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Original leading lady Amanda Burton on teaming up with Emilia Fox for the 25th anniversary series of Silent Witness

Amanda Burton as Sam Ryan
Amanda Burton is back as Sam Ryan. (Image credit: BBC/Dan Kennedy)

When Amanda Burton appeared as Sam Ryan in the first episode of BBC One’s forensic drama Silent Witness in 1996, she couldn’t have imagined that, over 16 years later, not only would the series still be going strong, she’d be returning to it as a guest star. 

But that’s exactly what’s happening in Silent Witness season 25, a six-part investigation that sees Sam — who left her London-based job to move back to Northern Ireland during series eight in 2004 — call in successor Dr Nikki Alexander (Emilia Fox) and the rest of The Lyell Centre team after the Health Secretary is gunned down in Liverpool at the launch of Sam’s new health passport initiative.  

Here, in an exclusive interview, Amanda tells us more…

For those who don’t remember her first time around, how would you describe Professor Sam Ryan?

Amanda: "Sam was always a terrier for the truth. She was never swayed by anyone else’s opinion, and she was quite irritatingly blinkered! I used to sort of feel Sam’s presence, and she was a strangely spiritual character. 

"I love the notion that she is still busy and active, and a strong career woman, rather than her being hauled out of her knitting group!"

What’s she been up to since leaving her job at The Lyell?

"She set up the whole pathology department for the UN, where she met her husband, Jomo [played by Holby City star Hugh Quarshie]. He fell ill, and they realised there was a lack of organ donors across the world. So they put together this huge project to launch a health passport scheme. She hasn’t exactly taken her foot off the pedal!"

Hugh Quarshie

Hugh Quarshie as Sam Ryan's husband Jomo.  (Image credit: BBC/David Emery)

As well as a Silent Witness milestone, it’s also 40 years since you made your TV debut in C4 soap Brookside, playing accountant Heather Haversham. Has it gone quickly?

"That is quite a long time! I’ve been so lucky and I just love my job. I’m very grateful and, hopefully, looking to the future, I’ll have many more years doing what I love."

Do you approach the job differently now?

"I suppose you have so much experience behind you. That’s not to mean that you’re complacent, but it allows you to be more playful and use that experience. Working with crew and actors is my happy place in life."

Amanda Burton and Emilia Fox

Amanda Burton as Sam Ryan and Emilia Fox as Nikki Alexander. (Image credit: BBC/David Emery)

What was it like working with today’s Silent Witness stars?

"It was so special to work with Emilia on the coming together of those two massive beasts of forensic pathology! We both got a real kick out of it, and had a twinkle in our eyes! 

"The actors who come in and take over any show bring with them their own loyal fan base, and Emilia has a massive following."

Do you still get recognised for playing Sam?

"Yes, and it always takes me by surprise! You could be in the middle of nowhere in a cafe, and somebody comes up to you. The fans are always amazing like that, and it’s lovely to meet the people who keep you on the screen."

You enjoyed long-running roles in Brookside (from 1982 to 1986) and Silent Witness. Is it hard taking the decision to move on?

'I remember when I decided to leave Brookside, my father said, ‘What on Earth are you doing? You’ve got a steady job, an income and you’re able to support yourself.’ But I knew when I’d done my time on Brookside, and on Silent Witness. I just get very itchy feet!"

Amanda Burton as Sam Ryan in Silent Witness

Amanda Burton as Sam Ryan in Silent Witness. (Image credit: BBC)

What do you remember about being the face of Silent Witness when it launched?

"The show had been created around me wanting to do it, so there was enormous pressure. I’d been filming [ITV drama] Peak Practice before, which was about three doctors. It was very much a group cast, and then, suddenly, here I was the lead! But it’s the kind of thing that you dream about."

Away from the cameras, how do you relax?

"I walk for miles. I live near the sea, and that is a constant source of joy. I love cooking for my family, and I have a beautiful granddaughter now, who’s given me a whole new lease of life. And I love my dogs. I have two blue whippets and they’re very gorgeous!"

Are you a big fan of television?

"I love it, and I will binge-watch ridiculously! I was always enchanted by TV. When I was little, I used to slope off and watch shows like [BBC drama] Dr. Finlay’s Casebook. I’d try to make my glass of milk last a long time so I didn’t have to go up to bed!"

Where can I watch Silent Witness?

The new Silent Witness six-part series starts on BBC One on Monday, May 23 2022 at 9pm.

Two episodes will be shown each week on Monday and Tuesday evenings.

Episodes will be available to watch on BBC iPlayer, where you can also find previous series of Silent Witness.

A US release date is yet to be announced. 

Ian writes about TV and film for TV Times, What’s on TV and TV & Satellite Week magazines. He co-hosts the weekly TV streaming podcast, Bingewatch.