Robson Green believes a good runner beats a good fighter, and he would reject any script which displayed violence graphically on screen. "Touching Evil is different to any other crime drama because everything is left to the viewers' imaginations, which is essentially more horrific than if you see it," says Robson, who plays Detective Inspector Dave Creegan of the elite crime squad, the Organised and Serial Crime Unit. "If there had been scenes in Touching Evil where you see people being stabbed, or you see my character killing people I would not have made the series.

"There is not an aggressive streak in me. I wouldn't get involved in a situation where violence is involved. It takes more of a man to walk away from a situation. I was brought up to believe that a good runner beats a good fighter. My dad was a tough man in our village, he was a very good wrestler. He taught my brother and I how to look after ourselves with different moves, but only as defence. I think it is better to be loved than feared."

Playing DI Creegan in the first series of Touching Evil, screened last year, marked a major change in the roles Robson had been playing. The character's cruel scar on the forehead and furrowed brow replaced the trademark cheeky grin which made Robson so popular with audiences for his roles in Soldier Soldier, Reckless and Casualty. "Touching Evil gave me the chance to get away from the clown image audiences associated me with. If you are seen as a comic, people expect you to be funny. But if a comedian doesn't break the mould of trying to be funny all the time, then the horizons become very bleak," says Robson.

"Creegan is not at all conventional. He is an honest cop, who lives for justice. He had a near death experience which made him alter his outlook on life. In this second series Creegan is more at ease with his fellow officers, so it is not so much one guy pulling the show. But he does have to start making decisions about the way he leads his life."

The series attracted a good response from men as well as women. "The reaction I got from Touching Evil was the most positive I have ever had. I've always believed that a good story will hold anybody, no matter what their sex. Men watched it because it was good story telling, I hope women don't watch a programme just because I am in it. For me the real critics are my dad and the friends who drink with me in the local pub. They told me it made them think. It is a drama which makes you debate in your own mind the whole issue of retribution."

Robson admits that the grisly subject matter of the series can be depressing. "It is depressing to think that there are people who only feel a sense of power by murdering, and the worst thing is that even now somebody is contemplating murder. But what I did learn from making these two series is that the people we are dealing with in these stories are not just nutters, but they have been through terrible trauma."

Robson said he sought help from his wife Ali, an occupational therapist, in understanding one storyline, about a man, suffering post traumatic stress disorder after working in Bosnia. "I talked with Ali about trauma, and people who have suffered it. She found me a book about counselling, and how to deal with people who have gone through trauma, read the scripts with me, and helped me with some of Creegan's lines." Robson recalls meeting a man when he was making Soldier Soldier, who had witnessed terrible atrocities in Bosnia. "It is interesting to speak to people who have seen terrible things, you can see it in their eyes, something has died. I met one soldier who went to Bosnia. Before he went that man was a real cocky, jack-the-lad type, I saw him six months after he got back and it had completely silenced him."

In the new series Robson's character faces a personal crisis. The lives of his ex-wife and two little girls are threatened by a man who blames Creegan for the murder of his daughter. "Creegan realises that because of his work not only is he a target, but everyone associated with him is a target. He has to decide between the job and his family." But there is also passion in the new series for Creegan - with a pretty young mum, played by Jill Halfpenny, who is accused of abducting a child. "There aren't any steamy scenes, and no nudity. But there's some passion before something terrible happens," Robson explains.

Born in Dudley, Northumberland, Robson began work as a draughtsman at the shipbuilders, Swan Hunters. But after three years he decided to pursue his real dream of acting, and began training at the Live Theatre in Newcastle. His television break came when he was cast as hospital porter Jimmy in Casualty. Robson went on to win viewers' hearts, as Dave Tucker in Soldier, Soldier, where he forged the firm friendship with Jerome Flynn, which led to their successful singing partnership, and three number one hits. And he won an army of female fans as heart throb Owen Springer in Reckless.

After the first series of Touching Evil, Robson starred as a bodyguard in the BBC drama, The Student Prince. He returned to the role of Owen Springer for a special film sequel to Reckless, to be shown an ITV later this year. Robson's other television credits include The Gambling Man, Hands, Voices of War, A Night on the Tyne, and Ain't Misbehavin'.

Two years ago he formed his own production company, Coastal Productions with business partner Sandra Jobling. The company has secured a deal with ITV to make 32 hours of drama. The first project, Grafters, starring Robson with Stephen Tompkinson as Geordie brothers setting up a decorating business in London, starts in production this Spring. The company is also establishing a youth theatre to encourage talented youngsters in the North East to enter the business. Robson says his plan is to become more involved with projects behind the camera with his company. "I will probably do another two years of acting, then slow down a bit. I love acting, but I want to do something else. Establishing Coastal Productions was my dream; to have not only a production company, but a youth theatre to recreate for young people in the North East the opportunities I had which helped me to get into the business."

