Q&A: Timothy Spall

The actor and Back at Sea presenter shares his TV loves


Which TV series would you take to a desert island?


That old, black-and-white Adventures of Robinson Crusoe where no one speaks, made in about 1965. Just to see what the reality of the situation is. Followed by I’m Alan Partridge, so I could have a laugh.

What’s your guilty TV pleasure?

Flog It! Guilty because at 4pm I should be doing something else, shouldn’t I? It’s a toss-up between Flog It! and Dickinson’s Real Deal. I’ve got nothing against the other ones, but for me those two are the nadir of daytime auction shows.

What was the last TV programme you recommended to a friend?

24 Hours in A&E. The skill of the editing and storytelling was tremendous. Sometimes I thought, “Bloody hell, this is the death of drama!” Another was Getting On, with Jo Brand. That was brilliant: poignant, funny, black.

Series one of Somewhere at Sea, in which you and your wife Shane sailed round Cornwall to Wales, has a royal fan: the Queen requested DVDs of it to be sent to Buckingham Palace. Why do you think she was impressed?

I suppose, fundamentally, the programme is about Britain, about exploring and celebrating our own country. We really do live in a fantastic, diverse place. In series two we do Wales, England, the Isle of Man, Northern Ireland and Scotland, all in a summer. It’s very nice that Her Majesty likes it. I was chuffed that we’re reaching every corner of the TV audience!

How many TVs do you have on the boat?

Two. One of them lets us watch the sea, because it’s hooked up to a camera on the front of the boat. Sometimes, I have to admit, when we’re sitting in a marina we watch the camera looking down the pontoon – it’s the best thing on.

Name a famous person you’ve met who has most surprised you?

Gérard Depardieu. I love him as an actor, to the point of him being one of the only people I’ve been shy of meeting. When I made a film called Vatel with him, he turned out to be fantastic to work with, but also a wonderful, flamboyant, free, open, wild man. I don’t know if he still is, but it was a great experience.

Last film you walked out of?

I don’t do that. I tend to just nod off, have a bit of peace and quiet. I’ve been to premieres of my films in America – where premieres are two-a-penny – and seen people walk out. I did give someone a dirty look once, but I don’t think he knew who I was, even though he’d just been watching me on the screen.

Do you ever Google yourself?

Of course. I don’t look at forums, but sometimes before an interview I remind myself of what I’ve been in! Sometimes there are things on the Internet Movie Database I’ve forgotten all about that I said I was going to do. In this day and age, it takes them a lot of time to get the money together.

Who would play you in a film of your life?

It would have to be me, wouldn’t it? The older me, at least. I suppose it would make sense for my son Rafe [recent star of The Shadow Line] to play the younger me, although he’s a lot taller and slimmer. I did go through a slim period, though, so he could play me there. He’d have to have first refusal.

What do you and Shane watch together as a couple?


We used to sit down and watch a lot of telly when the kids were young, but now we’re out and about we’re quite selective. We always watch Newsnight. We always watch our boy – he’s doing a new series of Pete versus Life, which I’m looking forward to. And we both like Flog It!