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It’s a sunny day in north London when we speak to Larry Lamb to discuss his latest drama series, The Inheritance. No stranger to our screens, whether it’s as affable dad Mick in Gavin and Stacey, villain Archie in EastEnders, or a star turn on 2016’s I’m a Celebrity… Get Me Out of Here!, Larry is warm and welcoming after his morning swim has given him his daily boost.
“I don’t have my own pool,” he jokes. “I just get on my bike and go to my local.” And there it is: Larry’s familiar down-to-earth manner that has made him a fan favourite for so long. So, when just a few moments later he tells us we’re on “a bobsleigh ride to hell”, we’re more than a little taken aback…
At 75, Larry exudes the energy of someone half his age. As well as the 7am swims, there’s a lifelong love of travel – “I am a citizen of the world” – a busy career, and a large and happy extended family that includes his TV presenter son George. We can’t wait to find out more. But before we can get on to that, Larry has some worries about the next generation that he’s keen to get off his chest.
“I am morbidly interested in how bad things are getting,” he says. “What sort of a world are we bequeathing to this next generation when a large percentage of them will never be able to buy a home?
“If they’re lucky enough to have a job, they’ll still be paying rent when they’re ready to kick the bucket,” he says. “It’s terrifying.”
The cast of Channel 5’s new drama The Inheritance
We’ve hit upon this topic due to Larry’s new series The Inheritance. Co-starring Gaynor Faye, it deals with the emotional and financial fallout after a family patriarch, played by Larry, dies unexpectedly – and suspiciously. Fans need not worry: Larry appears on screen regularly in flashback as his adult children fight amongst themselves, bereft at their father’s death and the lack of money left to them.
“Everyone is in survival mode unless you happen to be one of those grand oligarchs,” Larry laments. “The rest of us are scrabbling around trying to make a living. When it comes to some money that’s going to pass down generation to generation, it’s not surprising that people get into a real gubble [sic] about it.”
As well as bemoaning the “terrible deal” facing younger generations, Larry pinpoints the pressure on young people as a particular evil.
“Life is so complicated for them. I messed up at school and came away with barely any qualifications. I had one talent that I wasn’t even really aware of for learning languages and it was that that led me off on a journey that finished up here, with me talking to you. [He was first introduced to acting while selling encyclopaedias in Germany.] I was living in a world then where you could still do something without having to account for it on your CV.
“There’s no room for any compassion,” he says. “It has turned into a horrendous dog-eat-dog competition.”
On that note, it’s clear Larry won’t be swayed. Has he always felt so strongly about things?
“I just get more and more philosophical as I get older,” he tells us. “I value my life and everybody else’s life more. I value people much more. And whilst I despair at the state of the world, I certainly don’t want to check out yet. I want to live to be 100.”
Born in October 1947 in Edmonton, London, Larry says his childhood was difficult, a period he previously reflected on in his 2011 autobiography, Mummy’s Boy.
“It was a really cathartic process,” he tells us. “Being able to mentally walk my way through the story, understand who I am, and why I am the way I am.”
Larry discovered his love for acting in the unlikeliest of places – working in the oil industry in Canada in the mid-1970s. Since then he has worked steadily in “this dodgy old business”, with appearances in TV shows such as The New Avengers, Midsomer Murders and The Bill. He has also been on stage with the Royal Shakespeare Company and even had a small speaking part in 1983’s Superman III.
Larry’s character’s death prompts a huge family fallout in new drama The Inheritance
But despite this regular work, Larry only became a household name at the age of 60, when the character of Mick Shipman in Gavin and Stacey came along in 2007.
Since then, he has won a British Soap Award for his role in EastEnders, starred in New Tricks and Pitching In, and made countless television appearances as himself, whether it’s researching his ancestors in Who Do You Think You Are? or on This Morning as an ambassador for Macmillan Cancer Support.
His recent travel documentary From Billericay to Barry, with his Gavin and Stacey co-star Alison Steadman, finished only last month.
So when Larry tells us he doesn’t work so much nowadays, it’s hard to believe him.
“A lot happens to you as the clock ticks faster and faster,” he says. “You realise that everything has more value to it and every minute counts.”
And how does Larry make those minutes count? Well, there’s his daily exercise of swims, of course, and walks on the heath, albeit with the help of a walking pole due to “some trouble” with his back. He eats well, doesn’t smoke or drink, looks after himself. “I live a pretty straightforward life,” he tells us. There are rumours he’s writing another book, fiction this time round. But it’s communication with others he craves most.
“If I can have at least one interesting conversation over the course of the day, then it’s a good day,” he says. “I am a communicator; I need to talk to people.
“It really doesn’t matter who it’s with, which is another great thing about being older, because people will talk to you,” he continues. “There is a kind of kinship in grey hair.”
While Larry’s frame of mind has definitely shifted since our early conversation, his passion, and compassion, are still very much evident.
“I just get more and more philosophical as I get older. I value my life and everybody else’s life more. I value people much more.”
While reflecting on his travels across the world, he pauses to add philosophical nuance to his experiences. “I have led the most extraordinary life, but I have been open to it,” he says. “Understanding that the country I come from isn’t the centre of the universe.”
His advice to his younger self isn’t about a missed job opportunity or regret, but simply to be “…as good and kind as you can to everybody”.
And while we don’t want to spoil the good vibes, can he relate at all to the experience of his latest character? Where something like money could ruin it all?
“Well, fortunately, or unfortunately, I am not plagued with being rich,” he smiles, in that down-to-earth, affable, Larry Lamb style.
The Inheritance starts on Monday September 4 at 9pm on Channel 5
Written by Debbie McQuoid
Debbie is a journalist with 20 years of experience, interviewing well-known names including Angelina Jolie, Michelle Williams, and Lauren Hutton. Specialising in entertainment, beauty and lifestyle, her words have appeared in Stylist, Red, Elle, Cosmopolitan and Grazia among others.