SERIES THREE Robson followed in the footsteps of one of his screen heroes as he chased a murder suspect along a windswept beach in Northumberland for the new series of Touching Evil. The same beach provided the setting for the dramatic scene where Michael Caine, as a racketeer seeking revenge on Newcastle gangsters for his brother's death, in the crime thriller Get Carter, is shot by a sniper. "Get Carter is one of my favourite films and we took inspiration from it for Touching Evil," says Robson. "We filmed in many of the same areas as Get Carter."

The locals were delighted that the area was to be in the lime-light again. "When we were in Blyth a lady came up to me and thanked me for putting Blyth on the map. I told her she might not thank me when she saw the story of gruesome murders. But she said she didn't care, Blyth would still be famous!"

Blyth provided the setting for dramatic and dangerous scenes for Robson, which took his breath away. "It was January, freezing cold, and I had to plunge into the sea to try to rescue a man who was trying to drown himself. But every time I dived under I kept floating back to the surface. So we had to do the scene several times. I was so cold by the time we had finished my brain was chilled. The water was cold, dirty and dangerous. There are certain stunts which have a novelty value, but this one had none. The underwater scenes of the attempted rescue were filmed in the comparative warmth and comfort of a special tank but the water had to be dyed to match the murky depths of the sea. I had the same problem in the tank as I did in the sea. The leather jacket Creegan wears made me float to the surface so they gave me lead weights to hold as I jumped in. I plunged seventeen feet to the bottom of the tank so fast my ears popped. Then the water was so murky I couldn't see a thing," explains Robson. But he devised his own signal system. "I pulled a card out of my pocket on which I'd written 'Where are you?' and held it up to the camera." Two divers stood by to bring Robson to the surface. "When the divers brought me up, which was after a matter of seconds, I felt quite spaced out for a while because the oxygen had gone out of my body."

After his daredevil exploits in the water, Robson then had to be set on fire for scenes in episodes three and four, where he is investigating a murderer who burns the victims. "I had no trouble making Creegan look concerned for those scenes. My main concern as they struck the match, and the flames start to leap along my jacket, was where was the guy with the extinguisher," says Robson. "I wasn't frightened, I was re-assured by the stunt co-ordinator, Terry Forrestal, that I would be safe and that the scene was being done in a controlled environment."

As the new series opens, Creegan is on sick leave after suffering a nervous breakdown. The trauma of losing his ex-wife and two daughters, who had to move away for their own safety, and the brutal murder of his girlfriend, had finally taken their toll. But he hears that a murder case in Northumberland against Anthony Matchin has been re-opened. Creegan was the arresting officer in the case but he was never convinced that Matchin was the murderer. Creegan knows Matchin is innocent and he defies orders to return to Newcastle to prove it. He realises the damage that has been caused by putting this man behind bars, and he feels he owes it to him to find the real killer. "Creegan sacrifices everything in his pursuit: the rules of the OSC, and his colleagues' reputation. They have to carry the can for his actions."

The character is so different to the numerous other television roles he has played, Robson welcomed the return to Touching Evil. "It is interesting for me to play a character like Creegan who has an unusual perspective on life. He is not a text book cop, he's unorthodox. He is a man who lives for truth and justice. Saving lives is what keeps him going."

The series also gave him the opportunity to work in his native North East. "Filming the first story in the North East was a big plus. We were providing a backdrop to the story which was not a cliche of the North East - no lingering shots of the Tyne Bridge, but reflecting the grittiness of the area."

Robson's own production company, Coastal Productions, is the co-producer of the third series of Touching Evil. The company has been keen to promote the potential of the area to other filmmakers. "We can prove to film makers that the North East can be a backdrop for thrillers," he says. He formed Coastal Productions with business partner Sandra Jobling three years ago, and secured a deal with ITV to produce 32 hours of drama. The first series of Grafters was the company's first project and Rhinoceros the second. A second series of Grafters starts shooting in May.

The company has two new projects for ITV. The Last Musketeer is a "modern day swashbuckler" starring Robson as an Olympic fencer, who trains a team of girls from a Glasgow public school for the European Championships. Robson is currently having fencing lessons to prepare for the role. "It is hard work, but I\rquote ve got to make it look convincing for the audience," he says.

Robson is also limbering up for another athletic role as a blind runner in Blind Ambition, a tale of "triumph over adversity", written by actor Eric Deacon. Robson has yet to be tempted by Hollywood, despite scripts dropping frequently through his letterbox. "The scripts we are getting from Britain are far superior," he says. And his game plan is to eventually spend more time behind the camera, developing projects for film and television.

