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Friday, 13 October, 2000, 11:56 GMT 12:56 UK
Wilson mellow after Meldrew
By BBC News Online's Rebecca Thomas
TV heroes come and go but the passing of sitcom One Foot in the Grave's grump Victor Meldrew will jerk more tears than most - except from the actor who plays him, Richard Wilson.
After 10 years of bellowing and battling against life's stupidity, beleaguered pensioner Victor is about to find peace.
He is, we have been warned, to be killed off by a woman driver at the end of the new and final series of the hit sitcom.
Yet, while the British public braces itself for his demise, Wilson unashamedly admits he is glad to give Victor the boot.
"I'm not really sad it's all over," says Wilson in a voice more cultured and measured than his shrill One Foot tones.
"To be frank, it's a release. At the very least, it will stop people asking when there is going to be another series - something I am asked several times daily, particularly by taxi drivers.
"I know I will never escape Victor but a chapter of my life is over and now I can move on."
The 64-year-old Wilson has several things up his sleeve for his post-Meldrew existence. There are two new comedies in the pipeline - one about merchant banking and another with Stephanie Cole.
He also intends to devote more time to two of his passions - directing new stage plays and surfing the internet.
For now, Wilson is happy to talk about, and reminisce over, One Foot in the Grave.
The first programme in the new series is full of the mishaps and misunderstandings that have tormented Victor for years.
But with the title The Executioner's Song, the humour is noticeably blacker.
Wilson emits a throaty chuckle when reminded of the programme's title.
"David [Renwick, the writer] teases people all the way through the series. Everyone knows Victor is going to die - and they think they know how - but David has planted false trails along the way," he explains.
Renwick and Wilson had always said they would decide together when to draw a line under One Foot in the Grave. They also agreed Victor would never be killed off.
Ultimately, it was Renwick who made the move towards giving him the ultimate chop - and Wilson was happy to comply.
"If he had tried to kill him off in a way I found difficult I would have said something. But sending him off in a road accident is good in so much as it draws attention to bad driving," Wilson he adds with a wry smile.
Although glad to see the back of his alter ego, Wilson concedes he has fond memories of the show.
He particularly enjoyed the Algarve Christmas special and also found the episode on his own a treat.
"It was a great piece of writing. It was the only time we ever had to halt recording because the audience wouldn't stop laughing.
"It was the bit where Meldrew was doing a crossword with a leaky biro and he ended up with it all over his face."
Throughout that episode, Victor blasts out a full quota of his catchphrase: "I don't belieeeeve it".
But it is something Wilson never utters in real life - except to raise money for charity.
"I will never say 'it' to people, I am asked all the time but I just answer: 'Say what?'," he states.
"If someone shouts from the top of a building at me, I generally just put a thumb up. But there are days when I simply don't need it and don't respond."
The dapper Wilson says his only similarity with the rumpled Victor is a quick temper. But he adds that Renwick invented Victor with him in mind
Unlike the restless pensioner, Wilson has a wealth of interests.
He has supported and directed untried plays since graduating from drama school.
Wilson also remains a staunch supporter of the Labour Party despite what he calls "that mess over the London mayoral election".
And when he can fit it in, he travels from his home in London to assume his role as visiting professor of drama at Glasgow University.
With the end almost in sight, Wilson seems finally to mellow towards Victor.
"Victor is a cult figure and it is very nice to know that is always going to be there for me.
"It is also very humbling at times to hear from people who have found the show a comfort at some stage.
"By and large the advantages outweigh the disadvantages and if I were offered the part today, of course I would take it again."
One Foot in the Grave begins on Monday 16 October at 2100BST on BBC One.
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