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24 September 2014
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Rudolph Walker plays Grandpa Langley Crouch

Rudolph Walker plays Grandpa Langley CrouchGrandpa Langley, Roly's mischievous Trinidadian father, has an eye for the ladies.

Grandma Sylvia has to keep her wits about her if she's to keep Langley's amorous advances in check.

Rudolph Walker, one of Britain's most respected actors, returns to his comic roots in The Crouches.

The popular actor, who also plays lovable rogue Patrick Trueman in EastEnders, first shot to fame 30 years ago in the politically incorrect comedy series Love Thy Neighbour.

Walker will be honoured with the Edric Connor Trailblazer Award for his longstanding career in film and television at the Screen Nation Film and TV Awards later this month.

"Grandpa Langley is a bit of a lad, very old-fashioned, with old-fashioned principles," says Walker. "He's also a ladies' man.

"The character is based on a guy I know who is a friend," he says with a smile. "He is a successful businessman. Although Langley Crouch hasn't got that far, this friend of mine is also a bit of a ladies' man.

"The norm for any young person visiting this country for the first time was to go to Buckingham Palace and see what that was like. But I just took it all in my stride," says Walker, who travelled to the UK from Trinidad in 1961.

"When I came over in the Sixties, the sort of thing I faced was sitting on a bus and someone would get up and sit somewhere else - or I would travel several stops without anyone sitting next to me. But that didn't faze me," says the Emma award-winning actor.

Before EastEnders, Walker was best known for playing Bill Reynolds in Love Thy Neighbour, the series about a warring black man and white man living next door to each other.

"I think at the time we thought it would be quite successful and it would have a great impact - it certainly did. I thought it was terrific. I am still proud of having done it."

However, Walker says he was adamant he would only agree to take on the role of Reynolds if it was on the following terms:

"One of the most important things I said when I was cast in Love Thy Neighbour was my character must never be subservient. If he calls me a name, I call him a name. If he raises a hand, I raise my hand.

"It was the first time I am aware of that you had a black character and a white character on equal footing," says Walker proudly.

"When we were coming to the end of Love Thy Neighbour, offers kept coming in but they were all to do with the same type of character - which I bluntly refused.

"It was very easy to think about money and go on and do another ... but I said no. Yes, I might have been popular, but I don't think I would be sat here today talking to you, because I have seen what has happened to a lot of actors.

"So I had the chance to go and work in the theatre and I did great plays which I thoroughly enjoyed; it meant I was off the box for a while but then I came back and did things like Black Silk, The Thin Blue Line and various others."

Walker feels strongly that there needs to be more acknowledgement of black talent both in front of and behind the scenes:

"We need to recognise the achievements that young black actors and actresses are making," continues Walker. "There is still a chronic shortage of that recognition and there is so much talent around.

"I tend to be realistic because I have survived. I don't go round with a chip on my shoulder because it is not going to give me longevity if I do. I have my own approach, my own way of counteracting the system.

"It is just that I feel there is so much more that can be done. There's quite a high percentage of young black actors who are out of work."

The 5 foot 10 inches actor, whose credits include the stage production of The Iceman Cometh at the Old Vic, reveals why the role of Grandpa Langley in The Crouches was a part he could not refuse.

"When the producer, Stephen McCrum, sent me the rough draft some time ago, I found the idea of doing something with a black family very appealing. The script was very, very funny and it had fantastic potential," says Walker.

"I didn't hesitate at all and said I would love to do it. Variety is the spice of life and being able to do The Crouches and EastEnders was amazing.

"I think there is something in The Crouches for everyone - it has a lot of classic moments. It will appeal to the youngsters as it has two exciting young actors in it. For me, getting involved with such a young and exciting group of people was terrific.

"I find that when I am working I look to the younger actors for advice," admits Walker. "I never work in a vacuum. If I see they are doing something that can get a better interpretation, I would say why not try it this way. Most of the time I work with that sort of atmosphere around me, so the actors I work with feel free to make suggestions.

"I was aware of Ian Pattison's writing," continues Walker. "It is immaterial to me which part of the world the writer is from. I always have the philosophy that we have the same oceans regardless of whether you are black, white, pink or green. Humour is universal.

"There are so many things you watch on television today and you can easily put a black cast in that and it would still work. What we need is that level playing field where you can say, here is a TV play and there is a black actor and so what?

"One of the good things is there is an experienced cast in The Crouches. It is so much a team effort."

