Amanda Burton starring in Silent Witness in 1996
The drama has acquired a stubborn new crimebuster in the form of Emilia Fox as Dr. Nikki Alexander, and Amanda has moved on to new pastures, playing a variety of characters, from an award-winning director in Waterloo Road to a creepy matriarch of gangland to Marcella.
She had hung up her lab coat and left. “I never considered coming back, quite frankly,” she says.
“I had the pleasure of doing a magazine shoot with Emilia about five years ago and we were laughing at the thought of Sam coming back then. We were like, ‘Ha ha ha, that’s not will never happen!'”
And then – just like that – it did. To mark the 25th anniversary of the series, which is now the longest-running crime drama in the world, Amanda, 65, has been invited back. She couldn’t have been more surprised – or delighted.
“When I got a phone call asking me to come back, I was completely blown away. It’s wonderful to be very surprised sometimes. I just thought, ‘What a great idea! How great that they think about doing that!’ I would have been crazy not to.”
That’s not to say Amanda didn’t have some initial doubts.
“At first, I was a little worried that Sam might be a detective on her last legs walking down the beach wearing an old tweed coat and called retired,” she says.
COOL AND CALM: The star on the set of the 25th anniversary series
HAPPY RETURN: Amanda with Silent Witness cast members David Caves, Genesis Lynea and Emilia Fox
But, of course, the character, last seen returning home to Northern Ireland when a family member was implicated in a murder, is still at the top of his game.
“I loved that she was still very pioneering, busy and connected – it meant a lot to me. I was very happy that she had not been found in a remote British village where she was judging competitions hens.”
The return was very moving. At a glitzy screening at a London theater this week – with real forensic experts in the lobby searching a mock crime scene for evidence in white scenes of crime officers’ suits – Amanda confessed, “When I first came back to the Silent Witness set, I felt like crying.”
What makes Sam’s return all the more compelling is that she’s now a more ambiguous character than the simple crusader of truth that she was. In the very timely new series, she and her husband Jomo (played by Holby City’s Hugh Quarshie) lead a medical company pioneering the use of the Health Passport.
Amanda played Professor Sam Ryan for eight years
After a dramatic incident, Sam calls Nikki and her team, Jack (David Caves) and Simone (Genesis Lynea), for help. Amanda says the fact that there is now a question mark over Sam’s probity creates a remote twist where she has a fascinating twist.
“Is she really telling the truth? Who does she work for? It’s very intriguing because Sam has always been on the right side and has always shown such integrity. Now we see that ‘She could be a double-edged sword.’
One group of people who will be particularly happy with Sam’s return are the legions of Silent Witness superfans. They often come to see Amanda to ask her when Sam is coming back.
“It often happens when I do my weekly shopping at the supermarket and I’m a bit of a captive audience… 20 bunches of bananas later! We always have a bit of a laugh about it.
“The fans, of course, are fantastic. They keep the show going.”
For her part, Emilia, 47, was just as happy to welcome Amanda back. His only concern was having to direct one of Silent Witness’ famous post-mortem scenes in front of an actress who gained worldwide fame for her poise and poise in such sequences.
Indeed, Amanda made it such a trademark that she earned the honor of a memorable French and Saunders parody called “Witless Silence.”
Wearing a glamorous gold dress, Emilia says, “It was the most exciting thing to be able to celebrate the 25th series of Silent Witness with the return of Amanda.
“However, it’s nerve-racking doing an autopsy on a good day. It’s even more nerve-wracking when you do it in front of Amanda.”
Amanda, dressed in a striped t-shirt, black suit, trainers and multicolored socks, says Emilia needn’t have worried as over the years she’s lost touch with the scalpels and bone saws. “I became a lot more disgusted,” she admits.
“I have to turn away now. I was extremely happy that Emilia did all the autopsies in this series. I could just be the spectator, put my beak in and be irritating.”
Perhaps the hardest part of playing SilentWitness is mastering the very complex medical terminology.
Emilia reveals, “We spend hours and hours learning the lines and trying to come up with puzzle formulas to remember them. ‘There are two Bs in that sentence and three Ws in that one.’ Amanda and I laughed a lot at the number of hours we spent learning lines. We could have cried.”
Viewers have been extremely pleased that there seems to be a solution to the long “will/won’t they?” question overlooking Nikki and Jack’s relationship as they enjoyed a much-anticipated kiss in the latest series. So will their romance grow this year?
“The kiss raised a lot of questions,” says Emilia.
“How do friends transition into a relationship? Does this relationship dominate everything? How does it work alongside work? What if it goes wrong? he if they are in conflict? Jack and Nikki to be together. It’s great that they have invested so much in this relationship.”
But fans shouldn’t expect a quick resolution.
“We wanted to put the breadcrumb trail and keep this flirtation and this ambiguity”, explains David, 42 years old. “We didn’t want it to be too much, too soon. We wanted to tease.”
Silent Witness still generates huge ratings of nine million viewers per episode. Emilia thinks staying relevant for 25 seasons can be part of her continued popularity.
“The DNA of the show is the crime stories and how people commit and solve crimes,” she says.
“But it also incorporates very current stories like health passports and difficult stories like domestic violence or care homes. We’re not afraid of that – the show can handle it. It gives us the chance to talk topics that people typically avoid. This allows viewers to discuss them from the safety of their couches.”
So, could the cast envision Silent Witness surviving another 25 years?
“I don’t know if they would still want me,” jokes Emilia. “I’ll be lucky if they invite me again when I’m 72. Yet they just got Amanda back. May they keep asking us to come back.”
Amanda chimes in, “You’ll just have to ask me 25 years from now. By then Sam will really be judging female competitions.”
- Series 25 of Silent Witness begins on BBC1 later this month