Real lives: James Martin's first big role was bridging the gender gap

Veteran actor James Martin of Musselburgh is set to celebrate his 80th birthday and a career of more than 40 years that's still going strong - despite not having the most gracious of beginnings.

Mr Martin was in his 30s and living in Glasgow when he first appeared on screen, in 1967, for a TV production about murders that had taken place on the River Clyde in Victorian times: "This lady jumped into the Clyde from the suspension bridge in the middle of the town and (the TV producer] wanted some stunt workers, but couldn't find anyone to do it," he said. "I jokingly asked if she was a big woman, and he said no, so I said I'd do it. So I put on the crinoline and jumped off the bridge. I had to jump off the bridge in a Victorian outfit. There was a single shot of the lady and then there was a long shot from the shore and me just jumping over. I got 25 guineas for that."

Prior to entering the acting profession full-time in 1972, Mr Martin served in the Royal Navy for seven years. After that he returned to Glasgow to become a fireman, acting as coxswain on the fire boats. But that career ended after he was injured while attending an office fire: "I had a problem with my left knee. When I went along to the fire, it was a small fire in a one-storey office. I was up a ladder and needed to take the hose down, but I couldn't get my leg out of the lock. I was more or less rescued from my own ladder."

It was during three months in rehabilitation that Mr Martin got his first taste of performing on-screen, but after retiring from the fire service it was the theatre in which he was most interested.

He said: "One director wanted to see me and he said: 'Jimmy, I'm not going to cast you. I like actors who have formal training.' The old Telford College was doing a course called dramatic art-related studies, so I did a year, and all my fellow students were about 20 or 21.

"That year was incredible, and when I finished my agent phoned me up and said 'Paul Pinson the director wants to see you', so I went along and he was reading my CV and he said: 'Oh, I see you've had formal training. I don't believe in that, it's a lot of nonsense.'"

Since then Mr Martin has performed on stage, in television, films and in commercials.

A favourite character has been Eric from television sitcom "Still Game", whom he played between 2001 and 2007.

While he's showing no sign of slowing down, he and wife Christine are planning to take time out to celebrate: "My wife's got me a week's holiday in Chicago and New York. I've always had a hankering to see Chicago, there's a great theatre scene in Chicago. I've been a very lucky man, I'm teetotal, I don't smoke and I'm doing what I like to do and I'm still doing it at my age."