Go Ed’

Who’s that walking down The Mound? Why, it’s Brookside’s DD and Ron Dixon with their hunky offspring Mike and his mate Keithy. Tom Lappin asked them what the hell they’re doing here.

While the BBC spend £10 million on a cardboard city in the sun. Mersey Television. producers of the humbler but more substantial soap Brno/(side have raided the coffers fora two day location visit to. . . Edinburgh.

The storyline is that Mike Dixon. the prodigal media student son ofchirpy grocer Ron has made a five-minute video that is to be shown as part of the Edinburgh Television Festival Young People project. Filming in July involved some desperate recruitment of extras as the producers attempted to mock up a typical Edinburgh Fringe street-scene with crowds and performers cramming the pavements.

In a series that enjoys a young following rivalled only by the anodyne Neighbours Mike Dixon is about as close as you‘re going to get to a sex symbol. The brooding but pseudish bad boy enjoyed a briefJames Dean period in the series. getting into chicken-run car races and fronting a rock band before earning the applause of the nation by chinning his smug. wisecracking Dad.

The distinctly more down-to-earth Paul Byatt (he wears shell-suit trousers which Mike would not be seen dead in) plays the character. ‘Mike‘s really pretentious. a typical student. Ile‘s at college with those kind of people who think they know everything. So he’s made this stupid film for the

‘II I did that to me dad I’d getabsolutely‘ battered, I’d be dead.’

festival. and called it Heart. Instead ofkeeping it simple he comes out with all these long words to explain it. so to be honest I don‘t really have a clue what it‘s {in about.‘

The film project is just the latest of Mike‘s screen exploits that Byatt has found somewhat bemusing. The popular fight sequence with Ron also came as something ofa shock when he saw the script. ‘Ifl did that to me dad I’d get absolutely battered. I‘d be dead. And if I‘d done that in real life I‘d think “I‘m in the wrong here."

There's an apocryphal story that the ‘boss‘. Phil Redmond. sacked a young actor from the series a couple of years ago for refusing to wear a particularly untrendy sweater. Certainly Brookside does employ scriptwriters and

consultants who are younger than the norm in British TV. but occasionally there are generation gap gaffes that have to be ironed out. ‘There‘s been a couple ofoccasions when I haven‘t accepted stuff.‘ says Byatt. ‘when I thought “that‘s ridiculous that" and you just go in and have a little chat and change the line. It’s never a case of changing the story. it's usually just a couple of lines.‘

Kirk Smith who plays Mike’s saintly best mate Keith. agrees. ‘That's the beauty of Brno/(side. you can argue your case. A lot of soaps give you the script and you stick to it. but there‘s a lot more flexibility here. Ifyou're not happy about something. you can speak to the producer about it.’ ‘They tried to have me saying “cowabunga” the other day‘ adds Byatt despairingly.

Mike and Keith mucked around in a rock band (appropriately called Last) in the series for a while but it seems to have died a natural death. ‘l’m in a band for real. at the moment.‘ says Byatt ‘and we're writing our own stuff and it‘s looking good. I did music at school. Grade 8 on the piano. A Level in music and all that. so that‘s my background. The band stuff on the telly was sound to do. but when you start trying to use that to put a song into the charts. that would be a bit bogus.’ ‘And I was the worst drummer in the world anyway.’ Smith points 0111.

Like its East End counterpart. Brno/(side has been. accused of allowing the social issues to manipulate the characterisation. It's a criticism Byatt goes along with. but Smith points out that sometimes a situation portrayed on screen can have a reality viewers might not credit it with.

‘We had this very controversial storyline when l was dating Jackie. Mike‘s little sister. There was a racial issue involved. because her dad objected to Jackie going out with a black guy. I‘ve experienced that myselfwhich made the scenes easier to play.


The dreaded Dixons with Keith hit Edinburgh's High Street

Being black and from Toxteth. I remember a time when I was about fifteen. I got involved with a white girl and we went out for a while. Then I went round to meet her family and it was a different story. very heavy response. It doesn't happen everywhere but it happened to me. so that storyline rang true.‘

‘As it turned out. the response we got frorn it was absolutely brilliant. I got letters saying “Keith. Keith. we really feel sorry for you.” I‘m walking

‘They tried to have me saying “cowabunga” the other day.’

along the streets and old ladies come up to me and go “there. there. dear. we‘re not racist. we understand.“

Public recognition is a fact of life for a soap actor. Jason Hope who plays PC (‘orkhill in the series is on record as being dischuffcd at the numbers of ‘witty‘ Scousers who shout ‘Rod The Plod' after him wherever he goes. ‘lt happens every minute. every single minute.‘ says Smith. ‘I went out with my girlfriend the other night. and all these girls were going “there‘s Keith. there‘s Keith". It‘s not too heavy. though. and it does show that people are watching the programme. If people know my name and recognise me. it shows I'm doing my job and getting the character across. There are negative things as well. I‘ve been into clubs. and I‘ve had lager louts coming up and saying “who does he think he is. just ‘cos he‘s on the box. who does he think he is?”

At home in Toxteth though. Smith finds a more light-hearted streak. ‘The kids just come up and say “get us some sweets from the Dixons‘ shop. Keith." ' Just don‘t let Ron catch you.

The Brno/(side dt'nhurgh scenes will be broadcast towards the end of A ugrtst.


The List 17 30 July 1992 55