VIDEO: Convict, award-winning actor, cab driver: Brian Croucher has led quite the life

Former Eastenders star Brian Croucher

In the early 1960s, a young Londoner was languishing in what was then Eastchurch prison on the Isle of Sheppey.

Brian Croucher, then less than 20 years old, was a scooter-riding mod with a carefree attitude to the rules.

His behaviour earned him a ban from driving soon followed by six months in prison for driving while the ban was in force.

Upon his release Brian promised himself he would not go back. The East End bad boy pursued a career in acting.

And he would soon find himself in a fictional version East End as he became of the most famous faces on British television as patriarch Ted Hill in Eastenders.

Brian, now pushing 70, left the show in 1997, quit London and resettled in east Kent where he has stayed ever since, first living near Chilham and now in a remote converted granary between Canterbury and Dover.

He continues to act and was recently awarded a best actor trophy for his part in a movie screened at a short film festival.

It might never have been had it not been for that stint at Her Majesty’s pleasure.

“I basically decided that I didn’t want to go back in,” he told the Canterbury Journal. “I did not want to become a recidivist.

“I knew someone going to drama classes at Bow and decided to go along since I’d always been interested in reading and writing.”

He was accepted for a three-year course at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art where his contemporaries included Brian Cox, Stacey Keach, David Suchet and Martin Shaw.

His big break came when he was cast in Edward Bond’s play Saved, a provocative drama about the death of a baby, at the Royal Court Theatre in Sloane Square.

The first major tv opportunity came when he appeared alongside Tom Bell in the 1978 drama Out about a robber jailed because he was grassed up by someone close to him.

There followed appearances on Blake’s 7, Quartermass, Doctor Who and The Bill where in which he was cast in numerous roles including as a corrupt policeman, an abused husband and a crime boss.

“The Bill very much focused on the working class people who found themselves in that world,” Brian said. “I could just as easily play a copper as I could a villain.”

He worked alongside Christopher Ellison, who played no nonsense detective Frank Burnside, and whom Brian describes as “hard as nails, but also a very good artist”.

In 1995, he was cast as Ted Hills, brother to Kathy Beale, in Eastenders. With a series of strong storylines, including a memorable confrontation with brother-in-law Phil Mitchell, Brian was soon one of the most recognisable faces on British television.

“I’d originally gone for the part of Pat Butcher’s husband, which I didn’t get. But then they needed someone to play Kathy’s brother.

“If your character had strong storylines, you could find yourself doing a lot of work, shooting a lot of scenes. You might have 12 to shoot in a day and memorise the lines.

“Most of the rest of the cast were pretty professional. Some of the younger ones liked to go out a bit too much, but the older ones just wanted to get the work done. It’s a difficult job.”

Ted Hills was written out of Eastenders in 1997 and Brian got work as a taxi driver in Canterbury to ensure that he retained a steady income.

“It became a case not of ‘guess who I had in the back of my cab’, but ‘guess whose cab I was in’,” he said.

His more recent tv appearances include in a series of the BBC soap Doctors, on a show about divorce lawyers called The Split and Lucky Man starring James Nesbitt.

With such a rich and varied life, does Brian think that it’s time to write his autobiography? “I could do, but it would be too much hard work…”

See tomorrow’s Canterbury Journal to read Brian’s thoughts on one of the great controversial issues of the day.


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