Robin’s father, Michael Ellacott, is being portrayed by actor Paul Butterworth.
In the Strike books, we only see Michael Ellacott very briefly; in the Silkworm: “Mr Ellacott was asleep, his head back in the armchair closest to the fire and the dog. Gently he snored, with his spectacles halfway down his nose.”
And in Career of Evil: “Downstairs, the sitting room door opened and [Robin] heard a brief snatch of a commentator’s voice, her father telling their old chocolate Labrador to get out because it had farted…”
Michael was also jointly responsible for handing down the family Land Rover to Robin, which she and Strike take on a road trip to Barrow, Market Harborough and Corby.
You may recognise Paul Butterworth from the Full Monty, in which he played a character called Barry, or in his recent Doctors episode, in which he played the title role, Eric. Read his interview below.
We understand that your mother was a drama teacher. Is that why you first became interested in acting?
“Yes, as a teenager she’d trained in London, travelling weekly from Blackpool… and, in the 1930s, she was the youngest ever Poetry Society Gold Medal winner. She was all set for a West End career just before the war when she met my dad, a poor curate, and gave it up to be a vicar’s wife.
I was the youngest of four children, so for many years she wasn’t able to pursue her passion. Then, when I was 11, she took me on as her first pupil.
As the youngest child by far in a large family I’d always lived in an imaginative world of my own, and when she started channelling that, it was like opening a door into a magic world.”
What drama training did you go through?
“I trained for three years at the Central School of Speech and Drama on their teaching course as I couldn’t afford drama school fees for acting (you got a grant for teaching in those days) and thought that might be a good compromise, but by the end of the course I’d realised I didn’t want to teach drama but to act.
My real training came when I left Central and went into theatre as an assistant stage manager, then into children’s theatre, community theatre, a little bit of rep and quickly into TV and film, which is where most of my experience has been.
It’s what I’ve learnt very slowly over 40 years since then as a TV/film character actor (usually in high profile projects) that has been my real teacher.
And bringing up my son for 20 years I’ve certainly learnt a lot about life, which feeds into my acting.
I’d always taken small jobs while he was young but when my son started A levels I began training with a top LA voice/acting coach (by Skype) so I’d be ready to relaunch when he left university, and undo any bad vocal habits I might have picked up.
This year I had my first ever title role, in Doctors, where I got to drive the storyline for 15 minutes. This was a huge step and a big learning curve, and worked out brilliantly.
Learning about yourself, what you can do, and about life in general is as valuable a part of your training as the basic acting skills you get at drama school.”
You’ve performed in some very large productions, like The Full Monty and Brideshead Revisited. What did those experiences teach you about your profession?
“That you put as much preparation and effort into preparing for a cameo as if it were the lead role. Your few minutes on screen has got to be just as convincing as the lead.
If you’re not going to do that and be passionate about your role then don’t take the job.
In the Full Monty as the ‘baddy’ I had to create a whole world in a few seconds… the audience had to read how I was with Nathan’s mum, my relationship to the boy and to Robert Carlisle’s character. It counterpointed the rest of the story and was a presence throughout the film, setting up the sneering judgement against which the audience could weigh Carlisle’s warm humanity.
In a small part one look can enhance a film, a poor one can damage it.
Another very important thing I learned was that the best productions are like a family where everybody works together and everybody’s work is valued.”
How did you land the role of Robin’s dad in Strike?
“It’s a bit difficult to know how you land any role but casting draws up a shortlist which they put to the director who then looks at your work and puts the team of actors together.”
What was it like being on set for the Strike production?
“Brilliant. It was a lovely family feel with everybody being very welcoming, and all of us working towards making it the best show possible.
It’s weird you go into character and banter with the other actors. I was with Joe (my screen son) and my ‘wife’ so we actually behaved a bit like a little family. And everybody was super nice – kept checking how we were – the director came over and chatted briefly every now and then… which considering how much he had to do and how little we had to do was brilliant. Holliday was lovely… in fact it was like a big family! Probably the best set I’ve ever been on… so the time went really quickly.
Charles Sturridge, the director, is such a lovely man and includes everybody – making the effort to talk to all his actors and crew – while also being in complete control of the set.
And, I don’t know if I’m allowed to say this, but the producers gave us all a Betty’s goody bag (we were filming in Yorkshire) which was such a nice thing to do.
On the way home there was a power cut and we ended up being stuck on a train for an hour or so with no food or water available so the Betty’s cake came in very useful!”
If you can’t remember, Betty’s of Harrogate is the famous tea rooms that Robin and Linda go to in Career of Evil. You can read more about this here.
What are your thoughts on your character and the characters of Robin and Strike?
I think he’s got hidden quirky depths and is a really decent man, if a little bemused by life sometimes. He’s super proud of Robin and a bit protective… he doesn’t totally understand women and his wife has a closer (more real) relationship with his daughter, but he would do anything for her.
I had the opportunity of spending the evening before the shoot with Holliday Grainger, and by the end was feeling very paternal. She reminded me of a female version of my son, and I was able to transfer that feeling over to her, as if I really had a daughter. It was a bit weird but a very strong feeling.
Robin and Strike:
I think of them as my character would. It’s an odd place to be as I can obviously watch the show like anybody else… but my feelings as dad are much stronger.
As such, Robin’s my daughter and I wish she’d get a steady job and settle down but, as long as she’s happy, I’ll go along with that.
Strike is damaged goods. I’m not sure I completely trust him and he could be putting my daughter in danger.”
What are your thoughts on the Strike books?
I’ve read all three cover to cover and loved them.
With the books I thought like a reader rather than as Robin’s Dad.
What I like most is the relationship between Strike and Robin, how she’s growing as a person and the dynamics between them.”
What is your next project?
“My next project is my son’s graduation film. He’s cast me in a small part as the owner of the garage where his lead character lives, which I’m really excited about. It’s Stanley Kubric meets Ken Loach!
Broadcast wise there’s nothing at present, though I have just had an availability check for a huge studio movie which is very exciting.
I’m very pleased to be picking up work again after bringing up Josh and am delighted to be involved in Strike.”
See Paul Butterworth’s show reel here: