Two stars of classic police drama The Bill have joined forces for a brand-new comedy drama series, described as “the ultimate comfort listen”.
Letter from Helvetica is an eight-part fiction podcast, written by and starring Andrew Mackintosh, who played D.S. Alastair Greig in ITV’s ratings smash for a decade between 1989 and 1998. Natalie Roles, who later played Sun Hill’s scheming D.S. Debbie McAllister between 2000-04, stars opposite him.
The series takes a humorous look at civilisation through the eyes of Abby, a talented biologist on a research mission in Vanuatu; and her Uncle John, a retired army colonel living in Cornwall. The pair explore the world from both sides of the globe, discussing everything from culture and cuisine, to nature and naturism, introducing us along the way to a veritable feast of diverse characters all played by Mackintosh and Roles.
Prior to his decade solving crime on the streets of London, Mackintosh made his television debut on the cobbles, back in 1987 when he played an estate agent in Coronation Street.
Returning to acting for the first time in 20 years, Mackintosh described his new character in an interview with BBC Cornwall’s Emma Gill earlier this month, “John Stotter is a rather opinionated and sometimes difficult and cantankerous gentleman, living in a rambling old house in a tiny village tucked away in the far Western reaches of Cornwall…” He continues, “Letter from Helvetica takes a wry look at the nature of village life and turns on its head some of our preconceptions regarding what is ‘civilised’ and what is ‘primitive’.”
The series also takes a sideways glance at the sometimes peculiar and complex relationships with clothing that different cultures develop, even when clothing offers no discernible benefit. “As the narrative unfolds…” continues Mackintosh, “the Wesley family, already relaxed about nudity, conclude that clothing is unnecessary on a South Pacific Island and largely choose to go without.”
Speaking to BBC Somerset’s Mel Everett, his co-star Natalie Roles revealed that she has enjoyed learning about Vanuatu whilst preparing to play botanist Abigail Wesley. “Kava Kava is not only a herbal remedy used in medicine, but it is also enjoyed socially. Over here we go down to the pub for a pint, in Vanuatu they go to Kava Kava bars. It’s been fascinating to learn more about their culture.”
Letter from Helvetica is not the first time that Mackintosh and Roles have acted together. Prior to playing D.S. McAllister, Roles guest-starred in two episodes of The Bill in 1993 and 1997, both times playing a suspect being interviewed by Mackintosh’s D.S. Greig. The pair reconnected 25 years later as guests on Oliver Crocker’s The Bill Podcast, a popular series of interviews which has been played over 350,000 times. The trio then joined forces to create a crowdfund campaign for Letter from Helvetica, which was supported by The Bill fans all over the world and was successful enough to fund the first series, with a second currently in pre-production.
Their hopes are to continue for a third series and beyond, which would give Mackintosh an opportunity to tackle wider issues affecting Vanuatu today. “When I wrote the story, climate change was a crisis, but not an emergency. In the ensuing years, island nations like Vanuatu are at serious risk. Earlier this year, Vanuatu was hit by twin Category 4 cyclones within a 72-hour period, which caused widespread devastation. So as much as the series is a comedy, I would also like to help raise awareness of climate change.”Earning rave reviews and a place in Apple Podcast’s Top 40 Fiction Podcasts chart, Letter from Helvetica is streaming now on all good podcasting platforms.