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I said my goodbyes with a tear; theatre w Todd Carty still owes everything to Grange Hill, he tells Laura Davis ahead of Spamalot's Liverpool return.

Byline: Laura Davis

YOU'D be forgiven for thinking Patsy the coconut-clapping, hunchbacked servant was Todd Carty's first role in a musical - because, until our conversation, that's exactly what he thought too.

But many years before Spamalot was even written, the former Grange Hill star starred in Tucker's Return in a pre-West End theatre on the outskirts of London.

"I'd forgotten I'd done that," he gasps.

"It was pretty bonkers. Tucker came back as a PE teacher and there was romance and silly songs and all that kind of business.

"I can start showing off now, swaggering my shoulders a bit. I'm a musical theatre man now I've remembered that."

Cheeky cockney teen Tucker, of course, was where it all began - back when Grange Hill was still filmed in London before being revived by Liverpool TV producer Phil Redmond in studios in Childwall.

Up until then, Carty had worked purely in adverts, having been spotted at his Saturday drama class which had an agency linked to it.

"I had a cheeky face back then and cheekiness sells chocolate and washing powder, Tonka toys so I got a lot of work," recalls the 48-year-old.

Cheekiness also sells TV shows about unruly pupils at an inner London comprehensive.

Unwilling to wait in a long queue at his first audition for Grange Hill, he was caught jumping the line by the producers.

Later he found out that was part of what got him the job.

After Grange Hill, when he was in his late teens and pretending to be 15 on screen, came the spin-off Tucker's Luck, which helped him avoid the career drought that is fate for so many child stars.

"Luckily that was a transitional thing so viewers could see me growing up as well as the cast and friends around me," he explains.

Then there was the well-loved Mark Fowler in EastEnders, the evil Gabriel in The Bill and a rather hapless appearance on ITV1's Dancing on Ice (he was eliminated in the fifth round) before Spamalot came calling.

But he returned to Grange Hill twice once the show had moved up to Liverpool and featured in its final episode in 2008.

I came back as Uncle Tucker to see my nephew Togger Jenkins and gave him some sagely advice," he says.

"Then off I went into the sunset on a motorbike. There are not many shows that you can say you started at 13 and returned 30 years later to say goodbye with a sentimental tear in your eye.

"It was a real honour to be associated with the show because of what it's done for me and my career."

Returning to experiences of his past is something Carty seems to be making a habit of.

The six-day run later this month will be his second visit to the Liverpool Empire in Spamalot.

Written by Eric Idle, the hit musical is described as "lovingly ripped off from Monty Python and the Holy Grail" and follows King Arthur through a madcap search that has become almost as legendary as the original story. Also returning are Jodie Prenger as The Lady of the Lady and Marcus Brigstocke as Arthur.

Carty remembers sneaking into the cinema with his friends as a teenager to watch the 1974 film.

"I particularly remember seeing the bring out your dead scene and it was crazy," he says.

"Python was on the television at the time so all the teenage boys absolutely loved it and got the humour.

"The cast absolutely love doing the stage show so I couldn't not come back."

Between clapping coconuts as Patsy, Carty has being setting up his own film company.

He also made his directorial debut, The perfect Burger, with the British Youth Film Academy, last year.

"It's loosely based on Sweeney Todd but instead of throwing kids into pies we throw them in hamburgers ," he explains.

"It was fantastic. I'm trying to tick as many boxes as I can and I do intend to do some more maybe later in the year, maybe do a sequel to this or a small BBC series."

As it's difficult to fit family around all his other committments, Carty's two sons join him on tour during school holidays.

"They're my own personal groupies - they've seen it about 25 times," he says.

"They love the silliness of it. "That's the great thing about the show - it appeals to eight-year-olds and eighty-year-olds. You hear kids and grannies cackling, so we must be doing something right."

* MONTY PYTHON'S Spamalot is at the Liverpool Empire from January 16-21.

CAPTION(S):

As the evil Gabriel in The Bill With Susie Lipanova for Dancing on Ice in 2009 Jodie Prenger, Todd Carty and Marcus Brigstocke in Monty Python's Spamalot and, below, Carty as Tucker Jenkins
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Daily Post (Liverpool, England)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Jan 6, 2012
Words:794
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