EastEnders: Timothy West on Stan Carter, ageism and wanting to work more with Benedict Cumberbatch

The veteran actor reveals all about his TV likes and dislikes and the reason why he's been introduced to the BBC1 soap

Who’s in charge of the remote control in your house? 
Oh me! Pru [West is married to actress Prunella Scales] watches a lot of the BBC News Channel, but I like to catch specific things during the week.


What are you into at the moment?
I’m very much into Nordic Noir – I’m half way through The Bridge. Dramas like that are so tightly and complexly written that you don’t want to miss an episode. I also like a lot of documentaries – I watched a lot of The Restaurant Man, which I found fascinating and beautifully made.

Are you a big radio fan?
I love radio. There are certain things that only radio can do – for instance, the boundless geography and the design budget are both amazing! I listen to a lot of Radio 4 and Radio 3; not so much 1 and 2.

Is there any one actor you wish you’d acted alongside?
Well, I’ve been at it a long time and it’s sometimes hard to remember who I’ve acted with and who I haven’t. But I’ve recently done some radio work with Benedict Cumberbatch and I would like to do more with him.

What are your earliest memories of TV? 
Goodness. Well, as a family we didn’t have a television for ages and ages. But I remember things like Emergency Ward 10, The Grove Family and Dixon of Dock Green. All those rather gentle things that were taken over by more punchy programmes like Z-Cars.

Do you think of there being a golden age of TV? 
Not a golden age, as such. But I do miss things like the single play. It was the event of the week, it went on the front of Radio Times and people stayed in to watch it. It unified the viewership. Now that you have more channels, you don’t get that conversation at the bus stop about what you saw last night.

But are soaps the modern-day equivalent of Play for Today?
I don’t think they’re the same. But, in one way, they are similar in that they offer an alternative to genre serials like police dramas or legal dramas. You know the detective is always going to solve the crime or that the lawyers are going to get their client off. But soap operas put characters in different situations that often have different outcomes.

Do you think that there is enough representation of older people in soap operas?
I find that they’re not valued so much and I suspect that’s probably one of the reasons why I’ve been brought in. From what I hear, there hasn’t been enough interest in older characters. Or enough older characters to be interested in.

Is that the reason why you took the role in EastEnders? 
No, I took it on because it’s a good part.

Are there any characters – outside of the Carter family – with whom you’d like to share scenes?
I’m afraid I’m still very ignorant about a lot of the other characters. When I get a hunk of scripts, I just go through scenes that affect our family. I do, though, have enormous respect for June Brown [who plays Dot Branning].

Do you consider yourself to be a stage actor or a TV actor?
Theatre is really where I belong, but I find it terribly wrong that people think you either work in theatre or on television. I don’t call someone a ‘stage actor’, I call them an ‘actor’. We’re all bloody actors and we should be able to do everything. Otherwise we have no business being in the business.

Do you have any guilty TV pleasures? 
Things I’m a little bit ashamed of? Well, I don’t watch any porn! [laughs]. To be honest, I don’t think I watch enough television to feel guilty about it.

Timothy West can be seen on EastEnders tonight at 8.00pm on BBC1