Timothy Spall talks to James Rampton about being comfortable in his own skin, his new series—and a portly new co-star

Crom Castle, by the banks of Lough Erne in County Fermanagh, is a proper “come and have a go if you think you’re hard enough” castle—all imposing grey stone walls and daunting battlements. But for the time being at least, this heaviest of facades conceals the lightest of enterprises.

For Crom is standing in for the chaotic stately home Blandings in the second series of BBC1’s adaptation of P G Wodehouse’s stories. And at the heart of these tales is the warm and charming Timothy Spall, who plays Clarence, the head of the eccentric, aristocratic Emsworth family. Reclining in an armchair for our interview in the grand castle bedroom that’s doubling as his dressing room, Timothy makes for delightful company, the air frequently filled with laughter during our interview.

The 57-year-old, who lives in central London with Shane, his wife of 33 years, is enjoying his time getting away from it all. “I’m very lucky. My wife comes with me, so I bring my life with me to Crom. I love living in London—unlike Clarence, who is bewildered by it and says ‘ghastly people coagulate there’—but it’s nice to get out here to Fermanagh.

“It may not be an obvious choice—but I came here in the middle of the Troubles, and I liked it even then. I was surprised to find out what a friendly place it is. People wave to you when you drive by, and everyone has time to stop for a chat."

Timothy, who has three grown-up children, Pascale, Mercedes and Rafe (another well-known actor) has also relished revisiting his Blandings character. “Clarence could be seen as a borderline imbecile. He’s very forgetful and is educated way, way beyond his intelligence. I suppose you could say that of quite a few people in positions of high authority in this country! But he literally wouldn’t hurt a fly. He causes problems and then inadvertently solves them through a combination of lunacy, eccentricity and being very sweet natured.”

CLARENCE COULD BE SEEN AS A BORDERLINE IMBECILE. I SUPPOSE YOU COULD SAY THAT OF QUITE A FEW PEOPLE IN POSITIONS OF HIGH AUTHORITY

Timothy has a deep love of literature, particularly Dickens (his TV credits include Oliver Twist and Our Mutual Friend), but working on Blandings has also kindled a new-found admiration for P G Wodehouse.

“He captures something quintessentially English and creates characters who are very precise examples of the aristocracy. They might at first appear cartoonish, but he invests them with a lot of heart. There’s so much stuff about aristocrats who are very serious people wearing expensive hats and being supercilious. But the ship of lunatics in Blandings is the flipside of that. Wodehouse may not be a heavyweight, but he is the absolute king of the light touch. I was delighted by the success of the first series, as it meant a whole load of nine-year-olds were introduced to his work. After all, it isn’t often that one of a novel’s leading characters is a pig...”

Ah, yes, the Empress of Blandings, Clarence’s beloved porcine companion that he cares about far more than anything that’s happening to his dysfunctional clan. She features heavily in the TV series and Timothy, too, has developed a strong attachment to his piggy co-star. “Doris doesn’t know she’s about to become a household name,” he smiles. “She’s new to the role and delivers every time. The old pig [from the first series] was a bit more cantankerous—she didn’t really want to be in showbusiness. But Doris and I have a good rapport. Clarence has a crook, and I use it to scratch her back, which she seems to like. That and all the cakes.”

THE PIG FROM THE FIRST SERIES WAS A BIT MORE CANTANKEROUS—SHE DIDN’T REALLY WANT TO BE IN SHOWBUSINESS

Since breaking into the national consciousness as Barry, the shambling Brummie electrician in Auf Wiedersehen, Pet in 1983, Timothy has become one of Britain’s most admired actors—though mainly for a series of unglamorous, put-upon characters, including the lead role in ITV’s The Fattest Man in Britain and Peter Pettigrew in the Harry Potter films.

“It’s not a struggle for me to look like these downtrodden characters,” says Timothy, with typical self-deprecation. “It would be ludicrous and undignified if I tried to portray myself as a romantic hero. The very idea makes me laugh. It would put people off their tea! But I’m blessed by looking the way I do, so I don’t have to fight against natural beauty!’’

Blandings is currently on BBC1.

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