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24 September 2014
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When I'm 64

Writer Tony Grounds

It's easy to tell that Tony Grounds loves football. The opening scene of When I'm 64, his one-off drama for BBC TWO, is set in a pre-match pub: "That day's filming was amazing," says Tony not a little wistfully, "because you thought, here's all the old firm back!"

The dramatic incident is based on Tony's real-life experience: "At the beginning of the season there was a big game between West Ham and Millwall, and there were all these old boys in the pubs.

"They were all about 60 but they were very active in the Seventies and Eighties and had all come back for this final battle.

"They were running down the street wheezing, it was such a strange sight and I thought, 'What are they doing here?'"

It shouldn't be a surprise then that Tony's own question finds its way into the mouth of his creation, Ray, played by Paul Freeman, as the opening credits roll on the drama.

A former football hooligan of some renown, along with his mate Billy 'One Punch', Ray is now a man in his sixties.

He's settled down, has married and been widowed, and has children and grandchildren of his own.

"That's why you have Ray going, 'What on earth are we doing here, I've got to get back and pick up my granddaughter from ballet'," Tony explains, "and you realise that there are other things going on in their lives - that they've moved on."

Ray may think he's over-the-hill when it comes to being a football thug, but When I'm 64 proves that being in your sixties doesn't mean the end of your life.

"When I was asked to do something about this age group I wanted to do something different," Tony asserts.

"I didn't want to talk about pensions and bus passes. At that age you've gone through the trials of life and raised a family.

"In previous generations this would be the time to sit and knit or be in the front garden pruning roses - which is what Jim's dad does - waiting for the grandchildren to visit before you die.

"Nowadays, there's a much more selfish generation - and I mean that in a positive sense - now they don't just want to sit and baby-sit.

"When we first meet Ray he's lonely", explains Tony. "He's sat indoors for eight years mourning the death of his wife. His son and daughter use him - in a nice way - but they do take him for granted.

"Billy 'One Punch' is Ray's mate and they have been friends for over 50 years, but it's a very superficial relationship. In that respect it's a very masculine trait: they see one another on a regular basis but they don't really know one another that well.

"Then Jim comes along and he is different. Ray reads Jim's wish list for his future: one, to fall in love and two, to see the world and that hits a chord with him. He starts thinking to himself, 'I'd love to have some of that'."

Tony insists that When I'm 64 isn't autobiographical, but there is an incident in his own life from which it's clear that Ray gets his envy of Jim's ambition to travel the world:

"My dad died quite young, but my mum when she was 65 suddenly announced that she was off to New Zealand with a friend, and I remember thinking, 'Bloody hell, I haven't been there!'"

While Jim (Alun Armstrong) is a major catalyst in encouraging Ray's emotional journey, Tony suggests that When I'm 64 is Ray's story:

"Because Ray has kids and grandkids you see more of Ray's domestic life. Jim cuts a much lonelier figure - at least initially.

"You have his father, but only in the hospital environment, and I didn't really want to go into the school where Jim has lived his entire life. The only friendship we glimpse is between him and the matron. So you have more family and friends around Ray."

Although his dramas always deal with the complexities of human relationships, Tony insists that once he has an idea it doesn't take long for him to write:

"You're partly inspired by what's around you, and then your imagination comes in. I don't write with a specific audience in mind. I never think about my writing like that. It's just about what comes out, the stories that bubble around my life at the time.

"I have these ideas in my head and tend to mull them over and think about them when mowing the lawn. After they've gestated and formulated in my head for about a month I can then write them down pretty quickly."

In the case of When I'm 64, the gestation period took a little longer: "The genesis for When I'm 64 has been going on for a very long time, since before I wrote Our Boy with Ray Winstone. That was about 10 years ago."

When I'm 64 is unusual for another reason too: Tony's son Oscar, 12, plays Adam, the first time a member of his family has appeared in one of his dramas.

"When writing the part of Adam, I had my son in mind. It just seemed to be the right thing to do. He's quiet and thoughtful and he just seemed to suit the role."

But Tony laughs when asked if this marks a career break for Oscar: "I think he sees this as the springboard to other things, but I keep telling him he has to concentrate on school."

Apart from an obvious pride in his son's on-screen abilities, it is clear that Tony is delighted with the way his script has been brought to life.

"Once a film is done it takes on a life of its own. I think TS Eliot said he was only the first reader of his poems, but that said I think the cast are fabulous. The acting is wonderful."

With When I'm 64 completed, Tony is now turning his attention to some of his other projects.

"There are a few things in the pipeline," he muses, "including a film script about a man who falls out of love with his wife and so goes onto the Friends Reunited website to meet up with his first school girlfriend. It's about how we're always chasing the past.

"I guess in that respect it's very different from When I'm 64, which is about two people chasing the future!"

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