The Bill: Christopher Ellison Interview

Christopher Ellison was so good as Burnside in The Bill that he was given his own spin-off series, but how much of a hardman is he really? We asked the man himself...

Christopher Ellison

What inspired you to become an actor?

It seemed like a good idea at the time! I actually started out as an artist, but I've always been a big film buff, always loved going to the cinema, and I aspired to be an actor myself. Being an actor is one of those impossible dreams people have, like being a racing driver or something. I was just very, very lucky that I managed to do it.

How did you land your role as The Bill's most colourful character?

I was only invited to be in the first few episodes at the start and my character was called Tommy Burnside. Then, as the series grew in popularity, the producers asked if I wanted to take the role full-time. I jumped at the chance. When they made Burnside a fixture they changed his name to Frank because they felt it fitted him better.*

You're pretty scary on screen - are you as tough in real life?

No not at all. I've always tended to play the bad boy characters, but I'm a laid back person really. Being a budding painter, I even put on art exhibitions from time to time ? I can't see Burnside doing that.

Did you have a say in the direction the character took when Burnside was given his own show?

I was very pleased when the idea was proposed because he's such a great character and has some great one-liners. It wasn't really up to me how they took the show, but I tried to keep him as real and as mean as he was in The Bill.

Who has influenced you the most in your career?

I'm a great admirer of Richard Burton, but I know I'm not quite in his league. He was such a great, versatile actor - I always wanted to be just like him. The problem I've had in my career is that I've been rather typecast from always playing tough guy roles.

So what has been the highlight of your career so far?

Playing Burnside. It sounds a bit sad as I haven't played him for quite a few years, but that's what I'm best known for. I've got great friends and great memories from playing Burnside. Not many actors get to play characters which are really taken to heart by the public, so I'm very lucky in that respect.

*It's reported that Burnside's name was changed from Tommy to Frank because there was a real police officer called Tommy Burnside in the Metropolitan Police and there was an agreement that none of the character names would be the same as any officers employed by the Met.