JAMES Bradshaw is no stranger to Oxford, having starred as the wry pathologist in the Inspector Morse prequel Endeavour. This week the actor is back in town – but his latest role could not be more different to the dapper Dr Max DeBryn who endeared himself to fans of the city sleuth for dispensing witty quips while examining bumped off souls.

Instead he plays ABBA fan Edward, co-star of The Way Old Friends Do – a feelgood celebration of friendship and pop music written by Ian Hallard and directed by League of Gentlemen and Sherlock star Mark Gatiss.

It is today on stage at the Oxford Playhouse.

The story, initially set in 1988, tells of two schoolboy chums who have mutual secrets that they hesitantly share with one another.

One announces that he is gay, the other confesses even more startlingly that he is an ABBA fan. Moving on 30 years, a chance meeting brings them together again, and they decide to have a whole new adventure – to form the world’s first ABBA tribute band in drag – and take it on the road.

Oxford Mail: Ian Hallard and Mark Gatiss. Darren Bell

Ian Hallard & Mark Gatiss -  Picture: Darren Bell

So is James an Abba fan?

“Well yes ever since the 1990s when I bought Abba Gold and went overboard for Dancing Queen,” he says.

“But Ian, who wrote the play, is an absolute Abba authority. Playwright Ian Hallard is married to the show’s director, Mark Gatiss, who among many roles is possibly best known for playing Mycroft Holmes in the Sherlock TV series. Hallard had to get special permission from Abba as they rarely agree to people performing their songs. Happily Benny Andersson gave it his blessing.”

He was determined to take the part as soon as he read the script.

“When I first read it through I was laughing out loud so much,” he says.

“It’s so very heart-warming that I knew straight away that I wanted to do it. I was delighted to get the role and it has been a joy to work with the cast. We have all got on so well and have had no fallings out.”

Oxford Mail:  James Bradshaw (Edward) + Sara Crowe (Mrs Campbell) - The Way Old Friends Do - credit Darren Bel

 James Bradshaw (Edward) and Sara Crowe (Mrs Campbell).  Picture: Darren Bell

“We have a had a lot of feedback from the audiences on the tour and they all say ‘it’s a feelgood evening’.

“After the last few challenging years we’ve all been through, it’s felt good to bring something that is cheering to audiences.

“It has also been great to work on something so well written and witty. The excellent script really brings my character to life.

“I had a similar wonderful experience working on Endeavour. Russel Lewis’s scripts were full of witticisms for my character, and I loved that.”

He also enjoyed finding out about all the ins and outs of a pathologist’s work.

“It was fascinating,” he says. “Especially because, as Endeavour was set in the past, we had to reflect past investigative procedures not current ones. It was at time before DNA was in use by pathologists and no one thought of protecting a crime scene in the way we do now. I am so proud of the attention to period detail by the production of the whole Endeavour series – it was beautifully done.”

Endeavour was a huge part of James’s last decade and he grew to admire Oxford.

“The beauty of the city, the historical college Quads, the river, all struck me very much.,” he says. “I remember for one scene Shaun Evans and I were on top of a roof top looking west over Oxford at the most incredible sunset. The sheer beauty of it all.”

And he is full of praise for Endeavour star Shaun Evans, who played the titular detective. “When we met for our first scene, looking at a body by the river, I immediately got a good feeling about him. He is wonderful to work with, as were all the cast. We all became great friends and still meet up. Abigail Thaw was terrific, and we shared lots of laughs. She told me lots of stories about her dad John Thaw – the original Morse. We were all very sad when the series came to an end.”

Oxford Mail: Old Friends. Pic by Darren Bell

Did he have a favourite episode? “I really enjoyed the one where I was kidnapped. I was thrown into the back of a truck – all action, lots of fun.”

He admits it was a change of pace being back on stage after working on in front of a camera on for so long.

“Well, it had been about 10 years, so I was a bit nervous, of course. Mark Gatiss was great to work with. As well as being a great actor he’s also lovely director, kind, open to suggestions, and very encouraging.

“The experience has been really good for me. As an actor it keeps you on your toes as you have to come up with the goods there and then.”

The Way Old Friends Do is at the Oxford Playhouse today (Saturday May 20).

See oxfordplayhouse.com