Sir Derek Jacobi and Anne Reid talk Alan and Celia's 'seven-year-itch' as the popular drama Last Tango in Halifax returns…
They say the course of true love never runs smooth and the trials and tribulations of elderly lovebirds Alan and Celia Buttershaw – and their blended family – certainly kept us entertained for four series of Last Tango in Halifax from 2012. Now, after three years away, the heart-warming drama is back!
The story of the childhood sweethearts who rediscover their feelings for each other decades later quickly became a huge hit with viewers, who’ve been begging for writer Sally Wainwright (Happy Valley, Gentleman Jack) to pen more episodes since the last Christmas special aired in 2016.
Like them, we ADORE Last Tango in Halifax here, so we were thrilled to be invited onto set in Leeds, where the drama is filmed, to watch Alan and Celia themselves, Derek Jacobi and Anne Reid, and their on-screen daughters, Nicola Walker (Alan’s put-upon daughter Gillian) and Sarah Lancashire (Celia’s formidable daughter Caroline) in action. As we walked around Gillian’s cosy farmhouse with family pictures everywhere, it was like the series had never been away.
During a break in filming of Last Tango in Halifax, we sat down and chatted to Anne, 84, and Derek, 81, to find out what’s in store for ‘love’s young dream’ this series…
Fans have been longing for the show to come back. Why do you think it’s so popular? And were you keen to return?
Anne: “It was quite weird at the first script read-through. It was like going back to a place you’d been on holiday; it looked the same but it was slightly different. I know there are very high expectations of Last Tango In Halifax, people have really wanted it to come back. I just hope people will like it as much as they always have.”
Derek: “I think people relate to these characters and these situations. There’s no murder, no car chases, it just reflects the sorts of lives we’re all living and the problems we’re having. Nothing really big happens – things do happen but they’re ordinary things that resonate with the audience.”
Anne: “Also, there’s lots on TV that explores the working class and upper class, the aristocracy, but not much about upper working class people, who can afford cars and bungalows!”
As the series begins, Alan’s applying for a job at the local supermarket…
Derek: “Alan’s craving a bit more in his life and needs a bit of independence. Celia loves retail therapy and going out shopping and he decides he just needs to fill his days a bit more.”
But Celia’s not happy…
Anne: “Celia is a terrible snob! For her, it’s just the thought of Alan wearing this supermarket uniform and sitting at a checkout. She wants a husband who works in an office and who’s turned out nicely. She has real delusions of grandeur. She likes having nice things and, this series, she really wants a new kitchen.”
Derek: “Alan’s focused on finding a job, while Celia’s obsessing about finding a new kitchen. He questions why she wants to spend £20,000 on a new kitchen and she questions why he thinks he needs a job when they have money. It becomes a real bone of contention between them.”
Should we be worried about their relationship?
Anne: “Possibly. When they were teens, Alan fantasised about Celia. Then he met her, married her and found out what she was really like! I think in the beginning she had the upper hand in the relationship because he was so besotted when they first met. But now, after seven years, it seems he’s not quite so besotted with her. Celia’s frightened he doesn’t love her anymore and is actually quite worried that he might be getting bored with her and leave her.”
Derek: “Alan’s discovered Celia’s not as easy to live with as he had first assumed. He can now see she has faults, that he didn’t see to begin with.”
What’s Alan and Celia’s relationship like with their children this series?
Derek: “Alan’s daughter Gillian is a constant worry to him. She gets into terrible scrapes, she’s terrible with men and we discover she has terrible money problems again this series. But she’s his girl and he loves her.”
Anne: “Caroline is bossy like Celia, so they have the kind of relationship that you have with someone who’s too similar to you. I adore working with Sarah. I don’t have many scenes with her this series because they live in separate houses now, which I’m sad about because, as Celia, I was always appearing at the kitchen door when I wasn’t wanted and that was fun!”
On the day of Alan’s interview at the supermarket he bumps into a young boy named Harrison…
Derek: “Harrison’s sort of a waif-like character, who’s been caught pilfering in the supermarket. The boy who plays him is lovely, he’s a born actor and a real scene-stealer. That relationship develops and turns out to be really sweet.”
We know Coronation Street actor Timothy West returns this series as Alan’s brother Ted…
Derek: “We learn Ted is suffering from dementia, and he’s travelling to UK from New Zealand. This story is not an in-depth exploration of dementia but we discover Ted is beginning to lose it and he’s not that sharp. But, from Alan’s point of view, he’s just being irresponsible and not pulling his weight.”
What do you most enjoy about playing these characters?
Derek: “The main thing I’ve loved about playing Alan is the surprise and delight that I was actually cast as Alan in the first place. I have a reputation as a classical, costume, posh, Shakespearean actor, so for somebody to actually see, underneath all that, that I’m a good EastEnd boy, common as muck, and to cast me as an Ordinary Joe like Alan was a real blessing.
Anne: As you get older you never get parts where you fall in love with anybody. And I love, as Celia, falling in love with Alan.”
Are you aware of the international success of the show?
Anne: “Yes, when we go to America, Australia and Tasmania people were running down the street after me shouting: ‘It’s Celia!’ Once, I was walking down Sixth Avenue in New York and this lady tapped me on the shoulder and said: ‘Hello, are you Anne Reid? I said: ‘Yes’. And she replied: ‘Well, I’m [Hollywood actress] Kathleen Turner and I love Last Tango!’”
Last Tango in Halifax returns Sunday February 23 at 9pm on BBC1.