“DO not go gentle into that good night.”
There’s no drifting away in new TV drama series Love And Marriage.
The six part serial follows three generations of the Paradise family and has every chance of becoming another drama hit for ITV.
Written by Stewart Harcourt and directed by Debbie Isitt and Roger Goldby, it begins with Pauline Paradise (Alison Steadman) retiring from her job as a school lollipop lady.
She’s married to ‘Silent Ken’ (Duncan Preston) – a man of few words and, it appears, even fewer to say to his wife after 41 years of marriage.
As Alison Steadman explained at the press launch: “They forget to look and see the other person.”
Both Ken and their grown up children take her for granted.
Until Pauline – having reached her 60th birthday – takes stock and decides it’s time for her to stop being a wife, mother, grandmother and all round family personal assistant.
And the moment for her to take charge and simply live her own life.
The drama also features Celia Imrie as Pauline’s three-times married sister Rowan and Larry Lamb as her lover Tommy, who happens to be married to, and live with, someone else.
Stewart Wright and Ashley Jensen co-star as Kevin and Sarah Paradise.
Niky Wardley and James McArdle are Heather and Charlie.
With former Coronation Street star Graeme Hawley and Zoe Telford as Martin and Michelle.
These sort of drama series are really difficult to get right.
But not least thanks to a superb script and sparkling cast, Love And Marriage feels totally believable…with just the right mix of drama and comedy.
Last week ITV screened the opening episode for the media, followed by two Q&A sessions and then other interviews.
My transcript of the first Q&A is below, edited to remove any major spoilers.
Including some articulate thoughts about life, love, marriage, acting and…Coventry.
I’ll post my transcript of the second Q&A closer to the first episode TX.
Love And Marriage begins on ITV at 9pm on Wednesday June 5.
Q&A with Alison Steadman (Pauline Paradise) / Duncan Preston (Ken Paradise) / Celia Imrie (Rowan) / Larry Lamb (Tommy) / Stewart Harcourt (Writer) / Debbie Isitt (Director)
Q: (From me, as it happens) Obviously this is a drama that cuts across all the generations but, of course, it tells a story – as Anne Reid said at the BAFTAs – about people over 35 as well. Why do you think that is important and are you encouraged by this kind of script writing?
Alison Steadman: “Up until a few years ago it really felt as though everything on television, or indeed films…it seemed like life stopped at 35. That no-one carried on living until they were 70, 80, 90 or whatever. And so over the last couple of years it’s just so nice that people like Stewart have suddenly gone, ‘Do you know, people do have an interesting life beyond 35 and it is important to chart that.’ And so I just think we’ve woken up a bit and said, ‘We’re all here from the age of nought until whenever we die and let’s do drama about it.’ And it’s great that that’s happening.”
Celia Imrie: “And also, I think, more often than not it would be the audience staying at home and watching, rather than the 35-year-olds who are out down at the disco, if they’ve got any sense.”
Alison Steadman: “The discotheque.”
Larry Lamb: “I think they call it clubbing now…” (laughter)
Q: Was that really a picture of you, Alison and Celia, in a younger time? (Family photo seen in ep one)
Alison Steadman: “Are you doubting our integrity? Is this going to go to court?” (laughter) “Yes. We all brought photos in from our teens and whatever…”
Duncan Preston: “Put wigs on them…”
Alison Steadman: “…made a montage.”
Q: This is the first time you’ve seen this episode. I just wondered what your reactions were to it?
Celia Imrie: “It’s fabulous.”
Larry Lamb: “Well, it’s always the weirdest thing, and one has done this so many times…to have turned up and see something there before you that you’ve spent so much time on and put so much into, and frankly been so disappointed – when this is absolutely 180 degrees the other way around. I am beyond thrilled and I think we all feel the same way. (Murmurs of agreement from the rest of the cast) It’s so frustrating when something doesn’t turn out, when you see it on the page and then you follow through, you do the work and at the end you’re sitting in one of these things and thinking. ‘Oh my, what happened to it?’”
Duncan Preston: “And we had such a good time doing it. And that is not always a good sign, is it? (laughter) It isn’t. We met every night after work…”
Alison Steadman: “The thing I loved about watching it just now was that we did feel like a real family. And it felt like that when we were filming. There was no strain. It’s very difficult…a couple, you’re supposed to have…me and Celia playing sisters and the kids, those little kids…it’s very hard sometimes working with little children because they don’t know you and they’re all kind of a bit…and you’re supposed to look as though you’re a loving grandma and all that. But I just felt that when we were filming…and it’s to do with the script as well and Debbie just saying, ‘Go for it! Come on, you’re a family.’ And we felt like a real family. I was very pleased watching it. That’s how it feels when you watch it.”
