Fortunate: Unlike his screen alter ego, Robert has been happily married for 35 years
But fans of the show clearly think that, far from being typecast, he’s brought something special to the part he’s been playing for 23 years.
The ninth series of the show makes its glorious return on Monday and, before it has even hit our screens, the actor reveals that die-hard fans have been stopping him in the most unusual places to rave about the show. “I was coming out of a public toilet in Hammersmith the other day and somebody whispered, ‘I really love your work’,”says Robert, 62. “Although I hope it was about my acting and nothing else.”
Reprising the role of David is a job he relishes and he’s thrilled that the show, which ran for five series from 1998 to 2003 and returned in 2016 after a 13-year absence, is still as revered as it once was. But why does it make us feel so good when we watch it?
“It’s because you see other people having a rubbish time and it acknowledges failure and human frailty and the dents and scratches that life throws at you,” he confesses.
Is it difficult to bring back something which was so successful the first time around?
“It was certainly of its time over 20 years ago. We filmed the pilot in 1997 but the only way that Cold Feet in its present form could work, is if it’s of its time again – and it really is,” says Robert.
“The show is as open-ended as life is, in that it throws out strange and difficult situations to cope with.”
Ageing well: Cold Feet stars in 1997
The last series – which follows five friends now in their 50s – aired at the beginning of 2019 and saw Jenny Gifford (Fay Ripley) receiving treatment for breast cancer.
“It has various serious themes running through it,” says Robert. “But ultimately it has to be done with wit and humour. Primarily the show’s remit is to entertain and it must never become issue bound because documentaries do that better than we ever could.”
In previous episodes, viewers saw David attempting to put his life back together after difficulties at work. In this series, he finds work in a cafe run by Mary, who he invites out on a date.
Meanwhile, he is trying to come to terms with the blossoming love affair between his ex-wife Karen (Hermione Norris) and Adam (James Nesbitt).
“We find David struggling with the developing romance between Karen and his best friend Adam and (in the first episode) the two end up in a fight,” says Robert. “But it is more about loss of balance than anything else and his feelings have developed out of massive frustration and a sense of belittlement.
“What initially is a shove turns into David taking a punch at Adam and they roll about on the pavement.”
The Cold Feet cast
In a recent interview, James Nesbitt admitted how the fight was so cold to film they had to shorten it.
“I haven’t read what he said about it but it’s really important not to moan as an actor because we are doing a flagship show on ITV and it is one of the biggest successes of modern television,” says Robert.
“I will put up with anything to be part of it and I don’t want any actor to hear me moaning about doing a show like Cold Feet when they would give their eye teeth to be involved in it.”
Famously photographed naked with the rest of the cast of Cold Feet to promote the show back in the day, Robert has taken his clothes off for various parts over the years, including the hit BBC sitcom Joking Apart, written by Steven Moffat, who penned the most recent version of BBC One drama Dracula.
“When I look at clips on YouTube, I think, “My God I look young in that,” chuckles Robert. “I was about 30-odd when I did it although I look about 10!
“I started on Cold Feet when I was in my late 30s and, looking back at publicity shots, I look so baby-faced and I had no grey hair. But what is enjoyable about Cold Feet is that we’ve all got older with it and the writing has allowed us to get older.
Adam and David clash in punch-up on Monday
“There was a dizziness of youth in the early episodes and now there is a puzzlement of old age!”
A role that eluded Robert was playing James Bond. “I was up for the role a long time ago but it eventually went to Timothy Dalton,” he reveals. “I didn’t even get to do a forward roll – I mean there is a limit to my physical stunt work – but I had a meeting with Barbara Broccoli at the Atheneum Hotel in Piccadilly.
“However, I think I was just being used as leverage to make Timothy Dalton sign up, ha ha.”
Happily married for 35 years to his artist wife Victoria (they have four daughters, Matilda, Clemency, Oriel and Honor) Robert, who lives in Sussex, says his family have kept his feet on the ground.
“Being a husband and father is all I’ve known for the past four decades and I think a lot of salesmen see less of their family than I do even though I’m away a lot.
“My wife is a painter. I’m glad she is not an actor but she is incredibly supportive of what I do.
“I’m rehearsing for a new play Love, Loss & Chianti (by award-winning British poet Christopher Reid) for four months from February and our wedding anniversary is in May, so I’m going to be working although I’ll definitely make up for it.
Robert Bathurst as Sergeant Wilson in Dad’s Army
“Last year we went on a road trip of Australia and New Zealand and we had the best time.”
So does Robert feel fortunate to have had a long and happy marriage unlike David, who is twice divorced?
“There is no equation between my screen self and my off-screen relationship and it’s fraught with danger trying to make any connection between the two,” he states simply. “However, it is extraordinary that David has clocked up two ex wives now – Robyn and Karen – and so it will be interesting to see if any romance is on the cards in this series.
“Jenny and Pete (John Thomson) suggest online dating to David. But I don’t think he is too aware of modern dating practices. He can never be ‘à la mode’ and is always trailing behind any current trends.”
In all the years of filming Cold Feet, Robert admits that “as a cast, they’re very close” and he has forged a close bond with John Thomson.
In 2006, John accepted he was an alcoholic, stopped drinking and turned his life around. He has since retrained as a Reiki therapist and Robert says he is proud of how he has battled his demons.
Laura Carmichael as Lady Edith, Robert Bathurst as Sir Anthony Strallan in ITV drama Downton Abbey
“John has had a history that didn’t do him any favours professionally and sometimes people who are in recovery become messianic and boring but the pleasure of John’s company is even better now,” he says. “I’ve never known anybody who has cleaned themselves up, who is still as exciting and good fun as John is. He’s yet to practise any Reiki on me but I’m sure he’ll get his clicky boots on and walk all over me one day!”
Having appeared in a plethora of roles from Sir Anthony Strallan in Downton Abbey, playing the late John Le Mesurier, the betrayed husband of comedienne Hattie Jacques, in BBC Four’s harrowing Hattie, an idle retired actor in C4’s Toast of London to more recently taking on the role of Sergeant Wilson in Dad’s Army: The Lost Episodes, Robert will forever be synonymous with the role of David Marsden.
However he isn’t confident that there will be another series of Cold Feet. “I never hold my breath and I suspect that it will be put on hold for the time being,” he says. “Like life, it is open-ended and we will see if this series works and if audiences love it as much as they have before.
“Ultimately if ITV do cancel it, then our job is to make their decision as difficult as possible.”
• Cold Feet returns on Monday at 9pm on ITV. Love, Loss & Chianti starts on February 25. For tickets, go to riversidestudios.co.uk/book/love-loss-chianti