unbeknown to me, the unit were waiting for the signal that Michael Aspel had arrived. I was tetchy and reminded the director it was way past time for a tea break and that I, along with the crew, who had been filming since 7.30am, were gasping. The director agreed and suggested one more take and then we could have a break.


So Lisa and I got back from Sierra One for the umpteenth time. On hearing ‘Action’ I drove up to what the coppers believe is a stolen car. Lisa was a bag of nerves as she, obviously, knew what was about to happen and put her police hat on the wrong way round. We said our pieces and I was waiting longingly to hear ‘Cut’ as I really needed a cup of tea by now. Suddenly I noticed another police car appear, with the blues on, and start zooming towards us. I couldn’t believe it. As far as I was concerned, it had ruined the shot and we would have to do it all over again. I thought I recognised Tom Butcher, but I didn’t notice the grey haired geezer jump out or the red book he was clutching. Until you hear ‘Cut’ on set, you carry on acting so I did, trying to hide my bewilderment. I was utterly stunned when Michael Aspel stopped, whipped out his microphone and said, ‘Graham Cole, this is your life.’


Everyone began clapping and I was simply gobsmacked. I have a picture of that moment hanging in my study and you can clearly see the shock on my face.


It was mid-afternoon and the show didn’t start recording until 8.30pm. So I changed into civvies and was whisked to a hotel near the studio in Teddington, South West London. My mobile phone and Filofax were confiscated and I wasn’t allowed to contact anyone. Those few hours were purgatory. All I kept thinking was how on earth are they going to fill a half hour show with just my life. What have I done? Other than been a jobbing actor and family man. Well, I was about to find out.


At last it was time to go. I had changed into a suit Cherry had chosen for me and headed for the studio. As I waited behind the sliding door, to walk on to the stage, I wondered who on earth was going to be there and more importantly, what would they have to say. And would I genuinely like them or had they really only been a passing acquaintance? As my life literally flashed before my eyes, I heard the sound of the film they had recorded earlier that day at Sun Hill. There were Matthew and Laura in the cells, pleading, ‘Free the Sun Hill two,’ PC Reg Hollis (Jeff Stewart) evicting Michael from custody, telling him to, ‘Move along sir, please.’ Then PC Steve Loxton (Tom Butcher) racing through the streets of Sun Hill, with Michael at his side. Finally I heard the famous This Is Your Life signature tune and knew it was show time. The enormous doors slid back and, with trepidation, I walked on. Fortunately there was a huge round of applause and Michael was a reassuring presence. I immediately spotted my sisters Pat and Jill and the kids Matthew and Laura. My parents were both dead by then and I felt sad that they weren’t there to enjoy this special moment with me. But where was Cherry? No worries, she was next through the door to tell Michael how hard it had been to keep their crafty caper from me.


I was really pleased to see almost the entire Bill cast come on next. And I was deeply touched when Andy Paul (PC Dave Quinnan) spoke. ‘Graham is Mr Research. He’s the unofficial fourth police advisor on the show. He probably knows more about police procedure than most police officers and that’s what Graham is all about, commitment. Not just to his work but the countless numbers of charities up and down the country; to his family and all at The Bill too.’


And Trudie Goodwin (Sergeant June Ackland) beautifully summed up my feelings towards The Bill, ‘it feels like he’s always been there. Never moans like I do. But we’re very lucky to have this job.’


Michael opened the big red book and began telling my story. It was a balmy summer’s night and unfortunately the air conditioning had failed so it was a bit sticky up on stage, but I was too emotional to notice.


More familiar faces began streaming through the doors including former hospital colleagues; Tony Lewis who was best man at my wedding; Amy MacDonald from my panto days, who praised my singing voice. Fellow regulars on Noel’s House Party; Tony Blackburn, who commented on my own Crinkley Bottom and comedy actress Pat Coombs, who joked, ‘If I was only 30 years younger.’ And my old mate comedian Bernie Clifton recalled a summer season in Lowestoft when, like a couple of naughty schoolboys, we played a trick on entertainer Joan Savage. We were coming to the end of the season and getting a bit restless. We knew Joan was very short sighted and didn’t wear her glasses on stage. So Bernie and I got hold of a tailor’s dummy, dressed it up in a suit, added a wig, placed a violin under its chin and plonked it in the orchestra pit, alongside the real life band.


It took her a few moments to pass any remarks, but finally she came off stage and witheringly, said, ‘I’ve seen some line ups in my time but here you’ve got a piano, organ, drums and violin and you can’t hear a note that violinist’s playing.’


Little and Large were doing summer season so couldn’t attend but filmed a piece dressed in police uniform. Eddie looked rather fetching as a police woman and comically replicated the walk from The Bill’s closing credits.


And one of my police pals, Sergeant David Vyse, came on waving an application form for the Metropolitan Police, saying he would very much like to have me on his force.


It was a fantastic evening and I couldn’t believe all these people had gathered to pay tribute to me. At the after show party I made sure I thanked everyone and told them just how much it had meant to me. However, Cherry’s abiding memory of the evening is that she wore the wrong shoes.

programme details...

  • Edition No: 979
  • Subject No: 954
  • Broadcast date: Mon 6 Oct 1997
  • Broadcast time: 7-7.30pm
  • Recorded: Wed 16 Jul 1997
  • Venue: Teddington Studios
  • Series: 38
  • Edition: 6
  • Code name: Plod

on the guest list...

  • Kevin O’Brien
  • Debbie Lloyd
  • Cast of The Bill
  • Simon Rouse
  • Mark Wingett
  • Kevin Lloyd
  • Cherry - wife
  • Matthew – son
  • Laura - daughter
  • Andy Paul
  • Pat - sister
  • Jill – sister
  • Robert Kirby Maynard
  • Jean Hollins
  • John Hollins
  • Bernie Clifton
  • Aimi MacDonald
  • Tony Lewis
  • Trudie Goodwin
  • Sue Napier
  • David Vyse
  • Tony Blackburn
  • Pat Coombs
  • Faith Brown
  • Monica Starling
  • Filmed tributes:
  • Syd Little
  • Eddie Large

external links...

production team...

  • Researchers: Jean Davison, Jo Grant
  • Writer: Joe Steeples
  • Directors: John Gorman, Peter Wisdom
  • Associate Producer: Liz Rawlings
  • Executive Producer: John Longley
  • Series Producer: Jack Crawshaw
  • Producer: Sue Green
names listed in bold indicate subjects of This Is Your Life
Series 38 subjects: Jeremy Guscott > Magnus Magnusson > Maureen Rees > Russ Abbot > Sally Gunnell > Graham Cole > James Hatfield > Carol Vorderman > Trevor Baylis > Bryan Mosley > Murray Walker > Cheryl Baker > Errol Brown > Peter Snow > Nadim Sawalha > Clive Hornby > Trevor Bannister > Mary Ward > Brian Murphy > Robert Winston > Duncan Goodhew > Julia Watson > Anne Robinson > Bill Giles > Tim Healy > Raymond Baxter