Call the Midwife’s Chris Parisi reveals all about handyman Fred’s heartbreaking new Down’s syndrome plot

There’s high emotion for handyman Fred Buckle, played by Cliff Parisi, and wife Violet (Annabelle Apsion) in Call the Midwife this Sunday when Fred’s cousin Ivy (Birds of a Feather’s Kate Williams) dies, leaving her son Reggie (Daniel Laurie), who has Down’s syndrome, with nowhere to live.

Ex EastEnders star Cliff told TV Times what’s in store…

What can you tell us about the story?
“Violet’s reluctant to keep Reggie because we are all a bit scared of what we don’t know, aren’t we? Reggie has been quite sheltered so he needs to be looked after all the time, so it’s a massive responsibility.”

What does Fred do?
“He goes to view an asylum which was quite commonplace in the ’60s, but they are really grim places and it is really unfair to put someone with Down’s in there because they don’t need to be. But in those days it was out of sight and out of mind and it was a crueller time.

“But Fred finds it disturbing and refuses to send him there. Then he and Vi look for somewhere lovely for him to be with people like him. Fred and Vi really come to love him and they become a family unit when he returns later in the series.”

Was there any research you could do?
“I was around at the time and in the ’60s people with Down’s were tucked away, but the sister of one of my best friends had Down’s and she lived at home and her mother died, so this story’s close to my heart.”

What was it like working with Daniel Laurie, who plays Reggie?
“Daniel was a laugh and we kept singing Cockney songs on set, but he’s much more professional than me! He was a delight to work with and knows exactly what he’s doing so we had a real giggle.”

What else is coming up with Fred and Vi?
“Vi has a few problems with the menopause. She has a bit of struggle with it and Fred has no idea what menopause means; he has never heard the word, so it is all new for him and he has got a steep learning curve ahead of him. But love will prevail as it always does!”

What do you love about them as a couple?
“He had dedicated his life to his surviving daughters and the nuns and he was probably frightened to let anybody else in, but he and Vi fell in love and have this really sweet relationship. But she does put up with a lot from him. At the end of the day he is a bit of a clown, but he does love her and is handy around the house but not in her shop – he is not a great haberdasher!”

Fred’s a great handyman, have you picked up any of his skills over the years?
“Fred has probably got a few more tools than I did when I was in EastEnders as mechanic Minty. Then I just had a hammer and an adjustable spanner! But I do know those bikes inside out now and I can for the first time in my life properly fix a puncture and ride one of those boneshakers!”

It’s over six years since you played Minty; are you still in touch with your old EastEnders pals?
“It was really nice to see people like Perry Fenwick at the National TV Awards the other week because when you are in EastEnders the schedule is tough.

“I remember on the set at the back of the Queen Vic somebody had written, ‘I want to go home!’ on it and someone had written angrily underneath it, ‘This is your home!’ I did laugh because you do practically live there when you are working there. So we don’t see an awful lot of each other, but when we do it is just like it was yesterday.”

What was it like for Call the Midwife to win an NTA?
“We were absolutely chuffed to pieces because we have done six series and it hasn’t won anything big, although we have had lots of nice things written about us. It was a pat on the back for us because all the cast and crew work so hard on it, so we were absolutely over the moon and I think we really deserved it too!”

Call the Midwife screens on Sunday on BBC1 at 8pm