Would you Adam and Eve it! Danny Baker’s 1970s docker Dad Fred “Spud” Baker is being played by Boltonian Peter Kay….
But even if hearing the Phoenix Nights and Car Share actor talk in a “sarf” London accent takes a few scenes to get used to in the new eight-parter From Cradle to Grave, Kay seems just the right fit. The jovial comic makes the wheeler-dealer patriarch in this uncompromisingly upbeat drama based on Baker’s memories of growing up in a council flat in Bermondsey south London his own.
For one thing, Baker admits that Kay (below) doesn’t sound like his real-life docker and union man Dad.
“Peter, yes, Bolton to his boots – but he’s also an actor… He always wanted to be like his hero Ronnie Barker and he has that quality – I think he’s the natural heir to that sort of actor.
“He’s not an impersonator. But that’s how his character talks, so I’m not precious. The point is it’s a London accent I grew up never hearing London accents anyway! I mean, what Ronnie Barker did in Porridge, I don’t know what part of London that was. I let him find him, let him work on it.”
The characters – whether it’s Kay’s Dad, Lucy Speed’s Mum or Danny’s sister Sharon (Alice Sykes) – leap off the screen in Baker and his friend Jeff Pope’s adaptation just as they leaped from the pages of Baker’s memoir Going to Sea in a Sieve.
Young Danny himself is played by the handsome young actor Laurie Kynaston (Baker insists that he was himself once a good looking lad, adding “behold the ruins of once great beauty”).
But strangely, perhaps, given the drama’s painful attention to recreating the physical details of Baker’s early life (“they found the exact wallpaper I had in my bedroom!”), the man himself insists that that the TV adaptation “doesn’t feel personal”.
“They are very powerful characters. It’s just good stories. This is a reality, it’s not the reality of growing up in our house. My friends are a hybrid of all my friends. We got the dynamics right.”
Cradle to Grave is an unusual (and very good) comedy – upbeat but never ickliy sentimental. And despite featuring the death of young Danny’s friend Martin in episode one, it remains suffused with the passionate and uncompromising positivity Baker’s friends, fans and family will be familiar with.
“My life has been nothing NOTHING but a Polyanna carousel of tremendous good fortune and happenstance…I am literally known for it. And quite rightly we hear a lot about mental health and depression. But let’s hear it for us euphoric once in a while. I genuinely think I am a euphoric.”
In that spirit, he refuses to dwell on his throat cancer (from which he got the all clear in 2011): . “Everybody wants to talk about it. F***. It was bad enough the first time around. I don’t want to relive it”.
He also resents “middle class examination of what happened to the working class….They are doing alright. They are much more resilient, much less needy. Stop putting them under a glass and examining them.”
And in Cradle to Grave he refuses to accept the image of the grim 1970s, even despite all the sex scandals from that era that have emerged in recent months.
“Thinking of the 1970s as one idea – and decades in general – is so simplistic. Half a dozen celebrities get banged up for kiddie fiddling and we say ‘ah that’s what they were like’….The idea that we’ve sorted it out today. People are still nuisances, people are still f*****rs.
“I was unaware I was living through the grim 1970s. I’m fed up of reading about the 70s – rubbish Poldark, bodies couldn’t be buried. I dare say in twenty years people will be talking about living through the age of austerity and that, but in your day-to-day life you don’t.
“If you watch Fawlty Towers and The Likely Lads there’s no inkling the world’s burning down. People are going into pubs and talking. It’s not newsworthy but the mundanity is part of the poetry of it.”
Living in the 1970s, he goes on, “ wasn’t Alcatraz….. It was only 1974, the 1970s, the height of socialism, the working classes did well. We loved it.”
In fact, as the drama will show, his early life feels rather idyllic – success in the classroom, the sports field – and (as well will see in the course of the drama) with girls.
“It’s easy to write dark. I will tell you what’s hard. Light. Light and shallow is hard. Earnest and dark is easy. God I literally don’t recognise that culture, no acceptance of it at all.
“People say what are you hiding. Shut up! “You have 70 odd summers to go round this carousel. For the love of God get on with it.”
Words that Messrs Kay – and the late Fred Spud Baker – would no doubt concur with. Whatever the accent.
Cradle to Grave airs on BBC2 on Thursday September 3