Is Walker hoping to make a permanent transition from drama into comedy?

"No, I prefer drama. I enjoy the challenges," he confesses. "The blood, sweat and tears of drama keeps you on a knife's edge and I love to explore that. Not that comedy isn't challenging."

Don Warrington plays Bailey

Don Warrington plays BaileyRoly and Ed's outlandish station supervisor, Bailey is a man with a past that's possibly best kept well hidden!

"Bailey is man of individual tastes," says Don Warrington.

"He had the prospect of a glittering future working as a BBC radio announcer and, because of certain character traits, he fell off his perch. So he took a job at London Underground and he has decided to do the best that he can."

Best known as student Philip Smith who lived in Rigsby's dingy boarding house in the classic Seventies series, Rising Damp, Warrington reveals he initially found a career in comedy rather "disagreeable".

"Rising Damp was the first thing I did when I left drama school and it turned out to be very successful," says Warrington.

"It was exciting and it wasn't. I came out of drama school but I was not prepared for a role in comedy. I saw myself, like my contemporaries, going off and doing serious stuff.

"I left drama school and went into a comedy which I have to say I found a little disagreeable at first. I thought that this wasn't what they trained me for. They trained me for much more serious things.

"I have always wanted to be an actor. I recall in Trinidad being taken to see a Bollywood movie and I thought it was fantastic, these guys singing, fighting and rescuing maidens was the life for me.

"I came to the UK from Trinidad in 1961 when I was six or seven," continues the actor last seen as Patrick, the consummate bachelor, in the BBC TWO comedy series Manchild.

"We lived up north in Newcastle. It was extraordinary. There were very few black people. My brother and I were the only black people in the school. The thing about kids is they are adaptable and we made every attempt to fit in, but one always tries to retain something of yourself and where you came from.

"When I first read the script for The Crouches, I thought it would be worth considering because it was an all-black comedy, and if they wanted it, I should lend my support to it because it's very important that we have it.

"The Crouches was Ian Pattison's idea. One has to applaud Ian's bravery really for taking it on, and to see that he is not somebody who is limited by the view that he is not a black person.

"Everybody worked hard and professionally to get their characters right. We are in the end just a bunch of actors whether we're black is neither here nor there.

"The press may make something about the colour of the people doing it but, in the end, it's whether you believe in what we're doing or you don't. That's the acid test, it seems to me.

"Sitcom land seems to be a strange kind of concept of England. It tends to be England of 30/40 years ago, and to have a sitcom, which reflects the diversity in the culture, I think is very important.

"Black people are part of the culture and as television is there to reflect the way we live, it is very important we have a sitcom which does that. Given that sitcoms tend to be the most populist form of television it's important that one lends support to The Crouches in order to make it become part of the landscape of television.

"I think there should be more roles for black actors on television. Black actors don't have the same career trajectory as white actors do. You can't go from one thing to another, and it's quite difficult.

"But I don't think there's a deliberate policy not to employ black actors; I just think that as black people we're not high up in the consciousness of things.

"When I started there were lead roles for black actors, there were few but they were there. In my view it doesn't necessarily have to be a lead role, but an interesting role which can improve their work, and gives the actor a chance to develop and explore his range."

Mona Hammond plays Grandma Sylvia

Mona Hammond plays Grandma Sylvia
A smart, dignified woman who's not to be underestimated, she knows exactly what Grandpa Langley is after and has no intention of letting him get it!

Mona Hammond plays Natalie's Jamaican mother Grandma Sylvia, who's lived with Nat and Roly, her son-in-law, since losing her late husband Roy.

"I love my independence and wouldn't want to rely on anyone for anything so personally, I wouldn't live in the same house as my son and daughter-in-law," Mona confesses. "I would prefer to live in a house next door or not far away."

A familiar face on mainstream television with numerous TV credits to her name, Mona is probably best known for her role as Blossom in EastEnders, a role she played for three years.

"It was the fact that this was a comedy which attracted me to the role," says Mona.

"The last time I did a sitcom was when I did Chef! about ten years ago! I also did two episodes of Desmonds which everyone seems to remember me in.

"I think Grandma Sylvia is a funny lady who loves her grandchildren and her family.

"I also think she would love to be younger, but she can't be, of course, so she hangs out with the youngsters to pick up their modern language!

"I decided to put on three or four pounds for the role because I felt Grandma Sylvia would be bigger than me. My dress size went up from a 10/12 to a 12/14, and you can see it on my face and tummy," says the actress.

