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Steve Pemberton - Whitechapel interview

Steve Pemberton in Whitechapel (c) ITV

The former League of Gentlemen star talks to us about his role as criminal history buff Ed Buchan in Whitechapel and why he likes to walk on the dark side of the street…

In the third series of Whitechapel Ed Buchan, becomes part of DI Chandler’s team and it’s like all of his Christmas’s coming at once.

“It’s his dream come true in many ways,” says Steve Pemberton, who plays Buchan. “He’s someone who has very much been an aid to Chandler and although he has been proven right in previous cases, there’s still a lot of mistrust and non-acceptance of him as a fully-fledged police aide. So for him to be able to come and move his pot-plant and his personal knick-knacks into his own room in the police station, is his absolute dream come true.”

Having his own office space has given Buchan a greater sense of self-importance and confidence and ultimately more autonomy within that team as well.

“In the first story he certainly gets carried away and takes it upon himself to hold a briefing, which is completely unofficial and very much to Chandler’s annoyance,” explains Steve. “He takes over the incident room, has people doing the lights, calling them ushers and commandeers the powerpoint presentation. So it’s true to say that it all goes to his head a bit.”

Buchan’s job is to report directly to Chandler. “He’s turned himself into Jane Tennyson in Prime Suspect and mistakenly thinks he’s more senior than he is, but quickly gets taken down a peg or two by Chandler.”

Having his room in the basement keeps him separate from the team but one by one the rest of the team find themselves calling on his expertise to help with the investigations.

“He is not actually a fully fledged part of the team – its very dark and he’s happy being surrounded by paperwork and files and historical documents, because that’s what he knows about. He’s not so comfortable being around bodies and forensics and autopsies in the mortuary, so he’s in the building, but locked in his own world.”

It’s not all plain sailing for Buchan and we see his confidence knocked throughout the series.

“He sort of goes through a journey over the course of the three stories,” explains Steve. “He starts off very confident, then he loses a lot of it in the second case because he feels he’s made mistakes and that he hasn’t done everything he could to help save the lives of the victims.”

“He beats himself up a lot over that until he realises, with the help of a therapist, that he can’t save every life and that if you’re going to do this job, i.e. work for the police, then you’ve got to accept that.”

In some ways the pressure is greater for Buchan than it is for the bone fide police teams he works with.

“Before, in previous cases, Buchan was being asked for his opinion as an expert on the subject, and he gave his opinion willingly as he wasn’t directly involved with it. Now they are coming to him looking for answers in an official capacity and he definitely feels that pressure.”

Whilst Buchan appears to seek Miles’ acceptance Steve believes it is acceptance from the other policemen that he is really after.

“By the time we get to the final story, what you see is all the different members of the team, Kent, Riley and Mansell, come down to seek advice from Buchan individually. So over the series, its very cleverly done, there’s a growing acceptance. I think Miles will be the last one to fall.”

“With a crime scene you’ve only got a limited amount of stuff you can do,” he continues. “With the whole of crime history that’s a huge amount to try and get your head around.”

Buchan believes that there’s a missing piece in a jigsaw and if he can just find that missing piece, he’ll help solve a crime.

“He has a very logical way of thinking about things and some of the team like Miles for example, rely a lot more on intuition and being face to face with a suspect or a witness and being able to read them. I don’t think Buchan has those skills; his lie more in academic studies. So he really beats himself up if he feels he doesn’t know everything. So he’s under a lot of pressure.”

Steve Pemberton is known for playing off the wall characters in Psychoville but he particularly likes playing Ed Buchan.

“There’s an awful lot in there to play with,” says Steve. “In the first serial there was this notion that he could be a suspect, he had quite a creepy interest in Jack the Ripper which was fun to play.

“When the second serial moved onto the Kray twins it was a more emotional kind of Buchan that emerged as he investigated the death of Miles’ father,” he continues.

“Buchan also has some great comedic moments and some very emotional scenes where he feels this tremendous guilt at being unable to solve the cases and he breaks down and yet, against that backdrop, you’ve got the fruity language that he uses with relish and that’s what I love about him.”

Steve is known for Whitechapel, The League of Gentlemen and Psychoville but has recently turned his hand to writing Benidorm, in which he also stars and has written three of the seven episodes in the forthcoming series.

“In terms of my writing career, I’m interested in anything that can surprise the audience and I enjoy putting stuff on screen that you haven’t seen before which was one of the great challenges about Psychoville,” he remarks.

“Reece Shearsmith and I have always had a very dark sense of humour and I think that just comes out whatever we’re writing,” he laughs. “It’s the combination of horror and comedy, of being scared one minute and laughing the next that we enjoy. Which is a very potent combination and I’ve loved doing that.”

“Variety is also fantastic and you couldn’t get more variety than writing and acting in Benidorm and then doing Whitechapel and Psychoville. There’s a dark message, even in Benidorm. Just that tiny cry of darkness that people enjoy, people like stuff that isn’t all gleaming, shining, happy families. I think it allows it to be real and we all have a bit of darkness inside us.”

Whitechapel is on ITV1 Mondays at 9pm

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