Hugh Bonneville plays Professor Gregory "Dolly" Parton
Hugh Bonneville plays Gregory, the "walking library", in Bonekickers.
The character has all the elements of someone who spends too much time at The Bodleian. He is also a womaniser and more than a recreational drinker. He is slightly locked in his own recreational world – like a lot of academics. But above all, he is desperately kind and sympathetic.
Hugh Bonneville has played a vast range of characters in his career, so what was it that drew him to playing Professor Gregory Parton?
Hugh says: "For Gregory, the past is a fascinating country and perhaps sometimes the present isn't as comforting. I found him quite compelling. I admired him, I liked him and I found myself feeling sorry for him sometimes - not because he's unhappy, but because he could have been a contender.
"He could have been a Daniel Mastiff [Michael Maloney], the urbane, arrogant TV historian in this series, but I think something happened a long time ago, and Gregory just thought, 'sod that, I'll just do what I do best'.
"He's not an ambitious man in the same way that Daniel is – media hungry, can play the game, savvy. Gregory thinks that side of it's all rubbish."
Hugh, who has made his name in such acclaimed dramas as Miss Austen Regrets, Tsunami – The Aftermath, Mary Whitehouse, Freezing and Five Days, continues: "Gregory is incredibly romantic about what he does, and that was really attractive. The feel of the parchment, the smell of a chamber as you open it for the first time affects him very much more than 'how do we market this?'
"Reading the scripts, I felt that Gregory had been through the mill a bit; there was a slightly haunted, mysterious quality around him that set him slightly
apart. He's a brilliant mind, but slightly bruised in some way.
"And then, of
course, he drinks too much and he certainly doesn't have much self-respect
in terms of his appearance. I don't think he's bought any new clothes
since 1992, or so, when that something happened to him and he just gave up
"That's why he resides best with his books, in his libraries,
blowing dust off manuscripts. That's where he's happiest. You can trust
books, they don't leap out and bash you up."
But there's more to Gregory than just a sad academic hiding away in the stacks. Hugh says: "You never quite know when he's being serious or when he's not, and I love that about him. He's very serious when it matters, but he likes pushing peoples' buttons, seeing their reactions. It's never malicious, but he'll be provocative to prompt a debate or some sort of reaction.
"It's a kind of mischievous intellect. You can never outwit him, he's got a phenomenally sharp brain (unlike the actor playing him). I like his twinkle, his wit, his nudging of boundaries – I'm very fond of him."
So with such a wealth already to work with, was there anyone in particular Hugh based the character on?
He says: "I share the qualities of being six foot two and overweight and liking red wine, but our archaeology advisor Mark Horton was also a great inspiration. He's a very bubbly, glass-half-full person with such a positive outlook on life. He's a poet of his craft who clearly absolutely loves what he does;
it was incredibly infectious.
"In Mark, it comes out like an overgrown prep-school boy who's just discovered conkers – he literally froths at the mouth when he's telling you about some dig or artefact or lecture.
"But I made Gregory a minor-key version of that – he doesn't effervesce but, deep down, he adores it. While taking solace in the past, he also finds it deeply thrilling. Anyone who has a passion, a genuine, profound love of what they do, however it expresses itself, is captivating."
Hugh got involved with Bonekickers in the first place because he had worked
with Matthew Graham before – and it didn't take much to agree on how Gregory would essentially be.
He says: "I just said: 'the only thing I feel strongly about the character is that he doesn't shave, he won't run if he can walk and he won't stand if he can sit,' and Matthew said: 'Fine!' And that was that!"
The actor thinks the team dynamic works very well in Bonekickers because each character brings a different skill to the party. Ultimately, however, he concludes: "Gregory's main relationship is with the mouldy lump of cheese in his fridge, his hip flask and various female archaeologists from around the world. Those are his main buffers in the pinball machine of life!"