Coronation Street's Richard Hillman star 20 years on: "I'm not even a Northerner!"
Actor Brian Capron reminisces about his iconic turn as serial killer Richard Hillman in Coronation Street on the 20th anniversary of the character's demise...
20 years ago, a serial killer had Weatherfield, and the entire British public, firmly in his grasp.
Introduced to ITV’s Coronation Street in 2001 as a charming businessman, Richard Hillman quickly fell in love with — and soon married — series mainstay Gail Platt. But after his dodgy dealings were exposed, a homicidal streak emerged.
After leaving his colleague and friend Duggie to die, Richard murdered his ex-wife before she could rat him out. He then tried and failed to kill Emily Bishop, only for new mum Maxine Peacock to stumble across the scene and pay the ultimate price. She should have stayed at the party.
Once Richard’s crimes were exposed in February 2003, he fled the street. However, he returned on 14th March, kidnapped Gail and her children, and set off on the most famous car chase in British soap history. Watched by more than 19 million people nationwide, he sped through the streets of Manchester.
The chase ended in a canal, with Richard driving Gail, her son David, her daughter Sarah, and Sarah’s daughter Bethany, into the water. The Platts survived but Richard didn't, bringing his own reign of terror to a dramatic end.
Exactly 20 years on from that fateful night, RadioTimes.com caught up with Brian Capron, the man who brought Richard to life and made him one of the greatest British soap villains of all time. He says he had no idea about his character's future or fate when he first stepped onto the famous cobbles.
"I'm not even a Northerner!", he laughs. "I'd already been in the show in 1982. I never thought I was ever going to come back. I had no idea what was going to happen. It was just that bit of luck, that bit of serendipity."
The change in Richard’s storyline occurred months into Brian’s run on the show.
"After I started, Coronation Street went back to long-burn storylines," he revealed. "The writers saw something in Richard and moved him to centre stage. I got my first one-hour special when Duggie died. It was a brilliant storyline with so many twists and turns."
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However, as evil as Richard might have been, Brian says there was never any doubt in his mind that Richard loved Gail and her children.
The actor noted: "I concentrated very hard on making him very human and very loving towards the Platts. That really paid off. In his mind, he was doing everything for them."
He continued: "When people think of characters like Richard [in real life], they go, 'You know, he always used to wash his car on a Sunday and would always say hello.' That was the kind of person I had in mind."
Brian also credits his wife for inspiring Richard's chilling voice, saying: "My wife told me that whenever Richard was threatening people and had exclamation marks in his lines, she told me to calm it down and just be quiet.
"And at the end of one scene, when Richard is threatening Norris, I remember a director saying to me, 'Now do your look.' 'What look?' 'You know, your look!' I didn't really know what he meant, but that was how the character grew and grew. It was really exciting."
Eventually, Richard's crime spree caught up with him, and with the net tightening, he confessed everything to a shocked and heartbroken Gail before fleeing the street. He then returned 20 years ago tonight and kidnapped the Platts in one of the most-watched Coronation Street episodes of all time.
Pursued by the children’s biological father and Gail’s ex-husband, Martin Platt, Richard drove for miles until he shouted “This is it! I love you!” and plunged the car into a canal. It brought about Richard’s own end and scarred the Platts for life.
How does a sequence like that get put together?
"That car chase, and the canal, was a massive stunt, noted Capron. "We used five cars. One of the cars had its engine removed and mannequins were sat in the seats. There was a canon underneath it, and it shot the car up in the air before it went into the canal.
"The underwater scenes were filmed in Fleetwood, at a North Sea helicopter rescue centre. I think it was the first time ever in a soap that they'd filmed underwater shots. When the episode aired, my wife said, 'Oh my god, you were really under the water!'"
Brian says it all ran like clockwork, with the Coronation Street team ensuring everyone on the set was safe at all times.
The star said: "We learned to be underwater. We were all inside the car and we had breathing apparatus, and we had our eyes closed. Then they'd count down, shout 'Action!', get rid of the breathing apparatus, and then we had to start acting!"
When Brian left Weatherfield following Richard's death in March 2003, his work on Coronation Street had pushed him into national stardom. 'Hillmania', they called it. What followed were a series of reality TV slots, guest cameos, and years of work in theatres up and down the country.
What does Brian make of the time in his life when he was appearing at awards shows, starring alongside pop band Busted in Christmas TV specials, and even had a brief stint on Strictly Come Dancing?
"Anybody who’s in Coronation Street has the life of award shows and parties. I call it 'touching the wall'. It’s not totally all it’s cracked up to be but it’s still such fun," he admitted. "I knew it was only going to be my life for two years or so because I couldn’t move up north. But so many wonderful things happened to me.
"I was on Graham Norton’s show. I never thought I’d be on there. I went on a chat show in New Zealand, and so many other fabulous things. I did Strictly but I was very ill at the time and went out quite early, but my wife then convinced me to do MasterChef and I got to the final. I recorded songs in Abbey Road for the Coronation Street musical that sadly never happened.
"But the most interesting thing that happened to me was when I was doing a bit of presenting for This Morning. They sent me out to Borneo to do documentary features on orangutans. I went with a camera team and spent two weeks in Borneo in the jungle. It was unbelievable, what a privilege. I tracked them in the jungle, I stayed overnight in huts and villages in the middle of nowhere and had the most amazing time."
To this day, Brian has never moved up north, but he continues to work in the region as a theatre performer, appearing as a string of pantomime villains and even sharing the stage with the likes of Paddy McGuinness. Brian says he’s thankful to Coronation Street every day for the career he’s been able to have in the 21st century.
"I have to thank the writers," concluded Brian. "I was just in the right place at the right time. I'm very grateful to Richard and Coronation Street because the role gave me a leg up. To get something like Coronation Street in my 50s gave me another 20 years. I'm [over] 70 years old and I'm still working. I’m incredibly lucky."
Coronation Street airs on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays at 8pm on ITV1 and ITVX, while Classic Coronation Street airs on weekday afternoons on ITV3.
Visit our dedicated Coronation Street page for all the latest news, interviews and spoilers. If you’re looking for more to watch check out our TV guide and Streaming Guide.
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