Benidorm Diary: why is Sherrie Hewson “beyond thrilled”, Tim Healy a lady and Jake Canuso in pain?

RT goes on set to meet the stars who play Joyce, Lesley and Mateo – but are they so different from their Benidorm characters?

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Today, I’m meeting three of the actors who play the bungling staff who “manage” the Solana resort… 

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Sherrie Hewson looks too refined to be subjected to the sweltering, mosquito-filled cast tent just off Benidorm’s main drag, where I meet her today, but says she was “beyond thrilled” when offered a part in the hit ITV sitcom. She debuted last year in series five as Joyce Temple-Savage, the hoity-toity new manager of the Solana.

Immaculately turned out, but looking like she knows a good time when she sees it, Sherrie has an acting career stretching back to the early 70s. Now also a regular face on Loose Women, she says the lunchtime series and Benidorm are “two shows that address age for women very well”.

Had she followed Benidorm before? “Of course! Everybody follows Benidorm!” she laughs. “So I already knew all the characters – and most of the actors.” She reckons it’s a comfortable show to join, and that the cast quickly bonded, being away from home for several months. “I miss my daughter and grandchildren beyond belief but I have family here.”

On screen, Joyce despises poolside lothario Mateo but, says Sherrie, “I’m very close to Jake Canuso. I mean, who wouldn’t be, given half a chance?” She’s also great mates with show writer Derren Litten, and Tony Maudsley who plays camp hairdresser, Kenneth.

She’s constantly recognised on the streets of Benidorm: “I’m not complaining. It doesn’t bother me at all. I love it. Every woman here is a Loose Woman watcher, as well as the Benidorm fans.”

She’s been an ITV favourite for decades with long spells on Crossroads and Emmerdale, and most memorably on Coronation Street. “Those five years in Corrie were comedy-drama of the best kind. Paul Abbott wrote most of my stuff – that was amazing for me.”

After Rada, Sherrie worked on many period dramas, with the odd Feydeau farce, gradually crossing over to comedy: In Loving Memory with Thora Hird, The Russ Abbot Show… “Benidorm is one of the best things that could have happened to me in my career. To have this at this time in my life – this wonderful part!”

She loves the way Litten has written the character. “The funniest thing about Joyce is that she’s beastly but gets her comeuppance many times. She’s lonely and sad. One of the original BOAC stewardesses, terribly toffee-nosed. As she got older, she became an entertainment manager on a cruise ship and as time’s gone on, she’s ended up at the Solana.”

Sherrie was sent to finishing school and based some of Joyce’s traits on those of her late mother. “She’s gone now so I can say it. She would hate it. She was a model all her life and beautician, very elegant till the day she died. She wouldn’t empty a dustbin without being fully made up. I’ve kept to that. I will not go out of my door unless I’m fully made up. My mother believed you are what you deliver that day. Your back must be straight. I incorporate that into Joyce.”

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Jake Canuso has played randy barman Mateo in every episode since the start. He reckons the Solana staff are all outsiders. “You don’t think of them as having friends. They’re loners” – although he feels a serious antipathy has become a grudging fondness between Mateo, Joyce and Les. “It evolves and changes and reoccurs.”

He points out: “When Benidorm started, it was all about the holiday makers. This series is quite dominant on the staff as well and there’s more in the reception, salon and the pool. It’s very balanced.”

This series we can look forward to… “Mateo has a rival in Philip Olivier’s character in episode two. We have a really oily clash. A big stunt, involving oil and vest-ripping. Very Bruce Weber. We had to do a whole big stunt. It was painful.”

Jake is being careful, though. He’s still recovering from the nose-splitting incident in the first series of ITV’s diving contest Splash! “It was agony. I’m still suffering. I was dreading Derren would write in a scene of me diving into the pool. But there are no Speedo scenes. I’ve had enough of that.”

Jake was a dancer from the age of 14 to his early 30s – how does he keep fit these days? “Not as much as people think. Gym three times a week and I have a balanced regime, a good cardio workout and full-body circuit training. I eat healthy.”

He loves filming in the town but it wasn’t always so. “The first few years I was kind of snobby about Benidorm, going ‘Vile!’ But then there isn’t really a place that embraces anything you want the way Benidorm does. You start embracing it for what it is. I love the way people are unapologetic about being fat, lairy, loud. You go to places here you wouldn’t really go to back home. Karaoke bars with pensioners nodding off.”

His normal speaking voice sounds north London but he looks the part of the dark Spaniard. “A lot of the audience mistake me for Spanish. I’m tanned. My hair is dyed darker. I’m good with foreign accents because I was brought up in Switzerland with people speaking German, at home we spoke Italian, and we had French from a very young age.”

He gets a lot of attention from fans. “They run down the street chasing you!” Even a cross-dressing cast party afforded little escape. “I was dressed in heels and skirt like Marilyn Monroe and came out of the hotel and there’s like 20 people going, ‘Oh look, it’s Mateo.’ Nothing works!”

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It can be disconcerting when Tim Healy, a gruffly masculine man, sits in front of you in an auburn ladies’ wig, skirt and glittery eye make-up.

He says the get-up as transvestite barman Les/Lesley “is great fun – apart from when it’s 90 degrees and you’ve got the wig on and everybody else is diving in the pool. I’m not allowed to go in because my make-up takes 45 minutes. The same length of time as Cilla Black’s [a guest star in 2011].

“It stays on quite well, especially on my lips,” he continues in his unmistakeable, gravelly Newcastle voice. “They keep touching me up all the time, keep fiddling with me. I’m always trying to get it off when I go home.”

[Tim Healy, left, as Lesley with Adam Gillen who plays his son Liam]

He enjoys the outrageous costumes – “They’ve always got to look wrong” – and will be back serving poolside drinks on his roller blades. “The thing is I don’t practise on them cos it’s got to look like I might fall over. I actually have to act it a bit now, to make it look like I’m gonna go over, cos I’m used to them now. In one episode, Les is put in charge for three days as manageress and everything goes tits up.”

He’s cool about being recognised by the public. “If one family asks you for a photo then suddenly it’s 45. What you’ve got to remember is, it’s their first time and not the fact that it happens to me all the time. You know, a lot of people just pass me and start giggling. Which is a nice thing to happen.”

His part as Lesley is unusual to say the least. But it’s a part he wished upon himself.  Tim explains it came about at the TV Quick Awards in 2007 when Benidorm won best newcomer and best comedy. “Derren was in the bar afterwards so I shook his hand and said, ‘Well done, man, it’s really funny.’ I said, ‘I’d love to do one.’

“So he said, ‘What would you like to play?’ By this time I’d had a few beers so I said, ‘Something people would never expect me to play… I tell you what, a transvestite that kills somebody! Anyway six months later a script arrived and I did that one scene with Johnny Vegas [a hilarious blind date] and they asked me to come back and be a regular. So it was me own fault.”

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Come back in a few weeks’ time when Sherrie, Jake and Tim spill the beans on working with Benidorm guest star, Joan Collins

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Catch up on our Benidorm Diary

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Benidorm series six starts Thursday 2 January, 9pm ITV