Playing a devoted teacher and bullying victim in Coronation Street sadly struck a chord with star Peter Gunn.
Millions of viewers have watched mild-mannered Brian Packham, who is devoted to doing his utmost for the Corrie school kids, being manipulated by Bessie Street Primary’s deputy head Phil.
The storyline brought him straight back to an unpleasant experience Peter had in real-life as a young actor on one of his very first jobs.
A veteran actor abruptly put him in his place when he got all the laughs rather than the star of the show.
Peter, 55, says: “We used to film on a Thursday in a live studio in London. I was a policeman and I got a laugh and I thought, ‘brilliant’.
“But he got it wrong deliberately and as we had to set up to go again he said to me, ‘don’t ever do that again’.
He didn’t like that I had got the laugh. We did it again and I didn’t get a laugh and we carried on.
“That was the first time I thought, ‘what was going on there?’
"I think that was to do with ego, in a similar way to Phil at Bessie Street. It was an early lesson for me. It was a real shock to think, ‘I ’m trying my best here and I got a laugh’, he was older and more bitter. I was keen as mustard, I thought it was brilliant. I really loved the programme, and him as an actor, and then you get this slap down.”
Brian has been under pressure from Phil
Peter’s real life encounter echoes his character Brian, whose egotistical boss is taking all the credit for his work.
He has been popping energy pills to cope with the extra workload Phil has piled on to him.
And Corrie fans have seen him at breaking point when he suffered heart palpitations and collapsed in the staff room to be found by little Liam Connor who feared his favourite teacher was dead.
But last night’s episode had an uplifting ending – literally.
Peter says: “Phil wants to take credit for the nativity and tells Brian to go home. But Brian wants to be there so turns up, one thing leads to another and he gets hoisted up on a wire. The kids start pushing him and swinging him around like a conker.
“The nativity is a pivotal moment for Brian. It makes him think about whether or not he should carry on as a teacher. He had always thought teaching was his vocation, his passion. But the experience with Phil has really shocked him.”
Brian is hoisted above the audience
(Image: Andrew Boyce)
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The most pivotal moment in Peter’s own life came when an old friend from his hometown of Lytham St Anne’s called from Hollywood.
That pal was Peter Chelsom, about to direct what would be one of Disney’s most successful films Hannah Montana: The Movie, and he was convinced his old pal was perfect for the role of mean music journalist Oswald Granger.
At the time, Peter might have been the only person on the planet not to recognise the name of Hannah Montana. He asked his wife Julie to pop to their local Disney store to ask for info – and she returned with news that the store was filled wall-to-wall with merchandise based on Hannah, played by pop star Miley Cyrus.
But the red tape standing between Peter and his big role in America looked impossible to cut – until a loving gesture from Peter’s mum paved the way to his appearance in the worldwide cinema hit.
“A Disney attorney tried to convince the Screen Actors’ Guild to let me in but you have to make a case that you are the best actor for the job and have evidence.
“I remembered my mum had a scrap book called ‘Peter’s progress’ – every scrap of work I’ve ever done was in there. I digitised it and sent it to America. And the attorney was like, ‘This is gold dust Peter, thanks to your mom!’”.
Hannah Montanna’s influence stretched as far as the American Embassy in London.
Peter says: “To apply for my visa I went down to the embassy all suited and booted, expecting to be interviewed.
“I sat down in this booth and the lady just said, ‘So, Hannah Montanna’. So I said yes, and she said, ‘have a great time’ and stamped my documents. That is the power of Hannah Montana.”
Peter, who lives in Blackburn with Julie and sons Tom and George, spent three months living in the States while he made the film in 2009.
“Part of the deal was that my wife and kids came out for eight weeks. We were in Nashville and LA – it just blew our minds.”
The movie made £100 million at the box office and Peter a big fan of its star Miley.
Hannah Montana made Miley Cyrus a huge star
He says: “I have never experienced anyone work so hard and be so disciplined, and she was just 15.
“There were loads of songs in the movie and she never mimed once. She belted it out every single time.
“We would do five days on the movie set and then weekends off. On a Friday Miley would get on a private jet and fly to whatever stadium in the States to do two concerts at the weekend, then she’d be back on set on Monday at 7am word perfect.
“She never had a day off and couldn’t go to the mall or movies because the place would erupt. We were filming in Rodeo Drive and as soon as people realised she was there they had to get the LAPD to close everything off – it was pandemonium.”
Peter’s admiration didn’t wane throughout Miley’s controversial twerking and wrecking ball phase.
“Even back then, anything she did was on the telly, in the press. So the pressure was already building up on her.
“If you think she was the highest paid teenager in history at one point, earning hundreds of millions of dollars, so she’s going to go off the rails. But she hasn’t gone too far off them.
“I think she could’ve done far worse, because others have. Somehow she’s managed to calm herself and find a happy medium.”
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Another firm Miley fan is Corrie’s Lucy Fallon, who plays Bethany Platt and was awed to meet Peter.
“Lucy was hilarious when we were filming Cathy and Roy’s wedding.
“It was the first time I had met her and we were sat together chatting, and then she mentioned Hannah Montana. She used to be a superfan and couldn’t believe it when I joined Corrie.”
Peter has appeared in countless TV dramas as well as British films Brassed Off, 24 Hour Party People and When Saturday Comes before first stepping on the Weatherfield cobbles in 2010.
Back then he was the head of English at the school where he worked alongside John Stape, Fiz’s murderous ex who kidnapped Rosie Webster.
He had an on-off romance with Julie Carp, which began over their mutual love of singer Neil Diamond.
But Brian has moved on from Julie and now lives at 12 Coronation Street with Cathy and her nephew and spends most of his time surrounded by young pupils at Bessie Street.
Brian flies high for the kids
(Image: Andrew Boyce)
Peter, who was a real-life governor at his sons’ school for ten years, says:
“I love working with the kids. They are all really good, and in the nativity story that’s coming up Jack and Liam do a rap and they were brilliant.
“To be honest they’re more focused than we are. For me, as an adult, I don’t want to be shown up by them.”
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