Quarshie goes back to his roots for Holby

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HOLBY City is shifting thousands of miles overseas to Ghana, as part of the BBC Africa season, following the fortunes of consultant Ric Griffin as he tries to establish a new life for himself.

For actor Hugh Quarshie, who plays Ric, it has provided him with the opportunity both to revisit his country of birth, and get to grips with one of his most rewarding storylines yet in the hospital-based soap. "Ric's larger-than-life ex-wife Lola has just rolled up in Holby," explains the actor, "and I think her appearance is the last straw for him, so he decides to take a job in Ghana.

"He sees it as a way of escaping the politics and stresses in his own life. It's somewhere he can recharge himself by getting back to uncomplicated medicine.

"The irony is, when he gets there, he realises there's no such thing, especially when you're constantly hustling to get funding for your clinic and struggling to find qualified doctors and nurses."

Quarshie was born in Accra, Ghana, where his father worked for the government. "I was three-and-a-half when we moved over to the UK," he says. "My dad was sent over by the new Ghana government to open the high commission in London and the embassy in Paris. He wasn't an ambassador himself, but he was a senior civil servant.

"You often get the impression it was similar to that famous chocolate ad, and was all chauffeur-driven Mercedes. But it wasn't like that at all."

Quarshie himself went on to be educated at Oxford.

"Well, I'm not sure quite how educated I was," he laughs, "but I was in the same college as Richard Curtis. I was one year behind Tony Blair and one ahead of Peter Mandelson, and I still haven't got a knighthood. Actually, I'm holding out for a peerage."

He admits that over the years, his connection with Ghana faded a little, particularly following his dad's death. However, on this return journey, things were a little different.

"I took my two daughters - Maya, 15, and Freya, nine - with me to see the country of their father's birth and suddenly it mattered very much to me that they enjoyed it and had a good time. And I'm very pleased and proud to say they did."

With so much of Quarshie's own background feeding into the plot, he did have a small hand in its creation.

"The storyline didn't exactly come from me," he reveals, "but I had long talks with the writer and I think he picked up one or two aspects of my life.

"My own relationship with my father wasn't quite so dramatic as Ric's was. There's a scene in this episode in a graveyard, which doesn't quite marry with the time I visited my own parent's grave - but if that sequence hadn't come off, then the episode as a whole wouldn't have worked.

"It's here he comes to terms with his past and the rather uneasy relationship he had with his dad.

"Thankfully, I didn't have the same difficulties. When I visited my father's grave in Ghana it was almost comical. I went there with some of my half-brothers and we laid a wreath, bowed our heads and shared silent grief.

"It was a solemn moment as we walked back to the cars, sadder but wiser men. And then, suddenly from behind us a voice went: 'Ere, mate, can I have your autograph?'

"But it was in keeping with the kind of man my father was - he could turn everything and anything into an amusing anecdote, so he would have enjoyed that.

"We were in Africa for five weeks and I stayed on to make a documentary for Radio 3. I also kept an audio diary and had an audience with the king of Ashanti during a festival where people came to pay tribute and knelt before him. We were privileged to witness all this and have a private audience.

"So, there were good reasons for staying after the Holby crew had returned home, and it was a delight to be back after so many years."

As for the BBC's season of Africa-related programmes, Quarshie says: "I think it's great that they've done this. Of course, they will be open to the accusation that this is just the view of white Westerners, but in a way they're damned if they do and they're damned if they don't.

"But it's commendable they've committed so much of their resources to film in the country, during the year of the Gleneagles summit, Live 8 and the cancelling of the debt. This is the greatest work I've done for Holby. I think it's one of the best episodes written. I'm very proud of it."

Despite that, fans of the show might be left a little shaken by the story's conclusion, which sees Ric decide to stay on in the country for good. Does this mark the end of the consultant's time in the show?

Quarshie cracks a wide smile: "Well, come on. It wouldn't be Holby without Ric, would it?"

Cheekily, he adds: "They'll always contrive to get their best characters back. He has to stay in the country for the integrity of the episode, but for the integrity of the series, he must return."

Away from hospital corridors, the actor has also made something of a name for himself in film, notably landing a part in Star Wars: The Phantom Menace. But, he has also been linked with another big screen role.

"I don't know where this came from," he says, referring to the rumours linking him to James Bond. "I thought Colin Salmon was up for it. I think I'd be a good villain, though. I'd be one of those really camp ones, sitting on a leather chair, stroking a cat and saying: 'Good evening Mr Bond, or should I call you 007?'.

"I'm sure I could do that quite well. But I can't even do a plausible Scottish or Irish accent, so I can't be James Bond, can I?"

Holby City, BBC One, Wednesday, 8pm

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