From rag-and­bone to riches

TV Times - - Interview - New COM­EDY Step­toe and Son WED­NES­DAY / BBC4 / 9.00Pm Richard Mcclure

As ed Cole­man brings Harold Step­toe back to life, he tells us the char­ac­ter would now be a wealthy man

As part of the BBC Land­mark Sit­com sea­son, we’ve al­ready re­vis­ited the likes of Grace Broth­ers’ de­part­ment store and 23 Rail­way Cut­tings, East Cheam, home of Tony Han­cock.

This week, an­other iconic lo­ca­tion re­opens its doors when BBC4 re-cre­ates an episode from the fifth se­ries of Step­toe and

Son – A Win­ter’s Tale – that was wiped from the ar­chives af­ter it was first broad­cast in March 1970.

The clas­sic com­edy ended on Box­ing Day 1974, so it’s been al­most 42 years since we last saw frus­trated rag-and-bone man Harold Step­toe (Harry H Cor­bett) and his can­tan­ker­ous fa­ther Al­bert (Wil­frid Bram­bell) at home in Oil Drum Lane, Shep­herd’s Bush. Now the pair live again in the form of Ed Cole­man, who plays Harold, and Jeff Rawle, who plays Al­bert.

By his own ad­mis­sion, Ed, 36, had never watched a whole episode of the show be­fore be­ing cast. ‘De­spite that, I felt I knew it quite nat­u­rally. Step­toe and Son is part of our fabric,’ he says, ‘but I made a con­scious de­ci­sion not to look at it be­fore we started film­ing. Jeff and I aren’t im­pres­sion­ists; we tried to bring some­thing of our­selves to the roles.’

A Win­ter’s Tale sees Harold want­ing to go on a ski­ing hol­i­day – des­per­ate to stop Al­bert from com­ing with him. ‘Ob­vi­ously, Harold can’t go about things in the nor­mal way,’ says Ed. ‘He ba­si­cally finds ev­ery­thing he needs on his round – from mis­matched skis to a woolly jumper.’

To re­search the part, Ed – who’s pre­vi­ously en­joyed roles in Spy and Holby City – read as much as he could about Harry H Cor­bett and un­earthed some fas­ci­nat­ing facts. ‘Did you know that Wil­frid Bram­bell was just 13 years older than

Harry? And Harry put the H in his name to avoid con­fu­sion with Sooty and Sweep cre­ator Harry Cor­bett?’ he asks.

As with many come­dies from the 1960s and 1970s, the show – writ­ten by Ray Gal­ton and Alan Simp­son, now both in their eight­ies – was very much a prod­uct of its time. But Ed says the pro­duc­ers of the re­vamp never con­sid­ered cut­ting out or chang­ing any lines to make it po­lit­i­cally cor­rect.

‘Yes, there are a cou­ple of lines in the episode that peo­ple would prob­a­bly choose not to write these days, in­clud­ing a ref­er­ence to “crum­pet”. But it’s a pe­riod piece; a his­toric doc­u­ment, ef­fec­tively. You wouldn’t change a cen­turies-old play, and you wouldn’t change this.’ Ed’s one re­gret is that he didn’t get chance to ut­ter Harold’s catch­phrase. ‘I don’t get to say, “You dirty old man”,’ he laughs. ‘I do re­fer to Al­bert as a dirty old man, but I don’t call him it to his face, un­for­tu­nately.’

Af­ter record­ing Step­toe and Son in front of a stu­dio au­di­ence, the ac­tor says he un­der­stands why the sit­com was so loved.

‘It’s al­most a tragi-com­edy re­ally. Harold and Al­bert are stuck in this in­escapable sit­u­a­tion. They ap­pear to hate each other, but they can’t sur­vive with­out one an­other. Harold wants to get out of the house, but ev­ery time his am­bi­tion fails and it’s back to square one. It’s a vi­cious cy­cle.’

De­spite the hard­ship, squalor and con­stant money wor­ries that the Step­toes ex­pe­ri­ence, Ed likes to think Harold would have had a happy end­ing.‘think about it,’ he rea­sons. ‘For all their poverty, they’re sit­ting on about 3,000 square me­tres of prime Lon­don real es­tate. There’s a point when, hope­fully, their place would be re­de­vel­oped and they would be­come very wealthy. If Harold made it into his seven­ties, he’d be loaded.’

Fa­ther time: Jeff and Ed as the Step­toes

Dish­ing up laughs: Harry H Cor­bett and Wil­frid Bram­bell

For all their poverty, they’re sit­ting on about 3,000 square

me­tres of prime Lon­don

real es­tate

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