Richard Wilson on Merlin, The X Factor and The Killing

The One Foot in the Grave actor lets loose with his TV loves and hates


Which TV programme would you take to a desert island?


The Danish version of The Killing is just superb. I started watching after everyone else so had all these episodes to catch up on. Some nights I couldn’t sleep because I watched two or three in a row and I was thinking about it so much. I’ve never seen anything to match that on British television.

So do you think that British television is in a bad way?

It’s in a bad state insofar as there are so many stupid, desperate reality shows and vacuous programmes like Red or Black?, which is just a silly party game.

Not a fan of Simon Cowell?

I used to watch The X Factor but since the auditions became public, it just seems cruel. In its heyday, it was exciting. I went to the filming once – that raw emotion was interesting from an acting point of view – but now it’s so cynical. You can see the wheels turning.

So you’re more of a Downton Abbey fan, then?

I do like it, though I thought they tried to cram too much into the first episode of the new series. I always like stories that involve toffs versus the working class. I also watch a lot of news and documentaries.

Who would play you in the film of your life and why?

If Jesse Eisenberg [The Social Network] would consider playing the young Richard Wilson, I’d be very proud. I think he would get the young me – gawky and lacking in self-confidence.

Even throughout the Swinging Sixties in London?

I don’t think I realised how swinging they were. It was an exciting time as I was at drama school, starting out as an actor, and being offered all these cultural goodies, but the rest passed me by. To be honest, I find it hard to divide into decades.

As a vocal Labour supporter, you must be able to distinguish between the 1970s and 1980s..? 

Thatcherism was ghastly and it was a great release when Labour won the election in 1997. I remember thinking that Labour would lead us to some promised land but it didn’t quite work out that way…

Is that a source of regret?

A lot of good was achieved, but the Blair/Brown antagonism, which wasn’t there at the beginning, didn’t help matters. It’s interesting that [Blair strategist] Philip Gould is encouraging Ed and David Miliband not to repeat the errors of history. That would be terrible. I voted for Ed and he’s getting better as the days go by.

Who would be your ideal dinner party guests?

Barack Obama is doing a tough job as well as can be expected against huge opposition so I think he’d be fascinating. And if Nelson Mandela manages to hang on, he’d be great fun too.

After presenting Dispatches: Train Journeys from Hell, do you have any more plans for other ventures into current affairs?

I’m actually doing another Dispatches, on the ways our lives are becoming increasing automated. From self-service supermarket check-outs to automated telephone banking, personal service is in danger of disappearing altogether.

It sounds like you don’t think much of technology…

Oh, I love technology. I’ve got an iPhone, an iPad and have just treated myself to a new desktop, with a 27in screen. Stephen Fry got me into all things Mac and now I’m all Mac’ed up.


Richard Wilson returns in Merlin at 7.50pm on Saturday BBC1