"I'm desperately trying to get the weight off now but it gets more difficult the older you get. I am currently on a diet and I've managed to take off two and a half pounds so I still have a little way to go.

" I try to keep fit by doing a bit of salsa and I'm also looking into doing some yoga.

"There are similarities between Grandma Sylvia and me," Mona confesses.

"We're both trusting and generous and we both love children. I'm not a grandmother yet, and I am happy not being one," she laughs.

"It such a huge responsibility. Nobody ever tells you when you have children that it's going to be for life!"

"It was fun working with Rudy Walker again. The first television production Rudy and I did was Black Silk in the Eighties, when I played his wife.

"We were saying to each other that out of all the people we went to drama school with at the City Lit 40 years ago, we're the only two who are still working in the business! The others have given up or just simply went on to do something else.

"I was aware of Ian Pattison's work," says the star of Babyfather, White Teeth and Storm Damage. "I'd also seen a couple of episodes of Rab C Nesbitt. I like the way Ian writes, I think he is a very clever writer.

"It always takes two or three of any series before it takes hold. I really hope people will like The Crouches. The actors are fantastic and the stories are absolutely hilarious.

"There was a scene between Danny John Jules, Robbie Gee and Don Warrington when Don's asking them questions which I found very funny; and there's another scene with Robbie and Terence Maynard who plays the Reverend Garstang, which is also hilarious. Robbie suspects he is having an affair with his wife Natalie, and goes round to confront him.

"When I finished doing The Crouches I did a day's work on the Hollywood movie, The Life and Death of Peter Sellers. The lady I portray is a southern actress," reveals Mona.

"I had to do my scene with Geoffrey Rush who plays Sellers. I enjoyed that tremendously. It was a real challenge because I had only two days to perfect my Southern accent. I'd never done anything like that on film, although I have done a southern accent on stage."

Robbie Gee plays Roly Crouch

Robbie Gee plays Roly Crouch"I think everyone can identify with The Crouches," says Robbie Gee star of the BBC TWO long-running sketch show The Real McCoy.

"The evening meal around the table starting off as nice clean fun and then ending with someone in tears and storming out is something we can all relate to."

Robbie's character, Roly Crouch, is a man who wants respect from his family – sadly he doesn't often get it.

"He is a basic kind of guy really. He is married to his childhood sweetheart, Natalie, and they have two kids."

Roly works as a station assistant on the London Underground, which provided Robbie with some fun during filming. "It was strange wearing the uniform, I couldn't help but get into the part; people were forever asking me directions or giving me their tickets. I enjoyed the moment of power."

Robbie's career has seen him tread the boards with the Royal Shakespeare Company and perform at the Royal National Theatre.

He has also appeared in Snatch and Mike Bassett: England Manager.

His most popular TV credits include The Real McCoy and as Lee aka The Peckham Prince in Channel Four's Desmonds.

"I'd always heard of Norman Beaton, who played Desmond, so to end up working with him was amazing." says Robbie.

"There hasn't been a black sitcom for quite a while so it is nice to see the BBC is filling a void that exists.

"Desmonds was a nice, safe family sitcom; The Crouches is very risky and cheeky but it is 2003 material. Things have changed a lot since Desmonds."

Robbie's influences are varied: "I often refer to myself as Sidney Poitier junior on my CV," he says. "I love his films. Richard Pryor is another hero, especially his early work.

"Unfortunately we often have to look overseas to find role models because we haven't had the chance to shine as much in terms of black roles.

"In America they seem to invest more in the arts; which sadly we don't do here as much."

Jo Martin plays Natalie Crouch

Jo Martin plays Natalie Crouch"She is very aspirational, a bit quirky and likes change; but she gets bored and restless," says Jo Martin about her character Natalie.

"I really like her because she is flawed, but basically a good person."

Natalie Crouch manages a discount store called Poundkickers and longs for sophistication in her life.

Jo and Natalie's life could not be more different: "I am a million miles from the character but I can associate with her as families are universal," says Jo, who has worked with the Royal Shakespeare Company, and has written and directed for the Theatre Royal, Stratford East.

Her film/TV credits include The Real McCoy, Chef! and Jolly Boys Last Stand.

Jo enjoyed working on the show, but she didn't let the fact that she is a fellow writer get in the way of her job as an actress.

"I see myself as a punter. I always come from that standpoint first. I feel quite humble about learning from any project I am on.

