Last Friday night was a homecoming for Mark Gatiss. The County Durham-born actor and writer, who has gained an international following for his work on Sherlock and Doctor Who, paid a visit to Carmel College in Darlington for an In Conversation event in association with Teesside University.
An audience ranging from grown-ups who remember the League of Gentlemen to excited teens in Sherlock T-shirts mingled in the school foyer. There wer also EXTERMINATE-ing daleks supplied by Stockton's Doctor Who gift shop Who-ray. Mark was interviewed on stage in the hall and afterwards signed autographs late into the night.
The event raised thousands of pounds for the Mayor of Darlington's charities: Butterwick House (a hospice for babies, children and young adults in Stockton) and Phoenix House Recovery Unit in Catterick (which helps those who have been wounded, injured or become sick while serving the country).
Mark also gave a little time to speak to Living North again. Here's what we found out.
Where is your favourite place in the North East?
Ooh, probably Middleton-on-Teesdale. I used to collect fossils there. Actually, Durham is my favourite – the cathedral is just beautiful.
What do you think of the people in the North East?
Very warm, funny, friendly. I'm always very proud of coming from here. The people never let you down. I was out with my dad's walking group last night, just 'the lads' as they're called, and they're all about 90, and we had such a good laugh! They're all such characters, you know?
Have you ever filmed anything here?
I filmed my very first TV show in Darlington. It was an ill-fated Michael Elphick TV series called Harry. They advertised for Darlington-born actors – which is not quite true for me [Mark hails from School Aycliffe] – and it was my first job. Then my second show was a Catherine Cookson. I did George Gently a few years back too, in Durham.
You're appearing in the highly anticipated Dad's Army film which has been filming on the Yorkshire coast, what's that been like?
It's all the places I used to go on holiday. I went to Peasholm Park in Scarborough, which used to be the highlight of our trips! It's still lovely actually, I was hoping to go when it's all lit up but I wasn't there in time, and I missed the miniature sea battle. But it was lovely. It's been nice to visit those places again.
Do you feel nostalgic when you come back to the region?
Everywhere's filled with memories. I was going around Darlington yesterday thinking about places that had gone and new places that have popped up. I was really thrilled that the old Odeon has been restored to its original form, I just turned the corner and went, 'Bloody hell!' It's the last thing you expect, it's fantastic. A lot of places have a lot of new money. I mean, Whitley Bay... the last time I was there Spanish City was a dump but Whitley Bay's just gorgeous now. The weirdest part was how the world had moved on. I was lying in bed feeling cosy and I tweeted that the last time I was in Whitley Bay was to see Spandau Ballet at the ice rink. Immediately Martin Kemp replies, 'I remember that gig!' Isn't that weird?
How has Darlington changed from when you were growing up?
I'm very sad the Arts Centre has closed. That's where I used to hang out as a teenager and it was a wonderful place. But I am very glad the Art Shop is flourishing, it seems bigger than ever. I always like to go to art shops. It's very quiet and you can buy some oil paints... it's like a church.
Who would you say were the most interesting people to come from the region?
Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer.
Will Doctor Who ever visit the region?
I've tried! There is an old episode set here called The Mark of the Rani, which is set in Killingworth, but it was filmed in an industrial museum somewhere else and there's not a real Geordie in it. Last year I wrote an episode which was deliberately set in the North, called the Crimson Horror, but that's just outside Bradford. I'm working on it!
Do you have any advice for young people from the region?
Grow up. Haha! I would say, 'Work hard and enjoy yourself.'