Coronation Street’s Ian Bartholomew on evil Geoff Metcalfe
PUBLISHED: 09:13 06 October 2020
Ian Bartholomew is turning his role as Coronation Street villain Geoff Metcalfe into a force for good to help abused women – the real-life Yasmeen Nazirs
March 28, 2018. Episode 9,415 of the world’s longest-running soap opera, and there’s a new character strolling down Coronation Street.
It’s cheeky Geoff Metcalfe, dad of nice-but-a-little-dim Tim. Geoff thinks of himself as a bit of a ladies’ man and he’s got his eye on Audrey Roberts. He’s funny Geoff, silly Geoff, buying-everyone-a-drink Geoff, Geoff the magician, Geoff the cheesy hospital radio DJ. It’s going to be a while till Geoff turns dark. And becomes one of Corrie’s greatest villains…
You may think you’ve seen Geoff before, or rather Ian Bartholomew, the actor who plays him, but not remember quite where or when. It could have been in one of his four Olivier Awards-nominated theatre roles, or in 2011 as Alfred P. Doolittle in Pygmalion at the Royal Exchange when he won the Manchester Evening News award for Best Supporting Actor, or when he took the title role in Brecht’s The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui, receiving outstanding reviews. It might be from his catalogue of television work covering many of the most popular programmes of the past 40 years: Minder, The Professionals, The Darling Buds of May, Wycliffe, The Bill, New Tricks, Spooks, Heartbeat, Foyle’s War, Maigret… Perhaps you have passed him on the streets of Malpas where he has lived for 15 years, or in Anglesey, where he and his wife Loveday Ingram, the theatre director, like to spend their holiday time with their daughter and son.
May 1, 2020, episode 10,056. And a UK audience of 8.16million watches and raises a collective cheer as Geoff’s shattered wife Yasmeen stabs him in the neck with a broken wine bottle after months of humiliation, control, and psychological abuse.
By now, Ian Bartholomew’s distinctive features are known throughout the global Corrie community that stretches to Canada, New Zealand, Australia, Africa, the Middle East and Asia. Geoff is the subject of hundreds of thousands of Twitter and Facebook comments. He has been dubbed the most hated man on TV. And as this almost-unwatchable story has twisted and turned, Coronation Street fans, the tabloids, social media, and charities including Women’s Aid and Cheshire Without Abuse, have waited… are still waiting… for Geoff Metcalfe to get his just deserts.
Playing Geoff has been life-changing for Ian Bartholomew. Career-defining too for a veteran actor just past his 66th birthday. And though his heart is still in the theatre, it has given this multi-faceted artist, whose love of performing began as an eight-year-old singing in his local choir in Gosport, Hampshire, the opportunity to walk a new street, hand in hand with Loveday, to help victims of abuse – the real-life Yasmeens.
Their home in Malpas, the house where Loveday was brought up, has become a safe haven during lockdown from the public vitriol aimed at Geoff Metcalfe. But alongside the Tweeters and Facebookers wishing ill will, and worse, on the man who killed his wife’s pet chicken and made her eat it, incarcerated her in his magician’s box, forced her to clean imaginary dust from their spotless home, and drove her to attempted murder, there has been widespread praise for the superlative acting of Ian and his screen wife, actress Shelley King, who is a close friend of the family. Most importantly to all concerned with the story, there has been the impact their acting has had on making both abusers and victims realise their lives are neither right nor uncommon. The awards are already coming in…
Because he isn’t on social media and because lockdown has limited encounters with the public, Ian has been largely distanced from the reaction to the story. “I try to keep a low profile,” he says. “Why would I want to read about people saying horrible things about me?”
A family stay at their North Wales bolthole over the summer saw passers-by come up to them in the street and ask if this really was ‘Geoff’. But the reaction was positive rather than aggressive, as it has been in Malpas where, in normal times, they are both involved in community activities. “People we have met have been very supportive; they have said ‘great story, great acting’. They have been generous and understanding. I haven’t been handbagged yet,” says Ian.
