He's cornered the market in bad-tempered cops and sleazy politicians to become the most bankable star in British TV. So what's his secret? Susie Rushton meets a very clever Trevor
The wolfish gaze and peaked eyebrows are still there, but the hair, it must be said, has been subject to severe cutbacks. Trevor Eve's mane - still as thick as a broom at 56 years old - has been a corollary of his sex appeal, from the tousled mop-top of Seventies sleuth Eddie Shoestring, via the swept-back style of callous Tory minister Duncan Matlock in The Politician's Wife, to the silvery Serie-A-manager style that cold-case cop DS Boyd favours in Waking the Dead.
Tomorrow night, Eve plays the lead role in Hughie Green, Most Sincerely, a classy BBC4 biopic that demanded a series of tonsorial transformations spanning the life of the Opportunity Knocks host over three decades.
Even off screen, Eve's crowning glory has been the subject of column inches and national debate; according to recent newspaper reports, he lost his rag while watching the polo at Cowdray when two female spectators let their cigarette smoke drift under his nose. His wife, the actress Sharon Maughan, complained that Trev's hair was about to catch fire. (Cue gossip-column sneers about his overuse of hairspray.)
Snide diary items such as this - usually documenting the public inflammation of the actor's temper, rather than his hair - must be behind Eve's evident mistrust of the press. Arriving a few minutes early at his office in Soho, my presence seems to be putting him on edge. His famously suave expression is compromised by tension. Wearing a black suit and brown shirt that Boyd might wear, he attempts a naturalistic portrayal of an actor-at-ease. "Glass of water?" he offers, in the silkenly condescending baritone that has helped to establish him as telly's most irresistible bastard. "Fruit tea?" After introducing me to the two attractive women employed by his company, Projector Productions, we sweep next door into an all- beige, sunlit room and sit on two pale sofas. Very far apart. A BBC publicity officer is making her own tape of the interview, presumably to head off any unwelcome hair-related skirmishes.
I lob him an easy one. So, Opportunity Knocks. Was he a fan?
Smash. "Well, you're too young to remember Hughie Green," Eve says testily, shifting in his seat. Perhaps. But, like many, I do remember Paula Yates's very public discovery that Green was her biological father, a revelation that is the crux of Most Sincerely.
Wary he may be of our encounter, but Eve has no cause to fear the critics. For 30 years, he has carved a reputation among programme- makers as the most bankable star in TV drama. His ratings appeal is undoubted. Indeed, there's a pleasing symmetry that, while Opportunity Knocks regularly drew audiences of 24 million, so did Shoestring, the hugely popular detective series that was Eve's breakthrough in the late Seventies. Today, in a vastly more competitive entertainment landscape, Waking the Dead regularly hits figures of eight million.
Still his best-loved role, Shoestring took early retirement when Eve refused to sign up for a third series. The ambitious young actor had set his sights higher - on classical theatre and Hollywood.
During the late Eighties he lived in Los Angeles - though he spent most of his time commuting back to the London stage. "I was the only actor living in Beverly Hills working at the National Theatre," he says. Eve raised a family there with Maughan, made a series for US television, and films in Canada and Germany, but not Hollywood. "I enjoyed the lifestyle. I'm not an LA-hater," he says.
By the mid-1990s, according to his own analysis, it was his theatre work that was winning him the plum roles in serious, one- off dramas for the BBC. He moved back to Britain and, as he moved into his …