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Manchester Evening News
Manchester Evening News
Adam Maidment

Where the Early Doors cast are 20 years on - from Duffy to The Grapes' landlord

It’s been nearly 20 years since we were first introduced to the punters of The Grapes pub, but popular BBC sitcom Early Doors still holds an important place in many of our hearts.

The series, created by The Royle Family co-writers Craig Cash and Phil Mealey, is set in the fictional Stockport pub where love, life, happiness and blocked urinals (of course) ensue. The show, which ran from 2003 to 2004, was a sleeper hit and has since been described as 'one of the best British sitcoms'.

Since then, the show has spurred a live show - which won M.E.N's CityLife Award for Best Theatre Production in 2019 - and saw the original cast reunite on stage. A special screening of the live show, held in aid of The Christie, also took place last year.

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Fans still hold the 12-episode show dearly, with many saying it stands the test of time and holds up during repeated viewings. With that in mind, we thought we’d look at what the cast of Early Doors have been up to since The Grapes called last orders.

John Henshaw

Actor John Henshaw in 2017 (Sean Hansford Manchester Evening)

Taking on the role of The Grapes landlord Ken Dixon, John Henshaw’s sarcastic character was seen as the glue to the show. Despite a slightly-dodgy past, including forgery and keeping charity money for himself, he was essentially a kind-hearted soul.

Prior to Early Doors, Henshaw, from Ancoats, was already known to most people for his appearances in Stanton Blues and Nice Guy Eddie. After the show, he starred in Looking For Eric and BBC comedy The Visit.

Henshaw has also made appearances in Downton Abbey, New Tricks, Midsummer Murders, A Street Cat Named Bob and The Man Who Invented Christmas. He is currently working on a number of projects, including comedy The Blundering Idiots.

Craig Cash

The cast of The Royale Family (BBC)

Co-writer Craig Cash starred in the show as popular punter Joe. Most people will recognise his voice as the narrator of Channel 4 series Googlebox, a role he's had since 2016 after taking over the position from The Royle Family co-star Caroline Aherne following her tragic death.

Speaking of The Royle Family, Cash and the entire cast returned for a series of Christmas specials from 2006 to 2012, earning Cash his second BAFTA win in 2007 for Best Situation Comedy.

In 2015, Cash directed and executive produced the Sky comedy drama After Hours, which starred Jaime Winstone and Ardal O'Hanlon. The next year, he starred and directed another Sky comedy called Rovers.

Phil Mealey

Phil Mealey and Craig Cash in 2019 (Manchester Evening News)

Second writer Phil Mealey, from Stockport, also starred in Early Doors, taking on the role of Duffy. Along with Joe, the pair were described as being the ‘lads’ of the pub with their friendship going back to their childhood.

Mealey has also co-wrote episodes of The Royle Family with co-star Cash, and the pair worked together again on three-part BBC series Sunshine in 2008. He’s also appeared in a few episodes of Emmerdale as DC Norton.

Maxine Peake

Maxine Peake in Rules of the Game (BBC/The Forge/Brian Sweeney)

Maxine Peake’s Janice only appeared in the first season of Early Doors. The single mother would often ask punters to look after her baby while she went to the aerobic class upstairs. It was even suggested at one point that Duffy might be the father to her child.

Following Early Doors, Peake, who was already known for her legendary role as Twinkle in Dinnerladies, went on to make iconic appearances in Shameless, Little Dorrit and Silk.

In 2006, she took on the role of Myra Hindley in See No Evil: The Moors Murders and starred in the titular role in 2010's The Secret Diaries of Miss Anne Lister. Peake was nominated for a BAFTA TV Award for her role in 2009's Hancock & Joan.

She has also appeared in Mike Leigh's 2018 film Peterloo and was recently seen in ITV's four-part historical drama Anne, based around campaigner Anne Williams. A renowned theatre star, Peake has starred in adaptations of Hamlet, A Streetcar Named Desire and The Deep Blue Sea. She received the Outstanding Contribution to British Theatre title at the 2018 UK Theatre Awards.

Mark Benton

Mark Benton as Feldman in ITV's The Halcyon (newcastle chronicle)

Taking on the role of ‘simple minded’ Eddie Bell was Yorkshire actor Mark Benton.

Since Early Doors, Benton has appeared in films Anna and the Apocalypse, Ratburger, and Clash of the Santas, but it's on TV where he has continued to make a name for himself. He was a series regular on Land Girls, Scoop and Mr Blue Sky before heading into the role of Daniel Chalk for Waterloo Road, where he remained for 49 episodes from 2011 until 2014.

In 2013, Benton became a contestant on the eleventh series of Strictly Come Dancing, where he was partnered with Iveta Lukosiute. The couple lasted until week ten, coming 6th.

He has most recently appeared in four series of Shakespeare & Hathaway: Private Investigators, alongside Jo Joyner. Benton takes on the role of Frank Hathaway.

