BILL WARD bursts out laughing when he’s described as having the unusual claim to fame of being “dead” in two top TV soaps, Coronation Street and Emmerdale.

“I thoroughly enjoyed both of my deaths. It’s been great fun,” jokes the actor who describes himself as a posh Geordie, having been born and brought up in Gosforth.

He’s about to return to the dark side as Fleshcreep, the pantomime villain at Sunderland Empire, leaning on the reputation of nasty Corrie builder Charlie Stubbs, who was murdered after three years and 300 episodes in 2007.

Loading article content

“In Emmerdale, I was James Barton, the hopeless farmer who, God bless him, was a really well-meaning bloke. I guess his biggest problem was that he tried to keep everybody happy and, in a soap, that means certain death. If you’re trying to keep everyone happy in a soap, by definition, someone is very unhappy with you.

"In James Barton’s case that involved one of his sons, Ross, and also his wife, Emma, but it was a great way to go. He died, bare-foot, being pushed over a footbridge of a motorway and received multiple injuries from the fall and being run over by a number of vehicles. He still managed to survive a good 24 hours, but met his end in hospital with his family gathered around him,” says Ward.

But the 2016 murder wasn’t the end.

“A few weeks ago, James returned as a ghost... a figment of Emma’s imagination and I went back for a week’s filming last August. I was involved in Emma’s exit with my spectre trying to get her to do the right thing. My character was always Emma’s conscience and it was a great piece of scriptwriting. It was also great to work again with Gill Kearney, as Emma, and the guys who played my sons.”

So that just leaves Ward to get killed off in EastEnders? “Well, I actually have already appeared in EastEnders. It was one of my first jobs out of drama school when I presented Alfie Moon with his East End pub of the year award. Happily, I managed to come out unscathed. So, I have actually survived EastEnders. I guess I’m in a unique club of actors who have appeared in all three main TV soaps,” he says.

Now Ward is set for villainy on Wearside and he admits to enjoying the task. “This will only be my third outing, but I’ve been Abanazar, at Salford about ten or 12 years ago, and last year I did the villain at Bath Theatre Royal. I’m wandering around on stage trying to get rent out of people and making everyone’s lives miserable. The giant will indeed be appearing at the theatre, in a rather massive and glorious 3D animation, for which special specs will be provided in the theatre... all very exciting... and there’s also a lot of Fe Fi Fo Fumming going on,” he says.

Ward confesses that being “south of the River Tyne” doesn’t mean he won’t still make the most of being a Geordie... “a posh one, but still a Geordie and I think I’ve got a little more to shout about than the Mackems as poor Simon Grayson (recently sacked as Sunderland FC manager) has just found out. But I’ve still got my fingers crossed for Sunderland because the North-East wants to see the return of the North-East derbies. I grew up on that and I miss it,” he says.

The actor is having a busy time with badness because he’s also touring in Legally Blonde, which is heading for Sunderland next year, as the arrogant and sexist university tutor Professor Callahan. “I think my character isn’t so evil, more of a sleazeball. He’s not out-and-out nasty and thinks he’s a lot of cleverer than he actually is. He’s a bit of a megalomaniac who is drunk on his own power but great fun to play,” says Ward.

The man who spent ten years in the advertising industry, ending up as senior strategic planner for ad agencies like BBH and Saatchi and Saatchi, has also created quite an impressive reputation as a photographer in the past few years.

“I’ve sort of taken photographs since I was six using a Kodak instamatic back then. It’s been something that I’ve always kept up and I’ve always carried a camera. I now do quite a lot of talks at camera clubs and I’m also an Ambassador for Pentax Cameras, who sent me on an assignment last summer to Iceland. It’s just one of those extraordinary places where the landscape and the light is just remarkable. It was a real privilege to have the time to travel around Iceland, particularly the far western fjords where it’s still dirt roads and proper wilderness.

“But I also take pictures of the North-East coast whenever I’m here. Some of my work is on show at Mick Oxley’s gallery in Craster and also The Barn at Beal overlooking Holy Island. I think that to succeed as a photographer you have to have something to say and my thing is that emotional connection with what is around you. People tend to take photographs of things they feel strongly about. The landscape does that for me and I also seek out water wherever I am. That’s my specialist subject,” says Ward.

Ward’s panto co-stars are Nick Jr’s Jade Natalie is Princess Jill, Janine Duvitski, swaps TV’s Benidorm for Sunderland as the Vegetable Fairy, Phillip Meeks returns as Dame Trott, and Legally Blonde the Musical’s David Barrett becomes fairy-tale hero Jack, with Charlie Guest as Simple Simon.

WIN A FAMILY PANTO PASS!

WIN We’ve teamed up with the Sunderland Empire to offer one lucky reader the chance to join the Jack and the Beanstalk adventure.

Simply answer the following question...

What four words beginning with F does the giant say when he smells the blood of an Englishman?

Send your entries to: Jack and the Beanstalk Competition, The Northern Echo, PO Box 14, Priestgate, Darlington, DL 1 1NF, to reach us no later than 5pm on Thursday, December 7.

The prize is one family ticket (2 adults, 2 children) to the performance of Jack and the Beanstalk at Sunderland Empire on Friday, December 15 (7pm); plus one Pantomime Experience pass (2 adults, 2 children) for pre-show activities and refreshments in the Ambassador Lounge the same evening.

Tickets are non-transferable and no monetary value will be given. All other usual terms and conditions apply.

  • Jack and the Beanstalk runs at Sunderland Empire from December 15 to January 7. Ticket holders can treat their child to the ultimate Pantomime Experience, joining the team in the Ambassador Lounge for pre-show panto fun, games and refreshments, together with a visit from one of Jack’s friends (non-cast member) for £15 per child (one adult free with complimentary drink) with additional adult places at £5 a person, Call 0191 5661045 for details.