"Obviously I have opinions, because I love what I do and enjoy good writing, but I am a big fan of Ian Pattison and I figured that if he is involved it has to have a good standard of quality – and I am glad to see I was right."

Jo's character, Natalie, gets frustrated by her husband's lack of spontaneity - which is something Jo enjoyed exploring in The Crouches.

"All the bedroom scenes were fun to do and any scene that involved Reverend Garstang (the randy minister).

"The banter between Roly and Natalie is excellent, especially when she decides to charge him for sex."

Danny John-Jules plays Ed

Danny John-Jules plays EdDanny maybe best known for his role as The Cat in BBC TWO's Red Dwarf but in The Crouches he swaps a space age cat for a more down to earth character.

"My character, Ed, thinks he is a bit of a wide boy.

"He tries to get Roly Crouch 'out on the sniff' and cheat on his missus. Deep down, though, he is really married with five kids and under the thumb."

Being part of a new sitcom was an exciting prospect and Danny liked the new take on the format: "It is an urban style show, taking a different angle. Although we had shows such as Desmonds which were popular a few years ago this felt like it was new territory."

Like Roly Crouch, Ed works for London Underground. Danny tested the authenticity of his character by wandering down Old Kent Road in his uniform. "Nobody took a blind bit of notice," he says.

Danny particularly enjoyed his scenes with Robbie: "We had one scene where the audience laughed so much I could have sat and read the paper while waiting for them to finish."

Llewella Gideon plays Lindy

Llewella Gideon plays LindyActress, writer and comedian, Llewella Gideon is probably best-known for her appearance in the BBC TWO comedy sketch show, The Real McCoy.

The writer and star of Radio 4's The Little Big Woman Show, gives an insight into Natalie's cheeky best friend Lindy.

"Lindy has a bubbly, no nonsense personality," says Llewella. "She's lived a very colourful life, but gives very practical advice to her best friend, whom she's known for a very long time.

"Lindy and Natalie are both living lives which are totally different to what we thought it would be," says Llewella.

"Lindy has five kids but she probably would have had 2.5 children, lived in a nice house and have had the same aspirations and dreams as everybody else. But instead she's ended up in a council flat, struggling to bring up her kids with her partner, Ed.

"There is a lot of love between her and Ed," continues the comedian whose credits include Absolutely Fabulous, Spice World and voiceovers for Bob The Builder.

"She knows Ed can be a bit of player, but she also knows him better than he knows himself."

The popular comedian who trained in youth theatre, says she had no doubt of the career path she wanted to follow.

"I've always wanted to be an actress," says Llewella, "but comedy just happened and that's what I've been doing for the past 15 years. It wasn't my plan to go into comedy at all.

"I still have aspirations to do straight acting because that's what I studied for, but all my work thus far has come from doing comedy.

"I also do a lot of writing. I've written comedy dramas and plays including, for the past three years, a sitcom for Radio 4; a BBC Children's programme called Kerching and I've just written a play which will be on in Greenwich.

"It was nice to work with Robbie and Jo again," continues Llewella, recalling her days on The Real McCoy.

"It's great to work with people you respect. People like Rudolph Walker and Mona Hammond are my role models in terms of their professionalism and the way they practise their art.

"They also cleared the way for people like me to come through. Mona showed us that black women could be funny and skilled in what they do, and I admire that."

Akemnji Ndifornyen plays Aiden Crouch

"It is a blessing as an actor to be able to go from a very dramatic role in Out of Control to a comedy such as The Crouches," says Akemnji Ndifornyen of his appearance as Aiden.

"My character is 16 and still in school. Because of his age he looks at the world in a young adolescent manner, but he is the most rounded member of the family."

Akemnji made a stunning television debut in Dominic Savage's award winning, improvised drama Out of Control.

He was equally excited by The Crouches as it was a chance to work with people he admires and respects: "The fact that it is a predominantly black cast made it very appealing. I grew up watching Desmonds, which was a landmark show, and, since then, relationships and attitudes within the black community have developed.

"With The Crouches we are seeing the second generation West Indian family, such as Roly and Natalie Crouch, and their interaction with their children. It is very interesting and there are some very funny situations," says Akemnji.

Although he has only been in the business a short time, Akemnji has many influences, such as the great Marlon Brando and his contemporaries.

"They are people I admire and aspire to reach the same standard," he says.

