Timothy Spall plays bumbling Lord Clarence Emsworth, master of Blandings Castle.
You will have seen 55-year-old actor Timothy Spall play Peter Pettigrew in the Harry Potter films. He’s also appeared in The Kings Speech and The Damned United as well as recent TV series The Syndicate. So what drew him to Blandings?
“It’s a brilliant evocation of a certain type of aristocratic, dysfunctional lunacy,” says Spall. “The scripts made me laugh out loud. They are genuinely bottom-achingly funny. They also imbued with a humanity that goes right to their core.”
What’s the essence of Clarence’s character?
“He’s beguilingly innocent, like a knowing idiot. Nowadays he’d be diagnosed with some kind of condition, but he uses that as a tool for avoiding things he doesn’t want to do. He’s Lord Emsworth, but all he really cares about are his roses and his pig. However, a menagerie of forces keeps stopping him getting to his roses and talking to his pig.”
And he struggles to get on with sister Connie?
“He’s terrified of her. She is massively responsible and incredibly domineering. She says to his face that the place is in chaos because he’s in charge. Were it not for primogeniture, she would be running the place. Connie holds the ships together, making Clarence stick to his responsibilities. But as far as he’s concerned, she is a complete pain in the neck.”
Jennifer Saunders plays Lady Connie Keeble, Clarence’s younger widowed sister.
54-year-old Jennifer Saunders is the star of Ab Fab and French and Saunders, writer of the new Spice Girls musical Viva Forever and has recently appeared in The Comic Strip Presents… So what appealed to her about Blandings?
“Guy Andrews’ scripts were laugh-out-loud funny,” reveals Saunders. “That’s very rare these days. I’d sit in bed and just chortle. It was such a treat to be sent them.”
What’s Connie like?
“She is a frustrated battle-axe. She is frustrated because she’s not quite a battle-axe, but would like to be more of one. She is also a frustrated romantic. When she is alone, she can be fun. She sits there, eating Turkish Delight, wrapped in an exotic shawl and is transported to her own special world. She imagines she is travelling around the Middle East. She has all these romantic ideas. But then, sadly reality hits, and she remembers she had to sort out the staff or her niece’s marriage. She has to do everything herself – Clarence doesn’t even know the nieces’ names!”
How did she end up at Blandings?
“Her husband has died, so she’s having to live with her brother and his ridiculous son Freddie. Because of primogeniture, Clarence has all the money and power, but she is so much more capable. She is constantly explaining stuff to him, but it never goes in. If he would only listen to what she says, she would be happy. But unfortunately he’s a total shambles. That makes for great comedy.”
Mark Williams plays Sebastian Beach, Clarence’s faithful butler.
You’ll recognise 53-year-old Mark Williams from playing Arthur Weasley in the Harry Potter films, as well as Rory Pond’s dad in Doctor Who.
So why did he want to be a part of Blandings?
“I’m stunned that people keep asking me to play characters I didn’t expect to play,” reveals Williams. “Being asked to play one of the butlers is like being picked to play for England. All you have to do is think of the great butlers from the past – Terry-Thomas in How To Murder Your Wife, John Gielgud in Arthur and Denholm Elliott in Trading Places.”
What’s Beach like?
“PG Wodehouse says that Beach is always about to explode. He’s permanently on the brink of apoplexy. He’s constantly put upon. He is worn down by shouldering the whole responsibility for the household.
Beach has some fantastic lines. You also have to be very economical playing a butler, which is why actors like it so much. Every line has to count.”
Jack Farthing plays Freddie Treepwood, Clarence’s elegant yet dim-witted son.
You might recognise Farthing from parts in Pramface and Silk, or from performing Shakespeare on the stage.
So what’s Freddie like?
“Freddie is Lord Emsworth’s youngest son. He is a well-meaning, charming young man who hasn’t been blessed with a great deal of common sense. He spends his time falling in love with girls, boozing and gambling away money that he doesn’t have. He has to keep coming back to Blandings. He’d much rather be in London living the life of a bright young thing, but he constantly runs out of money and has to return home.”
How has working with the rest of the star-studded cast been?
“It’s been an extraordinary experience. To find myself on set with Timothy, Jennifer, Mark and David is a dream. They have all been so welcoming, warm, kind and generous to me. I’ve learned so much from working with them. I saw the levels of preparation and concentration that they have. It was really eye-opening. It’s easy to forget how exciting it is to play a scene with someone who has such experience and ability. People always say that working with wonderful people makes you up your game, and that has certainly happened here. It’s been a wonderful feeling.”
Ellie is an entertainment, TV and film journalist writing news and (hopefully incredibly witty) comment for RadioTimes.com. She loves light-hearted dramas and glossy US series - and is more than a little bit obsessed with Downton Abbey. Foodie, sun-seeker and aspiring novelist in her own time. Likes the fact that her name rhymes with telly.