Old men behaving badly: Simon Callow’s The Rebel is 2017’s answer to Victor Meldrew

The Gold sitcom is back for a second series and Simon Callow reveals to us what is in store for Brighton’s most irascible pensioner.

One of the most underrated TV gems of 2016 was Gold’s short comedy series The Rebel.

The sitcom about Henry Palmer, a man whose mission in life is to be the pain in the establishment’s arse was the perfect antidote to millennials, hipsters and the irritants of modern technology.

[BT TV customers can watch The Rebel series 2 now on the BT Player]

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Sticking two fingers up at authority, society and the vagaries of modern life, Henry was described by one TV critic as "Victor Meldrew on steroids".

Back for a second series this November on Gold – BT TV channel 310 – Simon Callow reveals what is still making Henry angry and how he will be sticking it to the man in 2017.

How has Henry developed since the first series of The Rebel?

The Rebel series 2

We’ve taken it a stage further. In the first series, we focused more on Henry’s single-mindedness and aggression, but this time we have shown there is more to him. We can now see that he is very passionate and addicted to sensual pleasures. And we also understand more that his friendship with Charles and Margaret matters a great deal to him.

How does his relationship with his daughter Cath progress in this series?

At heart Henry is a good man, but he’s so intolerant of superficial irritants. So his poor daughter gets a lot of stick from Henry. In this series, we see that he and Cath are very similar in certain ways. They’re both very stubborn and determined and quite intolerant of what doesn’t conform to their philosophy.

Is there any hint of romance between Henry and Margaret in this season?

Margaret is someone Henry might have been drawn to in another life. Like Henry, she has had a bohemian life. In the first series, there was the suggestion that something might happen between them, but it never did.

He still finds her a remarkable woman, though. She has an extremely canny brain and is very exotic. There are hints about Keith Richards and Mick Jagger and Marcel Duchamp and Francis Bacon in her past.

What makes Henry angry in this season?

The Rebel

The idea of “safe spaces” is not one that appeals to Henry. He believes passionately in just coming out with it. If you’re angry or fancy someone, just let it out. You don’t have to second-guess Henry’s feelings in any way.

What else riles him?

Banks! In this series, Cath is in debt,so Henry tries to raise the money for her. But he runs up against a number of institutions – banks, estate agents – who just won’t give him any money. He believes that all of them exist merely to exploit the rest of us.

They’re not there to help us, but to rip us off. And being Henry, he expresses himself quite forcefully about this!
Why do audiences identify with Henry?

They connect with his anger at petty bureaucracy. He hates two things: to be confined in any way and to be told “no”. There is nothing worse than that for him. In one episode, he ends up in hospital, and he loathes it. Everything in hospital is governed by regulations. You’re infantilised and put into weird baby garments for no reason that anyone can work out. Everyone can relate to his fury. I certainly can!

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Can you expand on that?

The Rebel

Henry’s behaviour really does touch a nerve. It goes beyond Victor Meldrew, who speaks for conservative Middle England. Henry surpasses that and thinks there’s always been a vast conspiracy to stop people expressing themselves freely. He sees himself as a free man and says to anyone who’ll listen: “I’ll not be told what to do. I won’t be forced into a mould."

Why else do viewers like him?

Henry is a wonderfully rich character, somewhat like Falstaff or a German mischief-maker or Punch. He is someone who upends the grocer’s cart and ties the cow’s legs together. Henry is very naughty, and when he has nothing to do, he gets up to mischief. When Henry’s hands are idle, the devil makes work for them.

He can be quite devilish, but underneath there is a tenderness and a dreaminess about him. It’s marvellous to be able to create a character like this. He is potentially a character like Steptoe or Hancock - complicated, irascible, romantic, aggressive and contradictory. He’s a character to whom you can relate. Sitcom is one of the most immediately attractive ways of telling stories about our lives. Characters like Alf Garnett become archetypes without becoming stereotypes. I would certainly love to do more episodes as Henry.

How similar are you to Henry?

He’s got opinions about everything and he enjoys creative conflicts – almost to excess. I’m guilty of that, too. Henry also romanticises his past. He looks back on the golden days when he was taking on the world. I share some of that. When I started out, the point of acting was to change the world, but unfortunately we didn’t! The world changed us. In the same way, the world has changed Henry, and he is furious about that.

What gets up your nose?

A particular thing that enrages me is when people feign concern. If I knocked my hand against a table, in the past people would ask, “You OK?" When that happens now, people appear to be on the verge of calling a paramedic! Nothing has happened. Their reaction is completely phoney!

What is the most Henry-esque thing you have ever done?

I once had my tonsils out at the Wanstead General Hospital. The only operation I could get was on Christmas Eve. So I was there on Christmas Day eating disgusting hospital food. I simply couldn’t endure it, so I just got up and left. I went home, had a delicious supper with a great deal of wine and smoked 20 cigarettes. Very Henry!

Watch The Rebel series 2 now on the BT Player >

The Rebel series 2 air on Gold from Wednesday, November 8th at 10pm.

Gold is on BT TV channel 308 and BT TV customers can also catch up on the BT Player.

Photo Credit: UKTV/Ray Burmiston

BT TV customers - Watch now on the BT Player

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