No-nonsense Mark gets back in the habit

The cast of Father Brown.
The cast of Father Brown.

Mark Williams, looking dapper in a brown tweed jacket and shirt covered in fish illustrations, topped off with square glasses and an impressive handlebar moustache, is in fighting spirit.

It’s the fact that some people still see him as a comedy, not drama, actor which has set him off.

“Well, it’s only a few people in the BBC. In America they see me as a major British character actor, but unfortunately the BBC is pretty parochial and people are institutionalised here,” he says, sitting in the BBC offices as he speaks.

“But I’ve never been a stand-up and I did The Fast Show 20 years ago. It’s like, ‘Get over it, get out more!’”

That’s not his only gripe with the Beeb – the recent split which saw some of the institution move to Salford has upset him too.

“I spent 35 weeks of last year working away. I’m away from my family too much. They’ve not thought about it at all,” he continues.

His family includes his wife, and a daughter, now aged 11, from a previous relationship.

“She’s brilliant,” he says. “I didn’t have a sister, so I’ve enjoyed her growing up. I find myself thinking, ‘Oh, that’s why girls are like that.’ She’s solved so many mysteries for me about women.”

His daughter has popped up twice in his new series of Father Brown – the lead character of which is based on ex-Heckmondwike priest Father John O’Connor, a crime-solving Roman Catholic cleric.

The show’s back for a second series and Williams says we can expect more of the same: “Every episode is a solution to a crime and involves quite complex situations.”

He remembers clearly the moment he landed the titular role in the show. He was filming Blandings at the time, which he’s no longer a part of. “And thereby hangs a tale – skulduggery that was. They decided they were going to move filming to a point where I could no longer do it. We’ll see what it’s like when it comes out, because I personally have cursed it.”

Anyway, he got a call from his agent telling him that the makers of Father Brown would like him to do the show.

“I said, ‘Oh brilliant – what’s the part? A murderer? A kindly doctor?’ But she just said, ‘No, Father Brown’.”

He thought for about 10 seconds then said yes.

Christianity has long been a part of the actor’s life – he sang in the choir at his local church during his childhood.

“I also know my Bible,” he says, a result, he points out, of studying English Literature at Oxford University.

He won’t say if he’s still religious though: “I’m not telling anybody – I don’t think it’s valid for me to talk about faith.”