Helen Baxendale, who played Emily in Friends and who now stars in BBC3's Cuckoo, talks reality TV and why she can never watch herself onscreen...


How do you watch TV?

We’ve still got a cathode ray TV with a big back. An ancient, massive thing. All our teenagers’ friends come round and say the TV’s really cool. The picture is so much better than HD TVs – everything looks like film. It’s not digital, and we still haven’t got Netflix. It’s too confusing. So we can’t pause anything. We can turn it off…

Do you watch TV with your teenagers?

Yes, I like to make it sociable. When I was growing up, we used to be like the Royle family, sitting around watching lots of TV and commenting on it. It was our focal point. I have vivid memories of my dad watching Not the Nine o’Clock News. I didn’t really get it but I thought it was hilarious because he was laughing. TV seemed really good back then – watching Swap Shop on a Saturday with my sister. It’s easy not to be sociable nowadays and just sit alone and watch it on your iPad.

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So no iPlayer binges?

Oh yes – iPlayer’s great! We love box sets on there. You can look forward to it, like Dickens. It’s nice to be able to say to each other, “Ooh, you know what night it is tonight?!” Recently we’ve loved A Very English Scandal, The Bridge, The Handmaid’s Tale and a French show called Missions on BBC4. It’s surprisingly easy to get teenagers to watch subtitles. I don’t think they balk at it if you just say, “This is what we’re watching.”

Sounds like a lot of drama series…

I actually used to be really into current affairs, but I find everything so depressing these days that I just scream at the TV or radio. I always watched Newsnight, but it’s so miserable now. There’s a lot of non-depressing things if you look up, away from the TV, and I can often go weeks without watching! Although I was really enjoying the World Cup and Wimbledon.

How about some daft escapism?

Well, most reality TV is drivel. I’ll tell you what I do really like: First Dates. It’s positive TV – they treat people nicely, you come out of it actually liking them. There’s hope for humanity in First Dates!

How do you feel about watching yourself on TV?

I can’t stand it. I pretend it’s not happening.

How do you avoid yourself, when Friends is syndicated all the time?

I never catch them but I know when they’re being shown again, because young people will come up to me and say, “Oh, are you that woman…?” I think, “Well, at least I haven’t aged so much they don’t recognise me!” It’s a testament to Friends that it’s repeated after all this time and people still love it – it’s nice when young, new viewers get all excited.

In your weeks away from the telly, what do you get up to?

Radio 4 is my constant companion. Sometimes you listen and think, nowhere else on Earth would this programme be made. But I do find some of it so annoying – what’s happened to the Today programme? I’ve started switching to Radio 3 in the morning. Generally, I think radio is flourishing, whereas with TV you’ve got to make an effort to know what’s on when. With radio, you catch things that are so surprising and wonderful. And you can listen while you’re doing other things.

Like what?

I’m into cycling and pottery. There’s something deep within us that wants to make things. I do it once a week, and I’m pretty bad, even though I’ve been doing it for a year. My pots are like cannonballs, if you threw them at someone you’d kill them. I give them to everybody for presents, we eat out of them, drink out of them, but they’re heavy and only really good for weightlifting!


Helen Baxendale returns in Cuckoo, available on BBC3 online from Thursday 2nd August