DCI Banks and Doc Martin’s Caroline Catz on her Cheshire roots

Caroline Catz as DI Helen Morton in DCI Banks

Caroline Catz as DI Helen Morton in DCI Banks - Credit: Archant

As a star of TV’s Doc Martin and DCI Banks, Caroline Catz spends much of her working life in Cornwall and Yorkshire. But her acting ambitions began as a child in Cheshire

Caroline Catz as Louisa with Martin Clunes in Doc Martin

Caroline Catz as Louisa with Martin Clunes in Doc Martin - Credit: Archant

Caroline Catz has a very clear memory of what first inspired her to be an actor.

The year was 1978 and Caroline, only seven or eight, was in the audience at the Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester - theatre in the round - watching Robert Lindsay in Leaping Ginger.

‘I’ll never forget it. I remember thinking, I’d really love to do that one day,’ says Caroline. ‘It was so exciting to be in a theatre where you were up so close to the actors and you could see every bead of sweat, and you were immersed in the experience. We were so lucky in Manchester to be so well-served by theatres. That’s really what got me interested. But, weirdly enough, I’ve never worked there, at the Royal Exchange.’

But you’d be open to an invitation to come home, would you?

Caroline Catz as DI Helen Morton (right), Andrea Lowe as DS Annie Cabbot and Stephen Tompkinson as D

Caroline Catz as DI Helen Morton (right), Andrea Lowe as DS Annie Cabbot and Stephen Tompkinson as DCI Alan Banks in DCI Banks. - Credit: Archant

‘Very open to an invitation,’ Caroline agrees. Over to you, Royal Exchange.

Although she grew up in Altrincham, attended Loreto College in Manchester and as a teenager ‘couldn’t live without’ Monday club nights at the Ritz ballroom in Manchester, most TV viewers probably don’t associate Caroline with Cheshire or Manchester at all. For ten years, we have seen her expertly rolling her ‘Rs’ as Louisa, on-off romantic foil to Martin Clunes’s Doc Martin in the Cornish-based comedy drama which has such universal appeal that it is even broadcast in Belarus, Estonia and Uruguay, to name but a few of dozens of countries. Filming on a seventh series of Doc Martin begins in March.

Latterly, Caroline has spent much of her time in Yorkshire, filming ITV’s DCI Banks, in which she is the dour DI Helen Morton. That’s the role in which we see her next, as the fourth series of DCI Banks - with Stephen Tompkinson as DCI Alan Banks and Andrea Lowe as DS Annie Cabbot - comes to our screens in early March.

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If Doc Martin is feelgood drama, DCI Banks could be described as, in an enthralling way, feelbad drama. The storylines can be grim, often counterpointed by bleak moorland landscapes.

‘As always with these things, gallows humour comes into play,’ says Caroline of the atmosphere on set. ‘It’s always a joy working with Andrea and Stephen and we do have a lot of laughs along the way, surprisingly.

‘It’s so fantastic spending time up in Yorkshire. That’s what I love about the series, the way it uses that incredible landscape, beautiful moors alongside very built-up urban parts of Yorkshire. It’s evocative. It’s not high-tech, it’s very much to do with everyday people in this extraordinary environment.’

Caroline’s character, DI Morton is a repressed, by-the-book copper who inevitably ends up butting heads with colleagues.

‘I enjoy playing her,’ says Caroline, aged 44. ‘There’s a lot of fun to be had in playing a character who is very closed in a situation where she’s required to be giving a little more of herself. She has these slightly OCD tendencies, and is difficult to share an office with.’

There were no other actors in the family to fire the enthusiasm of Caroline as a child in Didsbury, then Altrincham. But her parents - dad from Liverpool, mum from Manchester - were ‘extremely supportive’ of her ambitions, even though Caroline herself describes her early yearning to act as ‘inexplicable’, bearing in mind that she was quite a shy child.

‘When I was 13, there used to be a touring production company that used to come to the Palace Theatre to do various plays, mainly Shakespeare, and they had some extra parts they used to give to local children,’ says Caroline. ‘There were massive queues round the block to have a couple of lines, or to be standing at the back of the stage for a week in these productions. I remember doing that in Romeo and Juliet, and it was really exciting. You got an experience of what it was all about to be an actor.’

At 14, Caroline was accepted into the National Youth Theatre.

‘I was absolutely thrilled when I got in,’ she recalls. ‘I went to London for a few summers, working with brilliant actors and directors. I remember, when I was 16, doing Murder In The Cathedral, and Daniel Craig was in that production.’

A spell at RADA followed, and Caroline began her professional career in the early 1990s. Today, she lives in London, but spends long periods filming in Yorkshire and Cornwall.

But what about her favourite places in her home territory of Cheshire?

Quarry Bank Mill,’ she replies. ‘That’s somewhere I still love going for walks. It’s beautiful.’

Catz Facts

She was born Caroline Caplan, but took Catz as a stage name when the actors’ union Equity told her there was already an actor with her name.

Caroline is known for many arresting performances: she has played more than her share of police officers in The Bill, The Vice, Murder In Suburbia and now DCI Banks.

It was in The Bill that Caroline met her busband Michael Higgs, who played rogue cop PC Eddie Santini. They live in London and have two children, Sonny and Honour, born in 2001 and 2006.

You may first have spotted Caroline in a series of adverts for Cadbury’s Milk Tray in the 1990s.

DCI Banks returns to ITV for a six-part series, beginning in March.