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‘Casualty’ legend Derek Thompson - AKA Charlie Fairhead - on 35 years of BBC1's iconic medical drama!

Casualty figurehead Charlie Fairhead has been played by Derek Thompson since 1986.
Casualty figurehead Charlie Fairhead has been played by Derek Thompson since 1986. (Image credit: BBC)

Charlie Fairhead has nursed countless patients, battled bureaucratic injustices, and broken a few hearts in his 35 years on Casualty

Yet Charlie’s story is far from over. This week he discovers the con artist using his identity online is disturbingly close to home…

Here, Derek Thompson, 73, who has played Casualty figurehead Charlie Fairhead since the show’s first episode in September 1986 reveals why he’s proud BBC1’s medical drama is celebrating its 35th anniversary...

Charlie Fairhead and Casualty are BBC1 icons. Why do you think the series stands the test of time?

Derek Thompson: "Because of the quality of work and because it has maintained its standards over 35 years. There’s a great deal of social realism in the show and it also manages to do some quite spectacular stuff which doesn’t feel like spectacle for the sake of spectacle."

What does Casualty’s 35th anniversary mean to you?

DT:  "I’m immensely proud of the fact it’s achieved 35 years… and I’ve had a grandstand seat for it!"

What’s your standout Charlie Fairhead storyline?

DT: "I think the most memorable for me is the one with Charlie’s son, Louis. [It was] a drug story which took us to Romania. That was quite an experience!

"All the subsequent episodes chartered his story of constant struggle and Charlie’s battle with the gods trying to change things or support his son in a way that is near impossible. Gregory Foreman, the young actor who played Louis, was great to work with and we got something that was very strong and hard-hitting."

Casualty’s had some very famous guest stars over the years. But who would be a dream guest star for you?

DT: "There are so many, but I think I’d have to say Brian Blessed. He is one of the most entertaining actors I’ve ever seen and is very good at what he does. It would be wonderful to work with him. 

"We’ve been lucky enough to work with some fantastic actors over the 35 years, it’s been quite something."

What are your early memories of working on Casualty?

DT: "One of my favourite moments was in Casualty’s very first episode. Charlie drives his little yellow Beetle across Bristol’s suspension bridge up to the hospital, gets out wearing his flying jacket, and lights a cigarette!

"It felt wonderful to me because it was so humorous; there was all these hard man symbols but then with a little yellow Beetle."

Do you ever get mistaken for a nurse in real life?

DT: "I was on a flight home from Spain once and a couple came up to me whose child was having an asthma attack. They explained what was happening and asked what I could do about it. I told them that a caffeinated drink, like cola, can help. So they got some cans from the stewardess and that gradually improved things. It was a bit of information that I’d been told by one of Casualty’s medical advisors, who was asthmatic himself!"

Do you think Charlie has influenced people to go into nursing?

DT: "I’ve had quite a bit of feedback from male nurses over the years who say that the reason they considered going into the profession is because of Casualty. Having Charlie and other nurses, as examples on screen has encouraged many young males to go into nursing. It’s a wonderful thought!"

And finally, after all Charlie has been through over the past 35 years, surely he deserves a break?

DT: "Perhaps I could suggest to the producers that after all Charlie has been through recently, they could send him on a Caribbean cruise… That would be nice!"

The Casualty anniversary episode airs on BBC1 this Saturday at 8.45pm.