TV couch potato Jim Royle in his grubby vest would laugh himself silly watching Ricky Tomlinson tell hilarious stories, while trade union firebrand Bobby Grant would cheer his rousing political speeches.
The popular actor laughs as he agrees there is a little of The Royle Family’s lovable rogue in him but a lot of the Brookside rabble-rouser.
“I’ll let others decide exactly how much,” sniggers the Scouser, “but I’m not complaining.
"Life’s turned out good for me.
"What makes me angry is it could be so much better, not getting worse for many people, millions of people, who are still being treated badly.”
Steady on his feet and a ball of righteous indignation, for a man approaching 80 in September who required a quadruple heart bypass a dozen years ago, Tomlinson’s a class act.
I sat on stage with him as he wowed huge crowds with his politics and gags for a couple of hours at the Elmfield social club in Hebburn on Tyneside, and then Redhills, the Durham miners’ magnificent Pitman’s Parliament.
We were billed as “in conversation” but the born storyteller stormed the shows, alternating between gags about enjoying sex at 79 to rousing calls for a fairer country, and an end to the poverty and hunger forcing victims of Tory austerity to rely on charity foodbanks.
The belly laughs were as loud as the thunderous applause for a bloke who never forgets where he comes from.
“I’m from the working class in Liverpool. I love it. I could probably live more or less where I want but I love the people. They’ve been good to me all my life and I’m committed to them.
“I don’t want to live anywhere else. I go up to Spain for a week or two now and again, and I still have a caravan in North Wales. When I go away I enjoy myself but I always look forward to coming back to Liverpool.
“I do an old age pensioners’ country and western afternoon of a Sunday where I insult them terrible but they come because they get free Scouse (a lamb dish similar to Irish stew) and a load of insults.
We just have a lot of fun. But the thing is this: things could be so much better for the man on the street.”
Ricky continues: “They’ve worked hard all of their life and should be reaping the riches.
"We’re going backwards to the workhouse with homelessness, Universal Credit and foodbanks. We’ve got to stop that.”
The working-class actor is a rebel with causes, recognising his fame is useful.
He has backed the Hillsborough 96 campaign and is a regular on picket lines, standing with Liverpool dockers when they fought job losses – and then the sack.
Tomlinson names the fearsome Beast of Bolsover, Dennis Skinner, as the MP he most admires and the activist actor remains a friend of the miners’ former leader Arthur Scargill.
Yet if Jeremy Corbyn sets up a fan club, I’ve found him a president.
“Corbyn’s a breath of fresh air,” Tomlinson told me. “He offers hope.
"He’s the new kid on the block and he’s going to get so much stick because he’s not part of the establishment.
"His shoulders are well wide enough to take the flak and I hope he does because Jeremy Corbyn’s what this country needs to shake it up.”
He’s scathing about MPs who quit Labour to join Chuka Umunna’s breakaway party or sit as independents.
“Them MPs for their own sake, their own conscience, should stand and be re-elected. It should be mandatory,” he says.
“But they wouldn’t give up good wages, expenses, they’re not going to throw that in.
“They’re not that concerned about their constituents.”
Tomlinson had a youthful flirtation with far right politics before moving to the left, the plasterer’s jailing after a 1972 national building strike leaving a lasting imprint.
Theresa May ’s bad faith commitment to ending “burning injustices” never extended to releasing official papers many campaigners believe would show Tomlinson, and also imprisoned Dessie Warren, who died 15 years ago, were political prisoners.
“When we were in prison, then when we were out, we received tremendous support from mining communities and people in places like North East England, absolutely tremendous,” recalls Tomlinson with pride.
“I think I owe it to support them people now because they done it when we were in prison.”
The value he puts on loyalty took him to Hebburn, where Jarrow Labour MP Stephen Hepburn supports the Shrewsbury 24, the fight to overturn the prosecution of workers after the strike.
And to Durham where Blaydon ex-MP Dave Anderson, another champion of the Shrewsbury battle, runs the “Marras”, raising funds to restore Redhills.
The venue is where miners created their own labour movement democracy before workers aged over 30 got the vote in 1918.
Tomlinson’s trade union activism enabled him to deliver unscripted, fiery speeches as union official Bobby Grant in Brookside during the 1980s – quitting the Channel 4 series when producers wanted to make Grant corrupt.
His love of Liverpool never extended to Cilla Black, a Scouse Tory.
He recounts how the singer smeared him as “not even a Scouser” for spending the first three days of his life in Blackpool.
Eric, as he was christened, was born there after his mother was evacuated at the start of the Second World War before quickly returning home.
“I might’ve been away for the first three days of my life but Cilla Black was away for more than 40 years of hers,” he sneers.
One to enjoy the final laugh, he tells a story about Cilla in panto at the Liverpool Empire. Holding a sword to a villain’s throat, Cilla asks: “Boys and girls, how should I punish him?”
According to him, a drunk shouted back: “You could always sing.”
Watching him posing for hundreds of selfies, taking off his shirt to reveal a Jim Royle scruffy vest, is to be impressed.
Nobody could complain if this pensioner put his feet up instead of travelling hundreds of miles for causes close to his and his friends’ hearts.
But Ricky Tomlinson retire? My arse.
Backing the Mirror's campaign on TV licenses for the elderly
By Amanda Killelea
Ricky is a vocal supporter of the Daily Mirror’s crusade to save free TV licences for pensioners who are over-75.
“TV is the best friend some elderly people have and to start charging them more than £150 would be criminal when a lot don’t have the money,” says Tomlinson.
“If you’re looking for something to cut it shouldn’t be a comfort for the poor.”
The BBC is losing government funding for the benefit in 2020 and is considering making the elderly pay the full £150.50 a year.
Ricky went to meet pensioners at Age UK’s Mid-Mersey centre in St Helens to find out what they thought.
Retired fancy dress shop owner Gwen Frith, 85, said: “TV becomes your companion. It helps plan your day.”
Retired gardener Dennis Clarke, 71, agreed, saying: “It is like having a friend in the house.”
Age UK has organised a petition in a bid to get the issue debated in Parliament – and they need 100,000 signatures.
Ricky said: “Everyone has got to sign.”
- To sign the #switchedoff petition go to www.ageuk.org.uk/switchedoff .
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