A NORTH-EAST police officer landed a part in this year's biggest feature films after retiring to a life on the screen.

Graeme Smiles, 50, from Stockton, who served as a police officer for 25 years and worked in various roles at Cleveland Police, bagged himself a credited role in the recently released Downton Abbey.

In September 2018 Mr Smiles was selected to play the King’s Equerry (personal assistant) owing to his "unique" ability to ride horses, which he mastered when he joined the force’s mounted unit in the 1990s.

He said: “I got the role because I look like a soldier. It sounds funny but it takes much more than putting on just a uniform.

“Having that career behind you really helps, people get into a lot of productions because of what they did in a previous career.”

Darlington and Stockton Times:

Mr Smiles has appeared on ITV's Vera, which is filmed in the North-East

Since retiring to a life on screen four years ago in 2015, the former police officer has secured background roles in hugely successful British and American films, including Mary Poppins Returns, Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald, Rocketman, Peterloo, Angel Has Fallen and Holmes at Watson.

He has also played background roles in recent TV series' ITV’s Vera, the BBC’s Collateral and Poldark.

Back in the region, Mr Smiles also reenacted the 13th century Bishop of Durham, Antony Bek, and York Emperor Constantine at the first performance of Bishop Auckland's Kynren, where he returned for a further two years.

Darlington and Stockton Times:

He starred in Kyren's first season at Bishop Auckland

Mr Smiles said: “For years I was a policeman which is how and where I learned to ride a horse – when I finished, I thought about doing some TV and Film stuff.

“In the force I tried CID, and thought it wasn’t for me and then in 1997 I became an officer in the mounted section – I just came to the end of my time at the force when I qualified for my pension.”

Debating what he wanted to do with his spare time, Mr Smiles signed up to an agency, focussing on placing ex-service men and women into on-screen TV and Film work.

He said: “Services to Film were looking for someone who take part in a major feature film and could ride a horse and look the part.

“I had to create a self-made film to let them see me in action, and they’d thought ‘we’ll go for that’ – I went down for an assessment and then it was only when I turned up for filming, I realised what a big part it was.”

Darlington and Stockton Times:

Highclere Castle, which was used in both the TV and Film versions of Downton Abbey

Mr Smiles said filming the scenes, he was involved in, took just several days to complete.

He said Downton Abbey returns to many of the iconic locations that viewers of the ITV series will recognise.

He said: “We spent the first day at Lacock Abbey in Wiltshire and then onto Highclere Castle, where it is set. It took around two weeks to finish.”

Mr Smiles claimed it was rare for someone from the North-East to have been selected the Downton Abbey role, because of the nature of the industry.

He said: “Of all the people who do background acting, there’s just two that I know of who are from the North-East out of about 1,000 people at the agency – the industry is huge down South.”

Despite the industry’s popularity in the South of England, Mr Smiles said he would continue to live in Stockton for as long as he could.

  • Downton Abbey will remain in cinemas for the next few weeks.