Larry Lamb: “It’s so important – the positive energy of a director, supporting you and drawing you on, is exactly the same as a conductor with an orchestra. You give him an orchestra…the orchestra will give him everything they’ve got if it’s there. It’s such a credit to you (Debbie). It’s just extraordinary to see it.”
Debbie Isitt: “Shucks!” (laughter)
Q: Obviously you’ve worked together before but we’re used to seeing you in the opposite partnerships. Did it feel like wife-swapping at any point? Did you get confused?
Duncan Preston: “Er…yeah. (laughter) Yeah it did. It was weird. It was pointed out to me that these two (Alison and Larry) in another show (Gavin & Stacey) and then we’d (Celia) been together in another show. It was a bit weird, I must say. But we soon forgot about that, didn’t we?”
Larry Lamb: “Yeah, you do.”
Celia Imrie: “But of course it did help that we were familiar with each other. Because it’s a sort of peculiar magic that you don’t have to then play on the screen…”
Duncan Preston: “It’s a shorthand. You have a shorthand, don’t you?”
Celia Imrie: “…and that husbands and wives or people that know each other very well don’t necessarily look at each other all the time. Little things like that I noticed. I’m absolutely thrilled and I’m so proud to be in it.”
Alison Steadman: “Me too.”
Larry Lamb: Absolutely. And it’s really strange because people have asked me – and I’m sure they’ve asked you as well Alison – about the whole Gavin & Stacey thing, about the way that evolved. And that was so similar in the fact that in Gavin & Stacey and in this, everybody lived together in a hotel and every evening after work we would meet as a family and sit around and talk about whatever was going on in everybody’s lives and it just formed this family.”
Debbie Isitt: “It is one of the joys of location…”
Larry Lamb: “And, of course, if it’s cast right and everybody has this sort of sense that, ‘Yes, this could be my brother and this could be my sister or my mum or my aunt or whatever,’ then the care has been taken beforehand. So you’re not constantly trying to fit yourself into it.”
Alison Steadman: “You always kind of know a good job, like when we finished Gavin & Stacey and the same when I finished this and got back home…you long to get back home because you think, ‘Oh, my own bed and I’ll be able to rest,’ and all the rest of it. And then you sit there, the first morning at breakfast and think, ‘Actually I’m missing everybody.’ And there’s a little bit of me would like to be getting the train back to Coventry to all be together again. So you always know it’s been a good job when you get that feeling.”
Celia Imrie: “But if we’d filmed it in London, that sort of togtherness wouldn’t have happened. So that was a piece of magic too.”
Q: I was just wondering what your signs of a good marriage are?
Celia Imrie: “I wouldn’t know. Haven’t got a clue.”
Larry Lamb: “Don’t ask me!” (laughter)
Duncan Preston: “Or me.” (laughter)
Stewart Harcourt: “I think it’s about change. There’s one point later on where Zoe Telford’s character says to Graeme Hawley’s character, ‘You’re supposed to be married to three different people.’ And he gets a bit panicky about this. And she says, ‘Or you’re married to the same person but you have three different marriages to the same person.’ Because you’re together for a long time, 41 years, Ken and Pauline, and you change as individuals, you change as people, you have different things going on in your life – kids or your job or whatever it is. And if you can’t change together and allow the other person to change then you hit the buffers.”
Alison Streadman: “Or it’s just that thing, perhaps, with Ken and Pauline that they kind of…I’m including Pauline but it’s mainly Ken…they forget to look and see the other person. They just forget. And it becomes such a routine, normal life. You just don’t look or see the person or hear them anymore. And so the other person feels really lonely because they haven’t got that togetherness. And I think that’s what’s happened with these two. They have forgotten – he’s forgotten that she’s there. And, of course, the kids take her for granted and she’s working her socks off and they love their mum to bits. But they’ve forgotten as well that they’re giving her all this work. And it happens with kids. ‘Oh mum, can you do this? Mum pick up the kids? Can you do this?’ And, of course, she always says, ‘Yes I can.’ And inside she’s getting more and more tired, although she loves her family. I think retiring and death do make us, as human beings, re-evaluate our lives. And when we do, sometimes we change. And that’s what Pauline’s done.”
Stewart Harcourt: “It’s the episode where she gets her head up…”
Alison Steadman: “She thinks ‘me’ time.”
