For the best part of the past five years, Todd Carty has been trotting around stages all over the UK, clapping together two halves of a coconut shell while pretending to be a horse.
He has been busy playing Patsy, King Arthur’s dogsbody in Spamalot, the musical ‘lovingly ripped off’ from Monty Python’s film The Holy Grail, both in the West End and on tour around the UK.
‘That finished at end of May/early June,’ says the affable actor. ‘I was a younger man when I started. Patsy had his own hair and teeth when I first started.
‘We’ve been all over the country – we’ve been down to the south coast more times than I can remember, but it’s nice to be back here again and by the seaside.’
Indeed they had a run with Todd alongside Joe Pasquale in the role of King Arthur at Southampton’s Mayflower back in April.
And he looks fondly on his time in the show, which with its routine breaking of the fourth wall, audience participation and singalong songs, could very well be a pantomime for adults.
It’s a traditional panto and I’ve been playing the baddie for a few years now, so I’ll still be scaring the children and the old granniesTodd Carty
‘It is very much so,’ agrees Todd. ‘People try and get snobby about it, but that’s exactly what it is, it’s a posh panto – boy meets girl, all that sort of thing, lots of lovely songs and a couple may or may not get married at the end, without giving too much of the storyline away.’
However, Todd thinks that he might be having to hang up his coconuts for the foreseeable future.
‘I think it might be put to bed for a while now, so I don’t know when we’ll see it again.
But Todd is back in Hampshire this time to take on the role of the bad guy in Ferneham Hall’s more traditional panto – Dick Whittington and His Cat. He will be joined by Art Attack’s Lloyd Warbey as Idle Jack and it also boasts a principal boy with Julia Cave in the titular role.
Getting ready for all the boos and hisses the audience can muster, Todd will be playing King Rat.
And he’s relishing getting his teeth back into playing the villain.
‘It’s just a laugh, I look forward to it,’ he says of panto season. ‘I get bored by Boxing Day if I’m just sitting at home eating cold turkey and Brussels sprouts, it’s nice to get out of the house and have some fun.
‘It can be hard work, but what isn’t hard work? Being down a mine is hard work, and lots of other things that are far more important than being an actor.
‘It gets under your skin, though, I’ve been an actor on stage now for many years, so it’s another strand to one’s work.’
He’s also played King Rat before.
‘That was a few years ago. I’ve been Abanazaar (the villain in Aladdin) for the past four years, so they’ve decided – Chris Jordan, Jordan Productions – to bring back Dick Whittington which hasn’t been seen for a while, and I think that might come back into fashion now, London and all that kind of thing, and streets paved with gold – maybe Canary Wharf is,’ he says with a smile, ‘but we won’t go into that.
‘It’s a traditional panto and I’ve been playing the baddie for a few years now, so I’ll still be scaring the children and the old grannies.’
Speaking of villains, one of Carty’s more memorable screen roles was a two year stint early last decade playing the increasingly deranged PC Gabriel Kent in ITV’s long-running police drama The Bill. And Todd’s been able to go back and enjoy that time thanks to cable TV.
‘It’s on at the moment, it’s not UK Gold, I think it’s called Drama now, they’re going back over my years.
‘Somebody said to me when we were doing Spamalot, they said I was on. I think it’s at 11am and 11pm or something. So I still can’t get rid of Gabriel, he was an evil SOB, God almighty. So I’ve been enjoying watching a bit of that.’
And he doesn’t shy away from watching himself? ‘I don’t mind watching it again, because it was so many years ago. And I’ll always watch Grange Hill as it was some of the best years of my life.’
‘But they don’t repeat EastEnders any more now UK Gold has gone, so it was a pleasant surprise to see me terrorising the mean streets of south London again, around Sun Hill.’
Ah yes, EastEnders and Grange Hill – Mark Fowler and Tucker Jenkins are two of the most popular characters to emerge from their respective shows.
How does it feel to be so closely associated with these roles?
‘I’ve been lucky with the parts I’ve had. There are those three, I can’t say iconic, that’s for others to say, but they are certainly well known.’
As Tucker, he was the only character throughout its run to be granted his own spin-off show, Tucker’s Luck, which ran for three years in the ’80s.
‘It will always be with me, It was a lovely time, I was a lad of 13 and I was a jobbing actor already – I’ve been acting since I was four.
‘They said they’ve got this part for me, in this show called Grange Park, I think they called it back then, they said it’ll run for nine episodes and that’ll be it.
‘I think in the end it ran for 30 years. I went back on the very last episode as Uncle Tucker.’
Aside from those three roles, Todd has appeared in many other shows and films – including 1983 cult British sci-fi flick Krull.
‘They keep repeating that on Channel 5. and on one of these cable things. They did the making of Krull just recently, there was a picture of a young me with lovely long flowing hair.
‘That was great to do, it was like our own British Star Wars. There was hope, as there was always was, with talk on set, of there being sequels, and I survived, I went through a timewarp or something but I survived. But the sequels never came.
‘If they had, who knows, I could be sitting in a house in the Hollywood Hills sipping champagne,’ he chuckles.
While Carty has racked up plenty of screen time, it seems his heart, for now, belongs on stage.
‘Stage has really got under my skin. It seems a bit odd not to do it. Listen, I like it all – if it keeps me interested, if there’s a good cast and a good story, it doesn’t matter if there’s a camera there or an audience in front of the stage.
‘The only difference with stage, with panto or comedy musical is the immediacy of the audience. If you get a laugh and you’re on a roll, there’s nothing like it. When you’re on set, it’s: “And cut!” And you go again, and might do it another 15 or 16 times.
‘If anyone laughs there, it’s ruined.
‘But there’s nothing like stage.’
After he’s finished the panto though, Carty would like to try his hand at more directing.
‘It’s all about availability and its all about time. I’ve done about a dozen episodes or so of (BBC1 daytime drama) Doctors, and then I did some guest directing on a children’s feature film, and then I was offered my first feature film, The Perfect Burger, which went around all the festivals and did rather well. But then Spamalot’s taken up five years of my life, I went into it straight after that.
‘I will definitely do something next year, I don’t know what yet, but I like comedy, I like fantasy, something weird, which the Perfect Burger was. It was loosely based on Sweeney Todd, but instead of putting them in pies, it was chucking kids in burgers – it was a bit like Grange Hill on acid.’
Dick Whittington And His Cat is at Ferneham Hall in Fareham from tonight until Sunday, January 3. Tickets £12 to £19. Go to fernehamhall.co.uk or call 01329 231942.