Is there a more hated man on TV than Coronation Street baddie Geoff Metcalfe? “Let’s be honest, he’s a wrong’un,” admits actor Ian Bartholomew of his evil alter ego. “He’s a nasty, odious man and deeply disturbed.” He’s also at the centre of the soap’s blockbuster 60th anniversary week, starting 7th December, in which the trial for his attempted murder reaches an epic climax.
The verdict is one of the most anticipated soap moments of 2020, coming months after Geoff’s abused wife Yasmeen was driven to attack her sinister spouse having endured months of coercive control. Playing the victim and painting Yasmeen as the aggressor worked at first, but the tide is turning against bullying Geoff – much to the relief of the man who plays him.
“I’m just as keen for him to get his comeuppance as anybody,” says the actor, speaking exclusively to RadioTimes.com, and thankfully nothing like the calculating character he portrays so chillingly. “As a fan of the show and as a bystander, I think it needs to happen. One way or another, there has to be an end point.”
Menacing Mr Metcalfe’s cruel coercion started slow then became Corrie’s biggest storyline in years, highlighting a type of domestic abuse rarely tackled in continuing drama. Bullying Geoff, a seemingly harmless, avuncular middle-aged man, manipulated and belittled his wife behind closed doors, isolating her from her friends and family until she was completely dependent on him.
“Yasmeen has bravely talked about her abuse on the stand, which only serves to make Geoff play to the crowd even more,” says the star. “He’s laid the groundwork of her supposedly being an unstable alcoholic, and undermined her for months. At this point, that is what he believes, it’s not a matter of conjecture or discussion – this is the Gospel according to Geoff.
“He also thinks he’s managed to scare off anybody from giving evidence against him, including his son Tim and his ex-wife Elaine, who he put through a similar ordeal. Geoff believes he still has the upper hand, and has this uncanny knack of making things appear to be everybody else’s fault. He is so embroiled he doesn’t know the way out of the lie.
“The only people left to convince are the jury, and he’s confident he can use his charm and play the victim again in court.”
What the much-anticipated verdict will be remains a secret until it airs, but the aftermath will ripple across the cobbles throughout the big week ahead and Geoff still has some aces to play. Regardless of the character’s future beyond this point, about which there is much speculation, Geoff has undoubtedly made a huge impression, and not just on the audience: it’s been practically life-changing for Bartholomew himself.
“It really got under my skin,” he shares. “Shelley (King, aka Yasmeen) and I did a lot of research with Women’s Aid, who were instrumental in shaping the story and the characters. We spoke to many victims and built up a picture of the kind of person Geoff was – perpetrators of coercive abuse share common traits, they target strong women and want to break them. That drew me in.
“Hearing survivors’ stories left me shocked and upset to realise this happens so much in reality, and is all around us. The story became horribly relevant during the first lockdown when domestic abuse cases went through the roof, and women were dying at double the rate they were before. It made me so angry and I wanted to do something, but I didn’t know what.”
Bartholomew’s working relationship with Women’s Aid led to him taking part in campaigns to raise awareness on the support available, and eventually to composing a song, This Time It’s Forever, now available to download with all proceeds going to the charity.
“I’ve been writing songs for years and wanted to say something about surviving an abusive relationship. I’d been tinkling around with a little piano ditty and it just came, I recorded it in my shed studio, which is not very sophisticated. My wife suggested I send it to a music producer acquaintance of hers, we went back and forth on the arrangement to make it sound more contemporary.
“Then we shot a video and everyone involved worked either for free or at a very cut rate because they knew what it was for. Corrie has given me this remarkable profile and platform, I felt so strongly about doing this.”
Bartholomew candidly acknowledges how playing such an intense story arc has taken its toll, particularly in the framework of soap’s relentless filming schedules. “Constantly pretending to be so horrible was affecting. Ian watching as Geoff belittled Yasmeen, but watching Shelley react and being concerned for her… there was a few layers to it.
“I knew I had to make it real enough for the audience to be shocked. It wasn’t just a storyline, it’s a real situation, a despicable, appalling crime, an insidious way to treat somebody. It had to be seen and brought into public scrutiny.
“Shelley and I cradled the responsibility but it spurred us on, we didn’t let it get in the way. I went deeper into my own insecurities than I maybe would’ve liked, and it made me question my own behaviour and reactions. All that needed to be done to tell the story properly, and everybody supported each other on set.”
Yasmeen’s trial was about to be shot as the UK went into lockdown back in March, putting Corrie on a three-month production hiatus that altered the timing of the plot. After remapping the storyline over the summer, producers decided to take what had, by then, evolved into a national talking point and make it the focus of December’s all-important 60th anniversary.
“They needed something big and I’m unbelievably flattered and humbled they thought this storyline was worth it. I’ve never done a soap before and feel incredibly lucky to be part of Corrie’s big anniversary, it’s amazing.
“I was tiny when the programme started, I must’ve been about six,” he fondly recalls. “I’ve lived with it my whole life and remember all those original characters like Ena Sharples, Albert Tatlock and Elsie Tanner. It was a fascinating social comment, a slice of northern life, and a chance for writers from the theatre to embrace this new medium of TV and reach more people than they would with a play.”
Fast forward six decades and the show is still going strong. From the viewpoint of someone so immersed in one of Britain’s most beloved cultural institutions, how does Bartholomew explain the secret to its sustained success?
“Coronation Street has survived by staying true to its roots. It’s still about the people who live on that street, seeing them struggle and triumph. It reflects the lives of the audience, and is done with wit and love. In the truest sense of the word, it is iconic.”