Celia Imrie: “I think that lots of people are going to really relate to one or other of us in this. I can’t believe they’re not. They’re all going to be thinking, ‘That’s me.’ And what I also think is absolutely phenomenal is that Stewart is a man and writes so heavenly for women. How does he do it?”
Stewart Harcourt: “Going back to the first question – what Alison said about writing for actresses and especially actresses over a certain age, it’s just fascinating. And it feels a slightly untapped area. Actresses’ parts do tend to dry up in the late thirties and they become different. Men’s change as well but in a slightly different way. They can still maintain a dynamism. So to try and find dynamic characters, it’s just exciting to write for.”
Debbie Isitt: “You’re the new Willy Russell.”
Duncan Preston: “You do think about women a lot as a man anyway, don’t you?”
Stewart Harcourt: “You do.”
Q: Having been in successful comedies before, do you feel there’s a pressure going into something like this? Do you think, ‘Will this live up to what I’ve done before?’
Duncan Preston: “I don’t think of it as a comedy, to be honest.”
Larry Lamb: “No, I don’t.”
Alison Steadman: “No, I don’t.”
Duncan Preston: “I never do think of anything as a comedy or serial. I just think you play the part and if it’s funny, great, but…”
Larry Lamb: “It’s all about the writing. You judge it from the writing. From the minute you open the first page, that’s it. You know you’re on a winner.”
Celia Imrie: “But also it’s got the two (comedy and drama) going together which is just bliss.”
Duncan Preston: “That’s right. And there’s always that juxtaposition. The comedy comes out of the tragedy and the tragedy comes out of the comedy. And that’s what is so clever about Stuart. One minute everything in the garden is lovely and the next minute…”
Larry Lamb: “And totally, totally believable.”
Q: Do you think people today give up on marriage too easily?
Alison Steadman: “Things have changed, of course. Say from my parents’ generation. I can remember when I was at school there was one girl in my whole class and her parents were divorced. It was shocking. We, as kids, felt really sorry for her because she was the girl who had an odd mix-match – her mother had married again…it felt really odd. I think now it seems to be the norm for kids that their parents don’t stay together, sadly. But yeah, times change. And, hopefully, maybe my son’s generation, that’ll be a switch again. Maybe they’ll think again. Because divorce is so easy now and it wasn’t years ago. You had to go through all sorts of hoops and pretend and get evidence and all this. It was incredibly complicated. Now it’s just a question of saying, ‘Oh, that’s it.’ So perhaps we don’t put the value on it that we did. I don’t know.”
Stewart Harcourt: “There’s certainly not as much religious teaching about it. It’s more of a secular society. I remember the first divorce in my family – I come from a similar family to the Paraside family, I suppose…it’s not based on them, honest. It really isn’t. (laughter) But the first person who got divorced…one of my brothers got divorced about 10 years ago and he was married to an American woman. And there was all that thing, like, ‘We don’t get divorced in our family.’ And she said, ‘Well maybe some of you should have done!’” (laughter)
Q: Why is it set in Coventry and what was the policy towards having accents in this?
Debbie Isitt: “That was our first challenge – what is the Coventry accent? I live in Coventry, which is one of the reasons it’s there. The other reason is that Stewart’s family hails from Coventry. So between us we were delighted to set it in Coventry. But it is an unusual accent because it’s not a Birmingham accent. It’s right in the middle of the country. It’s got lots of influences from London, it’s quite semi-rural, it’s a bit of north. It’s the most extraordinarily difficult accent to get. So some of the actors had more experience of the region than others. In the end we just went for the truth, really. Get as neutral and truthful – an accent that doesn’t get in the way for you (cast) all. So that you all sound pretty similar, you all come from the same neck of the woods, not Birmingham but somewhere Midlandy – and then forget about it, so that you can play the truth of the situation. There’s nothing worse than an actor concentrating on an accent and it getting in the way of their performance. I don’t think that’s happened in this and that’s a great thing. Coventry is an under-represented city, it’s right in the middle of the country. It’s a place that’s full of working class people who have great aspirations for themselves and for their city and we both have genuine experience of it from a location point of view and from a heart point of view. And we know people. I was immediately able to say, ‘There’s a family just like the Paraside family, they all live on one street in Coventry. I’ll take you to them.’ Immediately. And we could start sourcing the locations based on the truth that Stuart had written about.”
