Nov 19 2004
MICHELE Austin is bringing some Sarf London savvy to The Bill as PC Yvonne Hemmingway. She tells CEDRIC PORTER about life on the front line in the small screen's most disaster-prone cop shop.
LIVING in Brixton helps Michele Austin keep down to earth for her role as PC Yvonne Hemmingway in The Bill.
As Sun Hill's larger than life constable, Michele's character has emerged as a kind of no-nonsense anchorwoman while all around her colleagues are murdered, raped, bombed, blackmailed, kidnapped or merely get involved in drugs, gambling and serious cash flow problems.
Michele, 34, says: "She's not one of the crazier characters.
"I love the fact that she's quite hard and she has her humorous side so you have the opportunity to show her mucking about. And she loves gossip.
"You have these characters people love to hate and we know who they are. But Yvonne is possibly one of the more normal people - she generally plays it by the book and she's not particularly maverick."
That's not to say that PC Hemmingway is not without some spectacular problems of her own and at the moment she is getting at least her fair share of the strong storylines that go with that.
Michele says: "She throws herself absolutely into things.
"She doesn't have any children or husband or partner but she's become a kind of surrogate mother to Shirley (Leonora Critchlow).
"And she's helping her sister Beverley (Cecilia Noble) look after her niece.
"She's got this houseful of people she is looking after and - God love her - she's not doing a great job at the moment where things at work are concerned."
In fact Yvonne's predicament seems to have developed from an appearance by Michele in The Bill three years ago.
She says: "I played a community worker living on a sink estate who got involved with the youth who were running around and she neglected her family so her daughter tried to commit suicide.
"Before that I was in The Bill as a nice neighbour and a doctor but those appearances were cut quite severely.
"They are really open to suggestions about your character and sometimes you can tweak the odd line. I try to inject humour where I can."
Based in Brixton for more than 10 years, she says: "I grew up in Sudbury Hill near Wembley but defected over the river, got my visa.
"I did a theatre arts degree course at Rose Bruford College in Sidcup and Deptford and I have always had family in South London."
In 1996 Michele appeared in Mike Leigh's film Secrets and Lies and went on to work with the director in a play at Stratford East with Kathy Burke and Marianne-Jean Baptiste and in another movie, All or Nothing.
She says: "(With Mike Leigh) you workshop your character for weeks and you research whatever their job is."
But it's since The Bill that she has become used to be hailed by strangers in the street.
She says: "It takes a lot of getting used to, it's really strange and rather bizarre. But eight million people are watching the show and a lot of them live in London.
"It's a really odd thing for my four-year-old son to understand when we are out and people just start talking to me and it's a bit difficult even for my partner.
"People think they know me but generally they are really nice, especially in Brixton where the black community is very proud of all the black actors on the show.
"I am proud of the fact that we are doing such diverse things in The Bill and some of the storylines are really reflective of what is going on."
Michelle adds: "I love living in Brixton but we have got real problems."
At the moment she is struggling to get her son Solomon into the local primary school, Sudbourne which is only 500m from her home.
She says: "A lot of school buildings are becoming loft apartments and there is a lot of competition to get into schools. And even though I've got a great job it's hard to find an affordable house."
'I am proud of the fact that we are doing such diverse things in The Bill and some of the storylines are really reflective of what is going on'