“We did watch the Gogglebox where they reviewed the stabbing episode and we thought it was hilarious,” he says. Said episode included several graphic conversations about what the armchair critics would like to do to Geoff, two regulars watching Yasmeen’s plight through splayed fingers and weeping for the real victims going through similar trauma, and then a classic Gogglebox quote: “I put a poll on my Instagram: ‘Who do you hate more: Geoff or coronavirus?’ And Geoff won by 87 per cent.”
How then have Loveday and the children coped with seeing their husband and father metamorphose on screen into what Ian describes as a man with no redeeming features: “An abuser, a conman, a controller, a liar, a thief, a psychopath, probably a sociopath.”
12 Fascinating facts about Geoff Metcalfe and Ian Bartholomew - Read here to find out more
Loveday’s experience and admiration for Ian’s ability to act a multiplicity of roles has allowed her to separate the man from the character, to work with him to get the best from the part and to provide support, encouragement, and a considered, professional view at the end of a long day. But she and Ian are conscious of protecting their children, now aged 12 and 15, from the fallout.
Loveday says: “When it all started, I said, ‘let’s watch daddy on TV’ and the three of us sat down on the sofa and Ian… Geoff… sidled up to Yasmeen and gave her a big smoochy kiss and the three of us gave out a scream and ran out of the room.” As the storyline darkened, adds Loveday, “the children decided themselves they did not want to watch their father as Geoff, with our son particularly questioning why daddy was, ‘being horrible to my friend Shelley’. Both the children understand that ‘daddy is acting’ but for our son, the disassociation is more of a challenge,” says Loveday.
Is there then, anything at all of Geoff in Ian, given the role is so convincing. “I hope not,” says Ian, “apart from the fact I’m a bloke and look like him. I was determined not to play him as a villain,” he adds, twiddling an imaginary pantomime villain moustache.
Loveday says: “Ian has approached the role in the same way as he would any part, whether it was Shakespeare, Chekhov or Hare (with the notable difference that in Corrie he doesn’t know what is going to happen in the script next).” The actor’s CV includes playing three of the great Shakespearean Fools – Touchstone in As You Like It, Feste in Twelfth Night and Lear’s Fool. And it is Ian’s skill and broad experience as a classical, comedic and physical actor, together with his distinctive features – by his own description “pointy, thin, baggy-eyed” – that enables him to shift from jokey Geoff to evil Geoff in the blink of an eye, making the character so realistic and provoking so much boiling anger.
Loveday and Ian met two decades ago when he auditioned for the romantic lead in the West End production of Mamma Mia!, on which she was assistant director. He didn’t get the part (played by Pierce Brosnan in the film), only because he was shorter than the leading lady. They went on to work together the following year at the Chichester Festival, and have been together since. She says: “Ian is a great comedic actor with the ability to go from comedy to tragedy in a split second. He can act with his whole body, or communicate a detailed emotion with just a look; he can also clown, like Charlie Chaplin.”
Coronation Street filming, now ramped up as the world’s most popular kitchen sink drama returns to six episodes a week, is intense. To avoid public transport and the risk of Covid, which could halt production again, Ian and his fellow crew are asked to drive to the studios in MediaCityUK at Trafford Wharf. From Malpas, it is a near 120-mile round trip. “It is not much fun, going to work every day to be horrible,” he says. “It is exhausting; filming multiple scenes is full-on, and leaves you feeling mentally and physically shattered. When I get home, it is important I am able to turn off.
“Coronation Street is iconic, in the true sense of the word, and I was absolutely gobsmacked when I got the part, but my face must have fitted from the off. Although I knew the role might grow to have a dark side, there was no inkling of what was going to come when I was paired with Shelley. Corrie is part of the national psyche. You are invited into homes and become part of the family; people invest in a character and that is why a story such as Geoff and Yasmeen’s has provoked such a reaction and been so effective.
“There was a desire to do a coercive control storyline and they wanted it to be with an older couple to show there are people who are serial offenders throughout their lives. The story has evolved very slowly and has been done brilliantly – the research with Women’s Aid and the conversations with very many people with experience of abuse, the writing, the lighting, the cutting… It is a team effort. Shelley and I get on terribly well, we have a similar theatrical background and mutual trust; we egg each other on, on set.