Stewart Harcourt: “I think everything should be set in Coventry…”
Debbie Isitt: “Me too.” (laughter)
Stewart Harcourt: “I saw Star Trek the other day. And I thought, genuinely, that would benefit from being set at the Binley Road Fire Station. (laughter) But also it never felt like a London family, because it hasn’t got that Metropolitan beat or edge to it or whatever. You could set it in Manchester, Leeds, Bristol, Liverpool but hundreds of shows have come from there. And it felt fresh to go somewhere new. And it’s a great place. And it is about Middle England in many ways. It is right in the centre of England. In terms of accents as well, it’s always been a boom town Coventry. People have come from all over the place over the last 200 years for work. So there are a range of accents in there. It’s a very good question though because it is a hard one to pin down. It’s very easy to go Brummie or quite northern. But the fact is that people live on the same street and they have different accents. I’ve got a different accent to my brothers because I’ve lived away for a while. That’s what families are like nowadays as well.”
Q: (Me again) Alison described ‘Silent Ken’ very well earlier on. Can I ask Duncan for your take on the character and perhaps give us a glimpse of how he reacts in future episodes to his situation?
Duncan Preston: “Well, he doesn’t know what he’s done wrong. But he knows he’s done something wrong. (laughter) My dad was like that. I’ve got first hand experience. He finds out that he’s got to do something about it, in the end. He does nothing for three episodes. He just thinks it’s her fault.”
Stewart Harcourt: “You (Ken) start ignoring Pauline and then you feign illness for an episode with heart palpitations…”
Duncan Preston: “He knows he should be alright there. But he’s not. And it takes up two or three episodes to find out that he’s actually in the wrong.”
Debbie Isitt: “But he wants her back always…”
Duncan Preston: “Always wants her back. But he hasn’t got a clue how to do it. And that’s where the kids come in and they tell him how to do it. The wonderful thing about this show – there are no great big egos on it. And that’s why we had such a great time. So you can actually talk to other people about your character and they can talk to you about theirs. It wasn’t all, me, me, me, me me. All that.”
Q: (Me yet again – sorry) Did I read somewhere that there’s a scene later in the series on a trampoline?
Duncan Preston: “Yeah. I don’t want to talk about it.” (laughter)
Alison Steadman: “Luckily, you were in a circus as a kid, weren’t you?”
Debbie Isitt: “It’s always great when the writer writes, ‘And Ken does a somersault over the garden fence off a trampoline…’ And then Duncan’s like, ‘Errr?’”
Duncan Preston: “I only read the first three eps, and I thought, ‘Oh, I’m just playing a docile old grandfather again. Not at all. I’ve never run as far, never climbed as many stairs, climbing up diving boards – I’ve never worked so hard in my life, physically.”
Stewart Harcourt: “Ken’s story in this series is about him finding his voice…”
Q: Alison – it’s a tough call at 60 to suddenly walk out on your home and family. Could you do it? Is it something that women at that age can find that strength of character to do it?
Alison Steadman: “Yes. Given the circumstances, of course. As I say, sometimes life and marriages do just tick along for years and years and years and it takes something to make that person go, ‘I want to change things.’ Also, when you get to be a pensioner, as it were, you start to reflect on your life a lot more. And you suddenly look forward and think, ‘God, maybe I’ve only got 20 years at the most? 15 even. Suddenly you see the end in sight, which when you’re in your twenties, thirties and forties, you don’t think about dying and all that because you’re so busy living. But it is a time, I think, for a lot of people to reflect. And that makes them perhaps say, ‘Look, I’ve got to do something before it’s too late.’ And so it does happen. I’m not saying, obviously, that it happens to every couple. But it’s perfectly believable and was so easy to play once you got under the skin of that women and we found our relationship. It felt absolutely right. Occasionally you’re in the middle of a script and you think, ‘I don’t know whether she’d do that?’ But with this script there was never a moment when any of us went, ‘I don’t quite believe that,’ or, ‘I’ve got to force myself to do that.’ It was easy. Easy to be under the skin of that woman.”
Q: Do you think there will be women out there, then, that watch this and think, ‘Actually, I could do this and I’m going to do this?
Duncan Preston: “There could be a lot of reconciliations come about out of all this, if they all watch. You never know.”
Alison Steadman: “Yes. There could be people who actually are watching it and go, ‘God, that might happen? It’s a wake up call. Come on, I’ve got to bring her a bunch of flowers. I’ve got to say, actually I love you. Or thanks for that meal that was brilliant, instead of just eating and saying – right, I’m off to bed.’ It might not necessarily split couples up but make couples think. You should appreciate each other and actually not take each other for granted anymore.”