Philip Glenister plays Mr Carter
Philip Glenister cheerfully admits that, for him, part of the appeal of Cranford was taking a step back from a certain DCI Gene Hunt.
The unashamedly old-school copper in the hit BBC One drama Life On Mars is undoubtedly one of TV's most memorable creations in recent years, but a change is as good as a rest, or so they say.
"Gene seemed to appeal very much to an audience out there, but I wanted to do something very, very different and get away from him," says Philip.
"Cranford came up and it's such a brilliantly written piece with a fantastic cast that it just seemed to be the perfect next job for me."
The actor jokes that about the only thing that Hunt and his Cranford character, land agent Mr Carter, have in common is a pair of sideburns.
"Mr Carter is complex, he's self-educated, a reformer who believes in education for the lower classes. I just like the idea of this man being slightly ahead of his time, as opposed to Gene being completely stuck in his – it's the contrast that appealed to me."
Mr Carter, who runs the estate of Lady Ludlow, takes Harry, a young boy from a dirt-poor local family, under his wing, and begins teaching him to read and write – contrary to his employer's (Lady Ludlow) rigid beliefs about class.
"Carter sees the potential in this young boy to achieve something and becomes a father figure," says Philip.
"He thinks that, through education, anybody, if they really want it enough, can do anything in life.
"Gaskell was a woman ahead of her time in many respects, a social reformer who believed in equality for women.
"She's also extraordinarily underrated as a novelist compared to the likes of Jane Austen and Charlotte Brönte, so I hope Cranford will help to redress the balance.
"She writes incredibly well, with great wit and pathos about an amazing period in our history, when radical changes were taking place.
"In that sense, there's a lot of relevance to what's happening in today's society, and I think this adaptation by Heidi Thomas is very true to what Gaskell was trying to say."
Philip, 44, is best known for his roles in contemporary dramas such as Clocking Off, State Of Play, Vincent and Roger Roger, but he says he enjoyed helping to conjure up Cranford's portrayal of 1840s Britain.
"If you're playing in a contemporary piece, you can be much freer with your movements and perhaps ad lib a bit more, whereas in this particular period you are much more restricted in your actions and social graces.
"On the plus side, it's a good discipline for an actor to have. The dressing up can be quite restricting, physically, but that's useful because it makes you stand and walk in a certain way."
Philip, who is married to actress Beth Goddard with two young daughters, adds that working with such a stellar cast might have intimidated a young Glenister straight out of London's Central School of Speech and Drama.
"It's such a huge cast, there's something like 25 principal actors, and most of them are so distinguished that it's fun just to come on set and see them all. I'm the only one who isn't titled actually!" he laughs.
"I think if I was 21 and fresh out of drama school I'd probably be petrified, but I've been around the block a bit now so it's more exciting and inspiring to come in and see the likes of Judi Dench, Michael Gambon, Eileen Atkins, Imelda Staunton and Francesca Annis."
And does life in that Victorian period appeal at all?
"Probably not, I like all my mod-cons such as central heating," says Philip.
"I suppose they were making some incredible advances at the time, but it still looks incredibly frightening to me.
"If you were going to have your leg chopped off they'd give you a glass of brandy as anaesthetic which is just not good enough – I'd need a vat to knock me out!"
Spoken just like you know who...