"I am also a big fan of Eddie Murphy. He is an icon. In the Eighties, when he was at the pinnacle of his career, he was a powerful force; not just through his comedy but as a celebrity. He is a phenomenal talent."

As a young black actor, Akemnji is grateful to his predecessors, especially his fellow cast members: "I am fortunate to be here at a time when a lot of the barriers have been knocked down by people such as Rudolph Walker, Mona Hammond and Don Warrington.

"I have so much respect for them as they have come such a long way. It is amazing that people of my generation are afforded the opportunity because of the advances they made in the past."

The prospect of working with such icons didn't faze him though and Akemnji soon felt comfortable surrounded by them: "We spent so much time together that we soon bonded. It wasn't like going to work; it was like spending all day with your real family."

Ony Uhiara plays Adele Crouch

Akemnji Ndifornyen plays Aiden Crouch
Ony Uhiara only graduated last year from drama school. Her classical training saw her play a variety of roles but little did she know she would be in a BBC Comedy.

"I wouldn't think of myself as a comedian, so it was a real challenge and quite different to the things I had done before."

She plays Adele Crouch the sharp-tongued daughter of Natalie and Roly.

"She is feisty and knows what she wants – and she certainly knows how to go about getting it," says Ony. "She is a bit of a troublemaker and really cheeky to her dad."

Ony has appeared in a variety of television programmes including Waking the Dead, The Vice and Think Murder.

When she received the script for The Crouches she liked it straight away: "It was funny and the idea of being part of something new really appealed to me. When I get sent scripts I often think 'would I want to watch this?' and when I read this I thought it was great and I wanted to be part of it."

Ony is from a large family and she could relate to the family in the show, although she has a much better relationship with her own family than her character Adele does.

Ony also enjoyed working with the cast and one scene in particular was a favourite of hers: "The scene when Dennis, my boyfriend in the show, first comes to the house to meet the family was excellent. Everyone was dressed up and the best china was brought out - it was a classic scene, really funny."

Performing is something Ony has wanted to do from an early age.

Although she doesn't have many acting heroes Meryl Streep is someone who she admires: "I have always liked her work; I think she is so amazing with all the characters she plays."

Her own career began when she copied the moves from musicals such as Grease and Flashdance.

"I suppose I was quite a show off when I was younger. I would have them on video and be dancing around the living room," says Ony.

"Dance classes in drama school were always my favourite lesson."

Jimmy Akingbola plays Dennis Dutton

Jimmy Akingbola plays Dennis Dutton
"Robbie Gee said that The Crouches is Only Fools and Horses and Desmonds mixed together with a lick of rum - and I think he is absolutely right," explains Jimmy Akingbola.

"The show appealed to me because it felt real and had one of those scripts that had you laughing on every other page."

Jimmy wanted to be a footballer, which is a far cry from his character, Dennis Dutton.

"My character is a local 'businessman', which means he runs things. He is basically a local gangster who owns a club called Bling it on and he wanders around with these two heavies," says Jimmy.

"When I first read the scripts I thought that he was fantastic. The writing is really good and has a real edge to it."

After giving up on his footballing ambitions, Jimmy found acting, and has since appeared on television in The Slightly Filthy Show and Roger, Roger.

His theatre credits include Naked Justice, Baby Doll and Nativity.

"I got into acting through doing a BTEC in drama," he says. "My first assignment, a monologue, got me a standing ovation so I thought this is definitely for me."

The Crouches was something that he felt he could fit into easily and relate to.

One particular episode, called Trainers, took Jimmy back to his youth: "I can identify with that episode as I had the same problem as the character Aiden (Akemnji Ndifornyen).

"I would always play football in my good trainers and ruin them, so Mum would buy me some new ones that were not designer labels. I would try my best to ruin them but couldn't and would have to go to the school disco wearing them," he says woefully.

Jimmy is a fan of both Eddie Murphy and Richard Pryor but he was also in awe of working with two other people he admires:

"I have watched Robbie Gee and Jo Martin do a lot of comedy theatre, so actually working with them was amazing. The first day was quite intimidating - I had all these people that I'd seen on television around me."

Although meeting the fellow cast members was nerve-wracking, Jimmy was able to draw on this and use it for the scene when his character, Dennis, meets the Crouch family for the first time:

"It was recorded at the end of the evening, so I was sitting backstage having kittens," explains Jimmy.

"Everyone had been laughing at the other scenes so I was worried. The cast were really supportive and made it a lot easier for me – thank God."

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