Cheltenham Literature Festival review: Celia Imrie, Larry Lamb and Alison Steadman
Together they are some of the most celebrated names in British television.
From Gavin and Stacey to Acorn Antiques, Abigail’s Party and EastEnders, everything these veteran actors touch seems to turn to gold.
But they were appearing on Sunday night at the Cheltenham Literature Festival as three of the stars of ITV comedy drama Love and Marriage – a show cut dead after just one series. It simply didn’t get the viewing figures they’d been told. Was it terribly bad? Not according to the actors, or the fairly decent write ups, or a nomination for a Best TV drama award.
So the trio made it clear they were all pretty disappointed that they had just found out a second series is off the cards. Larry was really rather animated and cross on the subject. “It is extremely sad” added Alison. “We had a great time making it.”
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And so it seemed. Larry and Celia, who played lovers in the show, last worked together 31 years ago but said they’d had a ball making it. He and Alison, who played Gavin’s lovey dovey parents in Gavin and Stacey, clearly have a great on-screen chemistry.
Still, despite their reason for all appearing together being swept out the door, both Larry Lamb and Celia Imrie have autobiographies to sell and the audience were more than happy to hear about their past roles and be entertained by stories, for example, of Alison corpsing on the set of Gavin and Stacey, or Celia cracking up while filming Julie Walters’ Two Soups sketch.
It was Larry in particular who carried the evening’s talk, which was hosted by Kirsty Lang, the Radio Times writer and Front Row presenter. It was his anecdotes and twinkly-eyed jokes about approaching roles as if he was ‘having lots of sex’ with love interests Celia (in Love and Marriage) or Alison (in Gavin and Stacey) that really lit up the room.
In another in-depth chat he described at length rattling off his book in long hand, all 40,000 words of it, and sending it off to publishers but then never hearing back. That was until some kindly souls at one publisher gave him a bit of input into how to transform his animated verbal anecdotes into prose “that didn’t bore people to tears”.
What followed for Larry were several weeks of solidly writing 2,000 words a day - “I didn’t pick up a paper, I didn’t read a book, I didn’t listen to the radio... I tackled it as a job” – before turning it in three weeks early. All written out long hand. It was quite a lesson for any budding writers.
Alison, a national treasure for her role as Pamela in Gavin and Stacey, Beverly in Abigail’s Party and Mrs Bennett in the BBC’s Pride and Prejudice, was more serious during the chat. She was adamant she would never write an autobiography herself. Too public, she said. Her private life is just that and she doesn’t want it laid bare, thank you very much.
Instead she described the long hours on set, the way the television industry had changed, budgets had been squeezed, but was amusing too, laughing about a crew trying to give her an iPad to use instead of an autocue during a lengthy monologue recording.
Both she and Larry are huge in Wales after the success of Gavin and Stacey, and spoke fondly about the Barry Island bus tours that tourists can take.
Celia, who has also written a novel based in Nice, had fewer questions directed towards her but she answered quietly but amusingly and the audience were left with a sense that her autobiography might be really rather similar – entertaining without being too showy.
There were few questions from the audience, but those that were posed hinted at just how well loved the trio are and what a rich history of television work they have given their viewers. It wasn’t a rip-roaring evening of comedy. But it was an entertaining brief snapshot of the real people behind the cameras.