Touching Evil requires your attention

Touching Evil suggests it takes a mentally unhinged cop to out-think a psychopath, but there is nothing unhinged about Robson Green, the young Newcastle actor who puts flesh and blood to Touching Evil's Detective Dave Creegan. In person, Green looks younger than the world-weary detective he plays. He is tall, fit and slightly built, and dismisses all the "sex symbol stuff" in Britain as a media invention: "And I apologize now for the anticlimax," he adds, his voice heavy with irony. "Fame is fame -- you either deal with it or you don't. And I deal with it. You can't control the way people react to you. I haven't changed. I go shopping. I do the normal things that you do. And if I didn't, I think I'd be deeply unhappy."

The third season of one of the most gritty, complex and compelling police procedurals to emerge from Britain since Prime Suspect in the early 1990s debuts on PBS's Mystery! showcase Thursday at 9pm with Creegan on psychiatric leave after a nervous breakdown. The brutal murder of his girlfriend and the pain of losing his ex-wife and two daughters, who were forced to move away from home for their own safety, have pushed him over the edge. Even so, Creegan can't stay off the case when he hears a convicted murderer he helped put away is about to be released on appeal. He was always troubled by Anthony Matchin's (Michael Hodgson) murder conviction and suspects Matchin may have been innocent all along - which means the real killer is still on the loose. No sooner does the accused murderer return to the streets, however, than the trademark killings resume.

Green's mysterious journey as an actor has been less angst-ridden but just as odd in its own way. He began work as a draughtsman at Newcastle's Swan Hunters shipbuilders, before turning to acting. Appearances in Britain's popular series Casualty and Soldier, Soldier led to a leading role as the wayward, bed-hopping Dr. Owen Springer in the British mini-series Reckless. "The draughtsman's gig was purely out of economic necessity. I'm from a mining village in Northumberland and mom and dad divorced really early, so mom had to bring up four kids. So I had to work at 16 in a shipyard. Basically, the acting was pure escape. A wonderful human being named Max Roberts, who runs a small theatre company in Backworth in Northumberland, said 'You have the ability to survive in the industry,' which I guess is what all actors do initially. We all know the percentage of actors who are out of work. What he meant was 'you have whatever it is to be able to sit up in front of a group of people and open your mouth and get a sentence out.' I was able to do that and then develop from that and try to make myself into an artist rather than somebody who was just trying to make a living. But it started most definitely as an escape. Where I'm from, in Newcastle, you're either a footballer or a singer, and acting is a thing which isn't talked about. So it was fortuitous that I met Max. The most common question I'm asked by young people is 'How did you start?' And I say 'Talk to the people who are doing it.' It's the best way."

Even more unusually, Green has flirted with fame and infamy as a rock 'n' roller on Newcastle's wild, underground pub circuit. He shunned the limelight but somehow managed to wind up with three No. 1 hits in the UK, including a cover of the Drifters' classic Up on the Roof. The singing career, he allows, has been a strange and winding road. "There was a storyline in Soldier, Soldier where the band didn't turn up for this officer's wedding, so my character got up on stage and sang Unchained Melody. That was it. The next day, after the program went out, record companies wanted to release a record. I said no. They pursued me for a year. They said they would offer me a lot of money, so I started to gargle. The next thing I know, I was on Top of the Pops, being No. 1."

Topping the pops was an odd sensation for someone who values his privacy. "I'm not very good at articulating this, but when I'm doing the music, girls are screaming. A lot of bands encourage that with the old thrusting," - he thrusts - "and stuff like that. Well, I'm actually going, 'Oh, for goodness sake be quiet,' you know, 'How old are you?', you know? It's actually great fun."

Green won't commit to more Touching Evils, at least not yet. "The thing is, there has to be a script. It's no good talking about future ideas, even though that's the way certain people pitch it to you: 'Would you like to do another one?' 'Well, what's the story?' If the story's not there, what's the point of doing it? You have to start with the script, otherwise the actor is speechless. If the script is good, I will do anything. But usually what happens is the execs say, 'Will you do another one?' and when you say, 'So, what's happened to the character - is there any development?' they go blank. If it's not there on the page, I think it's bad karma to continue."

Despite the cult success of Touching Evil on Showcase in Canada and PBS in the US, travelling across the pond has been a rude awakening of sorts, despite his burgeoning reputation as a sex symbol and comparisons to a young Paul Newman. "It's a strange business. There's a project here called Road to Perdition - the road to hell. And the lead characters are Paul Newman and Tom Hanks. And I was up for Paul Newman's son. And Paul just looked and went, 'Too young.' Great!

"Initially, they said, 'You don't exist here,' and I actually had to take stock of what they said. 'You don't exist here. You have to have something we want over here.' Well, you can't describe what it is you have. I don't know what it is I have. People want to watch me in something - fine. I'm interested in the hero who falls on his feet and then gets back up. I don't know if you saw Any Given Sunday. I thought that was just a terrific performance by Pacino. It's that type of notion, you know, something incredibly human."

Alex Strachan- Vancouver Sun