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Tuesday, 29 June 2021

Toby Hadoke interview: Cherylee Houston's partner joins cast as newcomer Fergus

As part of an upcoming storyline which will see Izzy Armstrong starting to struggle with remote working (read Cherylee Houston's interview here), Coronation Street have cast Cherylee's real-life partner Toby Hadoke to play the role of Fergus, Izzy's neighbour. Toby told us all about Fergus, a previous Corrie cameo, and the essential message behind Izzy's storyline. 

"It was just before Christmas and we tested out the equipment and showed that I could walk and talk in a straight line at the same time," Toby said about the early stages of the casting process. "It seems odd that we're finally here because when you're in a relationship with another actor, you never canvas for a job on that person's behalf. 

"I was very lucky because I've been around and a couple of the writers knew my work and the casting directors first saw me, probably 20 years ago, so I think when they were thinking about telling the story, they thought: 'We need somebody else, but how do we get anybody else in?'. One of the writers, a brilliant writer, Debbie Oates, who had seen me on stage loads of times, went: 'Well, Toby could do it.'

"She came up with this part who has some similarities and some differences from me and wrote a lovely scene that is far longer than you'd ever get on telly, in order to put that on tape so we could test the equipment, but also test my equipment. The character was sort of developed with me in mind a little bit, which was nice, and it meant we could work on it."

Toby will play Izzy's neighbour, Fergus. A character who would probably get on quite well with Roy, he does his best to help Izzy where he can. "He's not a usual sort of fellow," Toby mused. "Interestingly, I think in his own way, he's the sort of person who might be left behind by the pandemic as well, because he's a sort of loner and somebody who's not socially robust.

"It's interesting talking about the disability angle, and I think often when these stories are told, they quite rightly sort of highlight when bigots do something really unpleasant, but actually a lot of the things that happen that I've discovered since I've been in a relationship with somebody who's a wheelchair user, is actually the casual unkindness meted out by nice people. People who don't even realise. 

"This story comes from a sort of casual kindness by somebody who probably wouldn't normally say boo to a goose, but he's seen that this person that he lives next door to and has seen come and go, hasn't been coming and going, and nobody's been coming and going to see her. It's not a story of anybody being mean, but of somebody getting forgotten. He's in the vicinity and he sort of plucks up the courage to see if he can help, which he does in his own way. He's nice, but he's odd. I've had to dig deep."

While Fergus will primarily be seen in Izzy's home, Toby is also due to film some scenes on the cobbles. "I haven't done that yet," he said. "It's imminent. It'll be my first time out of the house in about 15 months as well. 'Where are you going? Coronation Street!'"

Toby and Cherylee have had the task of filming scenes themselves, a challenge that they are enjoying. Toby told us: "I'm a telly geek. I love the idea of: 'This has never been done before.' They've never had it with a soap opera where they've had to say: 'We can't get the actor in, OK, well let's drop all the stuff in their house and make it on the fly.'"

Toby was also quick to heap praise on Cherylee. "She's great, because she's such a good actor. She's so brilliant at bringing attention to the importance of disability representation and all of that sort of thing. I think it's hard enough sometimes doing it in a television studio, but doing it on a Zoom screen? She's brilliant."

On top of acting, Toby has also had the job of production crew. "I had to move the lights, I had to move the camera. In fact, if the credits don't read: 'Camera man, lighting, runner.'"

As well as this, Toby currently hasn't acted with anybody apart from Cherylee. When speaking to Carla and Sarah via videocall, Toby and Cherylee were actually talking to the 1st ADs. Toby said: "It's a bit like Jurassic Park. Sam Neill has to imagine a brontosaurus; I've done the same but with Carla. We had to use our imagination, but it's great, it's fun."

Many Corrie actors have played previous, smaller roles within the soap, and Toby is no exception. "If you delve into the archives, I once married Curly Watts. I was a vicar. They wanted a young vicar at Curly Watt's wedding, and I think if you go back, it was about 747 years ago. That was just a one-off.

"I'm from the countryside in the middle of nowhere, nobody in my family was involved in television or show business. I'm a big telly geek and if you vaguely remember a series from the 1970s, I could tell you what it's called, where it is on my DVD shelf, who was in it, and I've probably written to the director. The idea of being in Corrie, which is the biggest and longest telly of them all, if you'd told my teenage self, who was drawn to this gogglebox and thinking how amazing it must be to even be an actor, let alone on telly, I wouldn't have believed it. I'm tickled pink."

At the heart of Izzy's storyline, Coronation Street will highlight the struggles disabled people in employment have had to face during the pandemic, and Toby says he was "amazed" with the scripts. "I was so impressed when I got the scripts through because it's not a finger-waggy story, it's a story that's been told through character. 

"It tells the story without you feeling like you're being lectured. Life with a disabled person is not all about just people being mean. It's the sort of drip, drip, drip, that if you're not in it, you don't quite see it. I think having it presented as a sort of everyday thing in the backdrop of the situations we know and the characters we like, is a brilliant way of prompting the national conversation, but without kicking anybody into it, just because she's there."

Sophie Williams 

I'm on Twitter @sophie_writer1

All original work on Coronation Street Blog is covered by a Creative Commons License

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