Bill Maynard plays Claude Jeremiah Greengrass
Bill Maynard first became involved with Heartbeat when Yorkshire Television invited him to play the rôle of Claude Jeremiah Greengrass, Aidensfield's larger-than-life layabout and petty criminal, and one of Nicholas Rhea's most enduring characters. "It wasn't the principal rôle, and the description of the character was 'a little ferret of a man' but YTV felt that I could do something with it," Bill recalls. "I thought the character had a future, so I accepted the offer."
He was proved right, and the character continued to play a large part in events in Aidensfield until July 2000, when Bill Maynard suffered a serious stroke during the filming of Heartbeat Season 10. He had previously recovered from earlier minor strokes, but was now very seriously affected. At first Bill feared that he would never be able to work again, but the character of Claude Greengrass was so popular that it was decided to construct a new series around his altered circumstances. The spin-off series, called The Royal features staff and patients of a small cottage hospital in the Yorkshire town of Elsinby - and one of those patients is Claude Greengrass! Also promised for The Royal are appearances from current Heartbeat regulars who come to the hospital to visit patients etc...
Although the character of Claude Greengrass was created by Nicholas Rhea, Bill Maynard had a lot of influence in building the character, from the clothing (the trousers are from a suit he used in other shows, and the ex-Canadian army boots were also used in many other shows before) to the Greengrass trademarks. "The facial twitch, another trademark, was something I got from the actual person on whom I based the characterisation of Greengrass. You could always tell when this bloke was lying because he twitched. And I use the twitch when Greengrass is telling lies or in a compromising situation. The twitch has become such an integral part of the character that the public believe it is something I do all the time."
"There are a number of things that I share with Greengrass, most notably his joy in putting one over on authority, in a humorous way. Nobody has found the answer to the question: why is Blaketon so intent on nicking Greengrass? We think he might have stolen Blaketon's bird when younger or given him a thumping at school! With Blaketon, it's an obsession. It makes him do absolutely stupid things."
Getting to know Bill Maynard a bit better is useful in understanding his approach to the role. His autobiography shows a man with a rather colourful life, and a habit of going against the grain at times. The role of Greengrass has grown more important from series to series, and Maynard gives an explanation for this success:
"I have been asked many times how you keep a television character going for months or, in Greengrass's case, for years and still keep him interesting. The best analogy I know is to compare it with a marriage: you must keep changing yourself slowly but surely or your partner will first get bored and then irritated. At first, she likes the way you stroke your nose, a little gesture I was to use in my early TV days, when you are thinking hard. By the time the honeymoon is over she is likely to rear up and snap: 'I wish you would stop stroking your nose - it's beginning to get on my nerves'."
Rhea about Greengrass:
Bill is one of Britain's best loved TV comedy actors. He has been an entertainer since starting as a child performer in the Midlands before moving on to become a band singer and eventually headlining his own variety act. His most recent stage credits include the title role in the hit national tour of Hobson's Choice, Daddy Warbucks in Annie, the West End comedy Strippers and Orminroyd in the 1986 West End revival of J.B. Priestley's When We Are Married. His many hit television series include four successful series of Oh No, It's Selwyn Froggit, The Gaffer, The Life of Riley, the award winning Kisses at Fifty and a one-off special for Yorkshire Television Bill Maynard in Person. His memorable guest appearances in other hit series include Worzel Gummidge, Minder, Tales of the Unexpected and Till Death Us Do Part.