Lorraine Cheshire

Lorraine Cheshire in Sky's Trollied (Sky)

Hulme-born actress Lorraine Cheshire played the role of Eddie’s wife Joan in the hit BBC series.

Since Early Doors, Cheshire has appeared in Cranford, Clocking Off, Having it and Holby City. From 2007 until 2012, just narrowly missing Benton, she appeared in Waterloo Road as Fleur Budgen.

Cheshire appeared in 63 episodes of Sky sitcom Trollied from 2011 until 2018 and currently stars as Lorraine Bird in Channel 4’s Ackley Bridge.

Rodney Litchfield

Rodney Litchfield as Tommy in Early Doors (BBC)

Wigan-born actor Rodney Litchfield took on the role of the solitary Tommy, who was often seen drinking in The Grapes on his own looking miserable.

Litchfield sadly passed away at the age of 80 in September 2020, but in the years before he had appeared in a number of different films and TV projects. Most notably, he took on a recurring role in Coronation Street as Wilf Morton in 2007, appeared in three episodes of Shameless, and starred in 2008's Sunshine, which was co-written by Cash and Mealey.

Susan Cookson

Emmerdale star Susan Cookson as Wendy Posner (ITV)

Prior to appearing in Early Doors as barmaid Tanya, Susan Cookson had spent two years on Casualty playing the role of Julie Day. In 2005, after Early Doors, she returned to the popular hospital drama in the new role of Maggie Coldwell, from 2005 until 2009.

Cookson has also appeared in Clocking Off, Queer as Folk, Last Tango in Halifax and Land Girls. She can currently be seen as Wendy Posner in Emmerdale, a role she's had since 2019.

Rita May

Rita May in Trollied (Sky)

Rita May began her career as a singer on the working men's club circuit in South Yorkshire. In the late 1980s, she became best known for her roles as Mags in Children's Ward.

Following her stint as Jean Dixon, Ken's mother, in Early Doors, May went on to appear in the likes of Trollied, Ackley Bridge and Drop Dead Gorgeous. From 2009 to 2010, she became a recurring member of Coronation Street in the role of Connie Rathbone. She most recently took the role of Mrs Cardwell in last year's movie adaptation of Everybody's Talking About Jamie.

Christine Bottomley

Actress Christine Bottomley in 2018 (Manchester Evening News)

Rochdale-born actress Christine Bottomley took on the role of Melanie Dixon, Ken's stepdaughter and only child. Following her stint on the sitcom, the actress went on to appear in Shameless, The Innocence Project, Silent Witness and Great Night Out.

She has appeared alongside co-star Peake in a number of films, including Funny Cow and Peterloo. She played the recurring role of Gwen in The End of the F***ing World and most recently played Scribonia in Domina.

Bottomley is a regular voice actress for BBC Radio 3 and 4, appearing in numerous productions over the years for which she has won Best Actress at the BBC Audio Drama Awards three times.

James McAvoy

James McAvoy at BAM Harvey Theater on April 14, 2022 in New York City (Getty Images)

Who hasn’t heard of James McAvoy at this point? The popular Scottish actor had a brief stint in Early Doors as Melanie’s boyfriend in season one.

From then on, the Shameless actor has gone on to tackle Hollywood in some of the biggest roles such as The Last King of Scotland, Atonement, Split, Wanted It Chapter Two, Muppets Most Wanted and Sherlock Gnomes. He also starred as a young Charles Xavier in the X-Men series.

He won the Rising Star award at the British Academy Film Awards in 2006, and has been nominated for two Best Actor nods at the awards ceremony since.

Lee Ingleby

Lee Ingleby as David Collins in ITV's Innocent (ITV)

Taking on the role of Mel's boyfriend Dean in Series 2 was Burnley actor Lee Ingleby. Following the show, he took on the role of Stan Shunpike in 2004's Harry Potter and The Prisoner of Azkaban. He also starred as Detective Sergeant John Bacchus from 2007 to 2017 in Inspector George Gently, and appeared in the likes of Luther, Crooked House and Life on Mars.

Perhaps his biggest achievement could be that he took over the voice role of Bob The Builder from Neil Morrissey in 2015. Until 2018, he played the iconic builder character and even starred in its 2017 film Bob the Builder: Mega Machines.

Peter Wight

Peter Wight in Our Zoo (Handout)

Nige was a local police officer played by Peter Wight, who often liked to be the rule-breaker himself alongside his partner Phil (played by James Quinn). Wight has gone on to appear in Pride & Prejudice, Waking the Dead, Hot Fuzz, Babel and My Week with Marilyn, playing the role of the dad of Lucy Armstrong, played by Emma Watson.

Also a renown stage star, Wright has appeared in a number of theatre productions including Much Ado About Nothing, Hamlet, The Red Lion and Uncle Vanya at London's Harold Pinter Theatre in 2020.

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