Interview with Larry Lamb

Television actor LARRY LAMB’s enthusiasm for France began in primary school and he owned a house in Normandy for 20 years. He tells Zo� McIntyre what drew him to the French way of life

In your new book, Mummy’s Boy, you describe your long relationship with France. How did it begin?

My first French connection was in primary school when our teacher started to teach us rudimentary French. She opened my eyes to a world that was communicating in a different language. It provoked something that started to change me. Since then, foreign languages have been an important part of my life and now I can handle myself in four other languages.

Did you visit France as a child?

My family wasn’t one for taking holidays abroad so I didn’t go there during my childhood, but when I was 19 I took the ferry from Dover to Calais with a friend and we drove all the way through France, filled with all the knowledge from school about the way French people lived, what they did and what they ate.

So the trip left some lasting memories?

I will never forget when we arrived at Chartres in the pouring rain and parked in a little cobbled street. It was midday, so we wandered into a nearby restaurant and asked for the menu du jour. They gave me a piece of what I now know to be melon and what looked like a slice of raw bacon. I didn’t know what to do with either; I came from a house where we didn’t ever have starters.

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How did you come to own a house in France?

In the mid-1980s, I was looking for a house to do up in the English countryside. I had been working in France in television and film, and knew that French housing prices were much lower. While looking at properties in the two big French weeklies, I noticed a photograph of a half-timbered house in Normandy. That area had no particular relevance, but I found the style of the building interesting. On a whim we went to look at the nearby town and came across Livarot. I never saw the house that was up for sale but did find a different one that I spent 20 years being involved with.

How did you adapt to the French way of life?

Normandy is very home-based and I stumbled upon a real farming community. The man I first connected with was the mayor of a tiny commune called Saint-Michel-de-Livet which sits on a hill above Livarot. Albert Beaujolais became my patron and he really helped me. I came to have a wonderful rapport with my neighbours, sharing meals and free time. I became a part of that little community and my younger children went to school there. We all have great memories of that place; it conjures up magic for all of us.

How fluent are you in French?

We might like to think the world speaks English, but they don’t, and that is especially true in the Normandy area. I have never dealt with the French in anything other than their language. The couple of roles I’ve had in France have come from people knowing that I can speak French.

Was it challenging to work on a foreign film set?

I had a small part in Place Vend�me, directed by Nicole Garcia, and acting in a foreign language was really spooky. I have the greatest admiration for people who do it professionally. My level of fluency is great when I’m just dealing with people in ordinary situations, but learning a major role in a foreign language is very difficult.

In the UK you are well-known for playing Archie Mitchell in EastEnders. Are you a fan of any French soap operas?

Not really; I’m far more involved with my family in France, and only watch a bit of TV. I’m a big fan of news and current affairs programmes; I listen to France Culture on the radio. When I was auditioning in Paris I nearly starred in a new soap opera there but then a job came up in England, so it didn’t happen.

Do you get recognised as an actor in France?

No, that’s what is wonderful, nobody knows who you are. Although, funnily enough, a neighbour did rush in to my house one afternoon to say he had seen me in an episode of Midsomer Murders which is hugely popular in France – they call it Inspector Barnaby. He was beside himself; couldn’t believe it!