Any fan of British television drama will no doubt be familiar with the work of this week’s guest through his substantial body of work over the last decade. Born in Edmonton Middlesex in October 1947, Larry’s upbringing was a million miles away from the East End persona of Archie Mitchell in the BBC serial drama. Yet in a career spanning forty years actor Larry Lamb has enjoyed a gradual rise to fame and his working class routes has been a great benefit on the direction of his career.
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Starting his acting career in North America, he took the advice of producers who told him to return to London which was then the bedrock of theatre and acting. His first role came in the television series Fox for Thames Television alongside Ray Winstone and Bernard Hill after being forced to turn down a role for the same production team just a few months previously. Fox followed the lives of five brothers who lived in Clapham in South London and had gangland connections. Written by Trevor Preston and produced by the legendary Verity Lambert, the series had all the elements for a success and forty years on, it remains a cult classic.
In 1981 Larry was cast as chief engineer Matt Taylor alongside the femme fatale Kate O’Mara for the BBC’s North Sea serial drama Triangle surrounding the domestic goings on of the crew and guests on the triangular crossing from Felixstowe to Gothenburg and Amsterdam. Created by Bill Sellers, the writer of All Creatures Great And Small and broadcast every Monday and Wednesday evening on BBC1, Triangle ran for three series between 1981 to 1983 and starred Larry opposite an icon of the big and small screen. Featuring a stellar supporting cast including Sandra Dickinson and George Baker, the series looked promising. Yet a lack of funding and low quality production sadly lead to the show’s premature ending after just seventy-eight episodes.
Larry’s next major role came in 1988 when he was cast as the ring-leader Bruce Reynolds in the romantic crime comedy Buster surrounding The Great Train Robbery. This wasn’t his first brush with this subject as just three years previously he was approached by the BBC to star in a major new drama playing the part of the notorious Ronnie Biggs. The series was greatly anticipated by the drama department until political pressures from external sources halted the corporation’s enthusiasm. It was eventually demoted to an early afternoon play much to the irritation of the director and Larry himself. Therefore Buster has an extra significance for Larry as he was able to revisit the subject which he thought had so much scope. So when he got the call to play another train robber, Larry couldn’t believe his luck.
A surprise friendship which arose from Buster was between Larry and the real life character who he was playing; Bruce Reynolds. This resulted in a bizarre phone conversation with Ronnie Biggs whilst he was laying low in Rio. Although Biggs was definitely less than complimentary about Larry’s portrayal of him in the previous BBC drama, it did give Larry the unique opportunity to speak with this notorious cultural figure. This was a fascinating area for Larry and in 2017 he returned to the world of the criminal underground when he starred in the British crime caper based on a true story where four elderly men burgled almost £200 million from the Hatton Garden Safe Deposit Company in London.
In 1996 Larry was offered a part in the BBC seminal drama Our Friends In The North alongside relatively unknown actors Daniel Craig and Christopher Eccleston. For this, he had to perfect a north east accent for the character of Alan Roe which he accomplished with style. Ironically on set during his two episodes, there was a northern actress playing a southern character so Larry was able to witness the obvious juxtaposition between the two. In short Larry remains glad to be involved with such an iconic series which helped to define the nineties.
Just eleven years later, Larry auditioned for a part in a new sitcom for BBC Three. He read for the part of Mick with writer Ruth Jones reading the other part of the two hander. The crew loved it but the director wasn’t convinced and sent Larry away not knowing his fate. Just a short while later, he received a call from his agent informing him that he had got the part. Gavin and Stacey was born and unbeknownst to him would change Larry’s life forever. Synonymous with the twenty to thirty generation, Gavin and Stacey hit on something that captured the public’s imagination and took sitcom to uncharted territory.
It was clear from the outset that this would be a different kind of sitcom to anything that had gone before and that extended to the making of the series. Filming predominantly took place in South Wales which meant both cast and crew were forced to stay in tight confines of each other for a few days per week for three months. This was a unique technique used by the director Christine Gernon and writers Ruth Jones and James Corden for ease of getting everyone in the right place at the right time. The other benefit was that it brought the whole cast together and created natural chemistry between all of them. Larry puts some of the show’s success down to this unique process as in such a conducive environment it was hard not to become the character you were playing. So when he was in South Wales he wasn’t Larry Lamb, he was Mick Shipman and this attitude was echoed throughout the whole cast making Gavin and Stacey one of the best experiences of Larry’s career. A decade later, Larry is still synonymous with the character of Mick Shipman and it’s the role he’s most remembered for, something which he still holds so fondly.
For an actor, defining roles can be like buses; you wait for ages for one to come along and then two come at once. This was exactly what happened to Larry in 2008 when he was cast as the villainous Archie Mitchell in the heavyweight BBC serial drama. The controlling east end gangster with a dark past of abuse to daughters Ronnie and Roxy, Archie deservedly met his end when attempting a sexual assault on Stacey Slater. Although appearing in just 311 episodes, the character of Archie Mitchell played a dominant role in shaking up one of the most formidable families on Albert Square and was a great contrast with the lovable Mick Shipman in Gavin and Stacey.
These two shows helped to turn Larry Lamb from a jobbing actor into a household name. Yet it was still five years before he was offered another major television role replacing Dennis Waterman in the hugely popular New Tricks. This came at a price when it was announced that this would be the last series of the hit show. Such a blow for Larry encouraged him to ponder new horizons and a spot on I’m a Celebrity… Get Me Out Of Here 2016 cemented this. In recent years, Larry has united with the presenting talents of his son George for Channel Five’s Britain By Bike where the pair cycle around all four corners of the UK which has extended his talents as a broadcaster.
Now into his seventh decade, Larry Lamb shows no signs of slowing down and his new BBC drama is set to premiere in early 2019. It was fantastic to meet and interview the great Larry Lamb and wish him all the very best for the rest of his remarkable career.