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In a rather golden year for British television, full of good things and great things – off the top of my head Babylon, Not Safe for Work, London Spy (the last episode apart), Critical, Count Arthur Strong, The Bridge, Top of the Pops repeats from 1980 are near the top of the list; feel free to add your own – one programme has stood a rather hunched head and shoulders over everything else in 2015.
For anyone wanting a reason to believe in life, love or BBC Four, then Detectorists is it. "I have never met anybody who likes The Detectorists that I don't like," she tells me as we sit in her PR's office not far from London's Seven Dials, her hometown.
Watching it I was gobsmacked by the beauty of the English countryside and even considered buying myself a metal detector. It's possible that I'm a little bit in love with Becky.
Or maybe it's Stirling herself, all husky of voice and docker in sweariness. I'm a tart," she says when I point out as much to Stirling. Either that or casting directors don't have much imagination.") She also plays Winston Churchill's daughter in an ITV drama, Churchill's Secret, that will air in the new year. Stick your finger in and you'll come out with a big actorly name.
After all, I did carry a real torch for her mum once upon a time. Stirling has her mum's cheekbones, a voice that sounds like nicotine and tobacco making out and a diary that is not so much full as fatigued. This autumn we've not only seen her in Detectorists but she's been playing Toby Jones' wife in the recent BBC One London drama Capital (confusingly, as Jones plays Crook's best friend in Detectorists. Among the turns alongside Stirling are Matthew Macfadyen, Tara Fitzgerald and Michael Gambon as the "great" man himself (we can debate historical worth at another juncture). "It's rated for 12." She possibly needs to be clear on this because Stirling has lesbian history.
It's not, I tell her, that I decided to go to Stirling University back in the 1980s just to meet Diana Rigg. There's also a Second World War film Their Greatest Hour and a Half in the offing, directed by Lone (An Education) Scherfig, in which she plays an "acid-tongued ginger lesbian". She first came to prominence in the TV version of Sarah Waters' novel Tipping the Velvet and that was nothing but sex.
(Rigg had strong associations with the university, living as she did nearby. Really, though, I just want to talk to her about Detectorists.
Some years later she even became chancellor.) But it's possible that the chance I might was part of the equation. There is going to be a Christmas special, she says, but it's only going to feature "Mac and Tobes". But Rachael, I say, I do have one worry about the programme. I'm just a northern bird through and through." Well yes. "My mum's from Doncaster so whatever that is as a combination of Scotland and Yorkshire.Over and above my fear that there won't be a third series, that is. Does it suggest that decent men, good men like Mackenzie Crook and Toby Jones, are, when it comes down to it, basically just feckless? So tell me, who wears the trousers, you or Mackenzie? "People have said, 'Oh, we don't quite believe in that couple.' I believe in them. He puts his heart on his sleeve and it so happens to be half my heart now. And I don't really want every single piece of my life to be out there. She might live in London and have spent much of her childhood there but she sees herself as Scottish. It isn't southern." Stirling spent her youth shuttling between London and her father's home in Scotland. I really love the women who I met there and I really love who they've become.Does it present a picture of masculinity that is encouragingly anti-macho yet also essentially useless? "Clearly Becky wears the trousers in that relationship." And who changes the fuses? I believe in his wonderful peccadilloes and his curiosity. A lot of his solo album Courting the Squall is about us. While her mum is acting royalty, her dad, Archie Stirling, is a landowner, a businessman and someone who has tinkered more than a little in theatreland. "Where dad lives I know every hole in every field and everything on every tree and I swim in the river from April until October. Plus, the facts as reported – the newspapers led on the story that her dad had an affair with Joely Richardson – she says are an "absolute pile of rubbish". But it definitely develops a survival instinct in you early on which I don't know what I'd do without now because it's part of my equipment. For two years I was sobbing and circling tears on my letters. You've got to find some way of exercising your right to be a teenager." On the plus side, she says, the school had incredible facilities.Mackenzie is quite like his character: his curiosity for things, his sense of humour. I totally believe that a ball-breaker like Becky would go with someone like Mackenzie. And the view of Ben Ledi and Ben Vorlich from Stirling …" She can't find the words to describe it. All that matters is that both of her parents are still very much part of her life and vice versa. Was it character building or a cruel and unusual punishment? But there was a great deal of bullying." You were bullied? I was not egregiously bullied and no bodily harm was inflicted but I was just a weak one in the pack because I was desperately homesick." But eventually she found her feet. I didn't misbehave until I was about 17." She did start dodging chapel for fags, she says. "One of them was this arts centre and inside there was a theatre and a rehearsal space and an exhibition space and I remember when I was let loose on it in my second year.He's the yin to her yang." This seems a good point to talk about men and her attitude to them. "Every holiday I would get on an aeroplane or the sleeper train. I'm presuming, I tell her, to get a voice like hers she spent her teenage years working her way through packets of Benson & Hedges behind the bicycle shed. I started to put roots down and feel more confident.She once said that she was attracted to an "old-fashioned masculinity". "I suppose I'm quite manly in lots of ways but I like to be made to feel like a woman." Manly? "I think I've got a lot of testosterone coursing through my veins. We had some hilarious journeys on that with the gerbil in the Quality Street tin and the dog in the basket and the drunken guard." That continued after her parents divorced in 1990 while she was at boarding school. That was really the turning point of boarding school in the frame." She hadn't really been interested in acting before that.Tags: Adult Dating, affair dating, sex dating