“It is serendipitous this terrible, traumatic storyline came when so many people found themselves in a similar situation because of the isolation of lockdown. It has enabled both men and women in abusive relationships to recognise what is happening with them,” he says. “Geoff is a damaged man. He doesn’t think he is a villain; he thinks he is protecting Yasmeen and looking after her but that turns to control. He thinks he loves her; she thinks she loves him despite everything. They are co-dependent, but over time he blames her because she isn’t responding in the way he wants her to and he becomes Mr Nice in public and Mr Nasty at home.”
Of the many harrowing incidents and the brutal dialogue that have made up the story, there has been only one piece of writing Ian has refused to deliver. He won’t say what, only that he felt it a step too far. “My job is to interpret what the writers give me. Tony Warren (the creator of Coronation Street) said, ‘act it the way you want them to write for you’ and that is what I have tried to do with Geoff.”
Feedback to Women’s Aid has shown the story has had a substantial effect on public awareness and has encouraged victims to seek help and report abuse. When the attack episode aired on May 1, Ian produced a YouTube video for the charity talking about the increase in violent domestic abuse and explaining how to get help, but, as Ian says in the voiceover: “You don’t actually have to be hit to be abused.” Loveday says: “If the story leads to just one abuser or potential abuser thinking twice about what they are doing, or empowers one woman or man who is a victim to recognise their situation and seek help, it is an important achievement.”
Ian and Loveday are now working with Women’s Aid and Cheshire Without Abuse to raise money and awareness. Ian, feted for his many roles in musical theatre, and who Loveday says, ‘sings like an angel’, has written a song – This Time It’s Forever – to support Women’s Aid. Loveday has produced and directed a video, with funding from the Steve Morgan Foundation in Cheshire, shot at Iscoyd Park, Whitchurch, and featuring women who have suffered abuse. She is a passionate advocate of the benefits the creative arts have on social welfare, as well as the economy, working recently with the Holroyd Community Theatre in North Shropshire and Chester’s Storyhouse, and says government support is vital to enable theatres to survive the closure enforced by the pandemic.
Vitally important Coronation Street storyline on domestic abuse receives huge critical acclaim and some of highest-ever viewing figures. Inside Soap Awards 2020 Nominee Ian Bartholomew: Best Actor, Best Villain, Best Moment. Please VOTE here and share.
Ian’s Coronation Street contract in March 2018 was for three years and speculation is that the Yasmeen and Geoff story will see its denouement by Christmas when the Street celebrates its 60th anniversary. There’s no persuading the actor to spill the beans… But whatever the future holds for Ian Bartholomew, and surely there will never be a shortage of offers to play a panto baddie over Christmases to come, he will always view his time as Geoff Metcalfe with pride. Not just for the opportunity to act an iconic Coronation Street character, but for enabling his new focus on working with charities to end domestic abuse.
So, will Ian miss Geoff when… if… the Corrie credits roll on the episode when he finally gets his comeuppance? Nice Geoff smiles and says, in typically chummy tones: “Oh yes, absolutely.”
And then, with a narrowing of the eyes, a sneer and a smirk, Nasty Geoff appears, and warns in that threatening voice now so familiar to millions of Coronation Street viewers: “That’s if I go.”
Life in Malpas
Ian: “We moved here when Loveday was expecting our first child and we decided we didn’t want to bring a family up in London. We rented her family home from her mother and now own it – the renovations are ongoing...”
Loveday: “There is a genuine feeling of community in Malpas. I can still go into Huxley’s, as I did as a child, and say hello to John (owner of the bakery and convenience store). We like to be a part of village events and plays – work schedules permitting – and we felt it was the place where we could give our children a stable life.”
Geoff Metcalfe fact file
Occupation: DJ at Weatherfield General/Co-owner of Speed Daal
Born: 24th April 1950
Residence: 6 Coronation Street
Spouse(s): Philippa, Tessa Metcalfe (1972), Yasmeen Nazir (2019)
Children: Tim Metcalfe (1972)
First appearance: 28th March 2018
Duration: 2018 to...