John Alderton tells TV & Entertainments Editor Viv Hardwick why he's delighted to be taking on a major theatre tour which involves wife, Pauline Collins, and daughter, Kate, plus one of his sons.

POPULAR actor John Alderton has retired and come back and is not merely taking on a stage reunion after 20 years with wife Pauline Collins, but also involving two of his children in the premiere tour of dark-humoured Going Straight.

By some strange quirk of fate I was actually in the audience at the West End's Savoy Theatre the last time that TV's famed couple acted together - in Rattle Of A Simple Man.

"Pauline and I have done plenty of work together and films since then, but I retired three years ago after 40 years of dressing up and pretending to be somebody that you're not," explains Alderton, who now admits he soon got bored with a period of playing golf and travelling the world.

Collins talked him into discussing the cameo role of dying husband John in hit movie Calendar Girls and after a Royal Court Theatre appearance he was approached by theatre impresario Bill Kenwright about the "daunting" lead role of Michael in Going Straight.

Collins isn't appearing as his wife and the couple's actress daughter, Kate, pops up as a film researcher while oldest son, Nick, helped with video and a Spanish voice used in the production coming to Darlington's Civic Theatre next week. Younger son, Richard, is likely to be in the audience because he's currently based in Newcastle.

"Bill Kenwright said he couldn't think of anybody that he wanted to play it more. I read the part and said 'you must be mad, I can't do this... it's too big, too long and I'm too old'," recalls Alderton, who eventually changed his mind when his wife and daughter got involved in readings and the buzz of acting in another Richard Harris play - he'd previously starred in The Maintenance Man - sank in.

"Bill Kenwright is also a very persuasive man, even when he's juggling Everton Football Club and Wayne Rooney's future at the same time," he jokes. "I said to Pauline that it was a great chance to work with Kate before the wheelchairs come along, so we decided to do it and the play's a tremendous success," Alderton adds.

The actor now finds himself cast as ex-East End villain Michael who has tried to retire to Spain's Costa Del Sol only to have his retirement with a young wife disturbed by a series of callers with mysterious motives.

Demand for tickets has outstripped demand mainly because the Alderton-Collins relationship captivated millions in ITV's Upstairs Downstairs.

The actor is clearly overwhelmed by the warmth shown by audiences to the couple and says: "The extraordinary thing is that you do bring baggage good and bad with you. People come with preconceptions thinking it's going to be John and Pauline, all lovable and likeable, but we are not. To start with there's a lot of laughs then things happen and it becomes quite scary.

Not everyone in the audience knows we're married, but a lot do and have that in the back of their minds, so when they see me making love to another woman on stage they're obviously wondering 'what does Pauline think about that?' The British public have always liked a husband and wife acting team, why that should be I've no idea, but it could be because they're in on a kind of secret when the pair are acting on stage," he adds.

Despite his Northern connections, Alderton was born in Hull, the actor has never played Darlington's Civic Theatre before and says he's looking forward to appearing at a fantastic venue.

So is it the first time four members of the family have worked together on a project? "Oh yes, it's the first time that three of us have. I worked with Kate, when she was a little girl, playing my daughter in a series called Father's Day. But Pauline has never worked with Kate. Audiences are fascinated. They look to see if she can do it and within seconds they realise she can." Alderton jokes about the constant media attention on celebrity marriages: "We haven't allowed press interest to intrude on our lives... and there's hardly likely to be a lot of scandal around, but if they find it I'd like to know about it. There was one scare, five years ago, when I pulled out of a play and it was reported that I was dying of cancer. I said 'just a minute, why are printing these things? You're just making it up'. My main concern was that it worried my family and mates."

Strangely, Alderton was recently seen in the Cornwall-made ITV series Doc Martin as a dying ex-lover of the Doctor's aunt, played by Stephanie Cole.

"It was pretty surreal because Stephanie Cole's husband died during the filming so it was really difficult and we had to stop shooting and come back later," he explains. Alderton now accepts that he's not really ready to give up acting, despite having worked out he's acted across six decades starting as an ASM (assistant stage manager) for £1 a week in 1959.

"Footballers stop at 33 but actors don't, if you can remember the words and avoid the furniture you can go on until you're 90," Alderton comments.

Going Straight is heading straight for the West End at the moment and he has other "bits and pieces" of acting to discuss. But who is his favourite all-time character? Alderton opts for TV Please Sir icon Bernard Hedges and says: "Everybody has been to school but not everyone has been in a police station or had an operation. Everybody has had a teacher like Bernard Hedges: idealist and innocent. We all remember a teacher like that."

* Going Straight runs at Darlington's Civic Theatre next week, Monday-Saturday. Box Office: (01325) 48655

Published: 14/10/2004