Page last updated at 09:17 GMT, Thursday, 22 January 2009

'Nerve-wracking move' from news to drama

By Jane Elliott
Health reporter, BBC News

Fergus and Julie Walters
Fergus with Julie Walters in Zurich

When TV producers asked the BBC's medical correspondent Fergus Walsh to play himself in a drama production for BBC1 he thought they were joking.

He had covered the story of Dr Anne Turner's assisted death in Switzerland and had got to know the family reasonably well.

He had even accompanied them to Switzerland when Dr Turner took her life and his filming played an important role in shaping the drama.

So when writer Frank McGuiness came to creating his play he included Fergus' role.

Sensitive handling

"I had lunch with them and pretty much became convinced that they were going to do something in a sensitive way," said Fergus.

"They had contacted the family so I agreed to give them the rushes of my interviews with Anne some of which had not been seen.

I think though it is the most nerve wracking thing I have done
Fergus Walsh

"Anne's decision to get the BBC involved was a key part of her final days. She had made her mind up that she was going to commit suicide, or assisted dying. With the help of Dignitas and she wanted to make a statement by doing that.

"She did not want to just do it quietly, she wanted to campaign at the same time.

"I talked about it with Frank and the producer and saw a number of screen plays and then they said 'would you like to play yourself?' I thought they were joking.

"The day of the read-through we met in a church in Bloomsbury, in London, with the entire cast.

"Up until then, I thought they would probably still get someone else. My daughters wanted David Tennant to play me."

But he said he "passed muster" and took part.

True to life


Anne Turner travelled to the Dignitas clinic in Switzerland in January 2006

Fergus said it was important his role was true to life, ensuring that he maintained his integrity and independence as a BBC correspondent.

But he said it had been a nerve-wracking experience to have an acting debut with such screen legends as Julie Walters, who plays Anne.

"Although I did not meet Anne very often she was a very determined person with a wicked sense of humour very sparky lady and Julie Walters captured that," he said.

"It is a very powerful piece of drama and sets out Anne's particular situation and her approach to her illness particularly well.

"I think though it is the most nerve wracking thing I have done. I felt very responsible to all the other people involved.

"I really enjoyed doing it though, meeting the actors and seeing how they work and working with a crew of 20-30 people was impressive."

And does he think it is the start of a new career?

"I think not. I am not waiting for the phone to ring."

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