RICKY Tomlinson is currently on location in Majorca filming part of the fifth series of BBC1*s Down to Earth and the leading British actor admitted yesterday that he would not swap being in Majorca right now, for the world, especially not the Labour Party Conference in Brighton.
Jailed for 15 months in 1973 for apparently organising flying pickets as part of the building workers' strike, the once militant trade unionist has turned his back on New Labour, as well as football.
The former Liverpool season ticket holder has become disillusioned with the game and all it stands for.
But the actor, for whom Down to Earth could have quite aptly been the title of his autobiography which appeared last year, and for which he was paid £800'000, is extremely happy as an actor. Although he admits that had he not become an actor after leaving prison, I'd probably be a villain. I'd never let my wife and family go hungry or short, he said yesterday during filming on the sea front in Ciudad Jardin.
The new series of Down to Earth goes to air at the start of January and the episode which sees Tomlinson's character, Tony Murphy, come to Majorca for health reasons will screen in mid-February. He has a medical scare and decides to take his wife (Denise Welch) away to the sun for a week so they can spend some time together and say the things you don't often get the chance to say on their own and have a wonderful time, he explains.
Tomlinson adds that, away from the script, he and the crew have had just that, a wonderful time during the five day shoot all over the island using the local production company Palma Pictures.
He also said it has been great to include some of the beautiful scenery in the series, which attracts some eight million viewers each week. It is set in Dartmouth and centres on topical issues which relate to rural life in picturesque Devonshire.
Tomlinson is no stranger to Spain, he has owned a small holiday home, a caravan, near Benidorm for years, but Palma Pictures have had the BBC crew filming in Alcudia, Puerto Pollense, Illetas, the Pueblo Espanyol and Ciudad Jardin.
The BBC producer Sharon Houliham said that it has been a great shoot and that Palma Pictures, who Ricky said are sensational, have been marvelous and very professional. We would love to come back, but that depends on the script writers.
Houliham said that there is no great secret to the success of the series, there isn't any great secret to the success of Tomlinson's career either.
On leaving prison he says he worked the working mens' clubs as a comedian and came through the hard way. If I'd gone to drama school, it would have probably put me off acting, he said.
He learnt his trade in life. There's a lot of myself in everything I play and I take it as a sort of compliment. But having said that, I take it as a compliment because I try to be real - what you see, is what you get - and, touch wood, it seems to work. I didn't come into the game until I was in my forties with no formal training, but I've made a really good living ever since, met some really wonderful people and acted with some wonderful actors and actresses. I mean we've got Denise Welch in this and she's tremendous and with me on set today is Duncan (Preston) who was a member of the Royal Shakespeare Company. It's so nice when they come along and we all have a great time. So, there's no great secret to me. I might not be the best actor in the world, but I give every job I get 100 percent. It's a very privileged job. You get well paid, there's always someone to hand-me, fetch-me, carry-me, which is amazing for someone from my background, but I love it and everything about it. Talking about background, Tomlinson was born in Blackpool but was brought up in Liverpool, which is still home.
He admits that most of his parts, Brookside, Boys from the Blackstuff, the Royle Family etc. are quite nasty characters with a fiery temper. Well, that's me, he laughs.
But, he always manages to slip a bit of comedy in and that is a throw back to his days when he was blacklisted and had to play the working mens' clubs and pubs.
However, he does not find much to laugh about when talking about the Labour Party. I ripped up my party card a long time ago, they're not worth a carrot, he says. I spent some time with Arthur Scargill's Socialist Labour Party, which supported the way I think, but this thing, this conference in Brighton's ridiculous. We always used to attack the Tories for stage managing their conferences, that's what we do now. The only thing is we do it far better. It's appalling. I asked him what he would say to the conference...if invited, he did present the Labour party's General election broadcast in 2001. The first thing I'd say is how come the word Socialism has gone from the manifesto. How come that we're privatising, by stealth, the National Health Service? How is it that there's no such thing as affordable housing for young people? It's all very well that John Prescott's voters, first time buyers, are all going to get homes from £60'000. How are our kids in Liverpool who are earning eight to nine thousand pounds a year going to afford a home like that, if they even materialise? They're living in a dreamworld.... It's all spin now, they're papering over the cracks. I mean Tony Blair talks about all the good he's done, he doesn't talk about all the things he promised to do and hasn't done and that's more important. The issue's not about bringing another 5'000 Phillipino nurses into the country, why doesn't he train 5'000 British nurses because those 5'000 Filipina's are needed back in their own country where there's a shortage of nurses. You can't just drain other societies as a stop gap. They've doctored the figures now and we've still got millions of people unemployed. He was screaming at the conference that unemployment is the lowest for thirty years, I would challenge their words and figures. I know tons and tons of people who live in and around Liverpool who have not worked for years and years because there's nothing to train them. There's a shortage of building workers in England at the moment and they're importing so-called skilled workers from Eastern Europe. I remember the lads saving and training in my time, it took me six years to become a plasterer, but there were thousands of workers on the dole. The brick yards being full of bricks and the timber yards full of timber but there was still a housing shortage, so I really can't equate one with the other... we've got the timber, the material and we've got tons and tons of building land, no one should be without a house in Britain in 2004. Politics was part of his up bringing, so was football, but he has turned his back on the Kop. I used to be a Liverpool supporter, I used to stand on the Kop as a season ticket holder, but I think that football has now gone to the extreme. I think they rip people off - look at Wayne Rooney, he's a young lad in Liverpool and they were selling Wayne Rooney's Everton shirts to young kids on the day he left for Man United at £40 a go - I think that's an absolute disgrace. I've got three brothers and I've bought four season tickets for St Helen's Rugby League club and we go to all the home games and have a fabulous time. The crowds are wonderful, you have a good laugh, the only aggression is on the pitch, there's no rip-off. You can have a great day there for a few quid and that's what football was meant to be about. It was supposed to be the working man's sport. But, Mr disillusioned down to earth admits, living in Britain is great - for him anyway. I'm quite wealthy, I've got a wonderful home, smashing wife, kids are ok (he laughs) I can go anywhere and do anything and that's quite easy. But I think that is what a lot of people in my position do and they forget about the fellow next door or the bloke they used to work with. I work hard at not doing that. People laugh at me because I've got my caravan in Spain, they say I could afford a flash villa, or two, but I don't want that. I know all the people on the campsite, the waiters and all that and I'm quite happy, he says. And I still have the same mates in Liverpool, I still drink in the same pubs. When I got married last year, I had two weddings, one for all the showbiz people and then one for all my old mates once they had all got home from work, it was wonderful. But while he'll knock new Labour, he believes in the BBC and what it is doing. I'm no fan of the reality tv stuff, but it pulls in the viewing figures and that's what it's all about nowadays, its all about viewers, who I guess pay our wages at the end of the day, but it's all very sad. The BBC, which is still I think way ahead of its time, once produced the finest period dramas in the world and I would love to see a return of that. In the meantime, millions of viewers will have to make do with a return of Ricky Tomlinson to BBC1 in the New Year.