There’s dedication to the job, and there’s having to sweat your way through Army training to get into character – as Ben Miles discovered when he landed the role of Major Harry Markham in new BBC1 period drama The Last Post.
The six-parter, which is full of intrigue with the odd steamy scene, is set during the British Army’s time in Aden, Yemen, in the 1960s – and Ben and his fellow cast members had to undertake a gruelling training regime.
“We had a two-week military training boot camp before we started filming in Cape Town [in South Africa], which was very helpful,” says Ben, 50.
“It taught us all about guns, manoeuvres, how you patrol, discipline, rank, duty and coming together as a unit. It was more helpful than I thought it would be, I must admit. And everybody changed physically – we became fitter and more soldier-like.
“I also gained a new respect for the Armed Forces.
“The guy who taught us, Paul, was an ex-paratrooper who’d served in Afghanistan and Iraq. You think these guys are just show-offs, but they’d actually been through a hellish time.
“When you spend every day with a guy who’s been there, you think: ‘I’m not sure I could have done that.’”
But as Ben – who played RAF Captain Peter Townsend in Netflix’s The Crown – found, boot camp was no place for luvvie behaviour.
“Usually for actors working on a drama, it’s really nice. Here, though, you’ve got this guy shouting: ‘Get Up! Get down! Run up that hill…’” recalls Ben.
“I remember being quite resistant to it, going: ‘All right, all right, there’s no need to shout.’ But actually that’s part of the Army thing, to brutalise you in a way and get you used to anger and conflict because that’s what you’re going into.
“We used to giggle occasionally, but if Paul saw you laughing, he’d have you doing 20 press-ups and then you learnt not to laugh. It was like proper Army training.”
It wasn’t all taking orders, though, seeing as Ben was playing the man in charge.
“I also got to practise telling other people what to do and shouting at them,” he laughs. “It was fun, although I lost my voice on the first day from shouting so much!”
The Last Post not only follows the work of the Royal Military Police, but also the lives of their families who are stationed with them in Yemen. Major Markham is married to Mary (Amanda Drew), and the cast also includes The Child In Time’s Stephen Campbell Moore and Call The Midwife’s Jessica Raine.
However, although the drama is set five decades ago, Ben says it still raises important questions today.
“It makes you think about what the British Army were doing in Yemen in the first place and why the British Empire began,” he says.
“It’s a show about colonisation and whether that’s good or bad. What right does anybody have to go to another country and claim to be ‘civilising’ it, telling people what to do? These questions have been going on for centuries.”
The team filmed in Cape Town – which doubled for Yemen – for four months late last year and, bizarrely, one of the things Ben missed most about Britain was the weather.
“The heat and the sunshine there is nice, but to have that consistently, especially from November to February, feels strange. Your genetic make-up is going: ‘What’s going on?!’” he laughs. “I missed the whole of the English winter, so I’m looking forward to it this year.”
Something that Ben would also enjoy is the return of Coupling, the BBC2 sitcom in which he played Patrick Maitland in the noughties.
“It would be hilarious,” says Ben. “I don’t know if it will happen. I think Patrick’s probably exactly the same as he was then!”
NEW! The Last Post, Sunday, 9pm, BBC One
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