Tuesday 23 January 2018

Still Shameless after all these years

David Threlfall as Frank Gallagher
David Threlfall as Frank Gallagher

Carrie Gregory

The Chatsworth Estate is celebrating a milestone. Carrie Gregory brushes up on her swear words and sneaks behind the scenes of the 100th episode of Shameless

It's not much to look at. Piles of rubbish lie at every graffiti-covered corner, a run-down pub is brought to life only by the odd empty beer can tinkling in the wind outside, while every modest-looking house is a carbon copy of the next.

But the Chatsworth Estate is so convincing, it's surreal to think it's actually a built-for-purpose set in the middle of a remote industrial estate in Manchester's Wythenshawe.

And, as Paul Abbott's Bafta award-winning drama approaches its 100th episode - the premise having already been snatched up by our American cousins - the set is now an iconic piece of television history.

We come across Tina Malone, who's sitting cross-legged, twirling her character Mimi's hair extensions around her not-so-perfectly manicured nails. She's wrapped up in a bright pink fluffy dressing gown that wouldn't look out of place on Lily Savage's dressing room floor, and doesn't need any prompting to say how proud she is to film the milestone episode.

"I'm incredibly flattered," 48-year-old Malone says.

"I'm quite arrogant. I'm known for being ruthless and opinionated. I'm very self-absorbed and self-obsessed, like many actors, so I'm happy to give myself a pat on the back. Not only for being in a long-running show but also for the standard and quality of it."

This sentiment is echoed by all of the actors here at Shameless. Not one of them, even when pushed, could think of a downside to their day job.

After Abbott penned the series, which is loosely based on his family life growing up, it aired to an uncertain audience in 2004. But that same audience soon warmed to the eternally drunk Frank Gallagher and his clan and, while the show has had many a facelift in the ensuing years, its popularity remains the same.

Regular viewers will be pleased to hear that this significant episode largely focuses on Frank, who yet again gets on the wrong side of the law in ways only he could know how. He doesn't have an alibi, though, because he was so inebriated at the time, he can't remember what he was doing.

David Threlfall was enjoying a rare day off during our visit but it wasn't long before conversation inevitably turned towards the Manchester-born small screen legend. Of course, he is to Shameless what beer is to Frank - a necessity.

That's something Elliott Tittensor (Carl, in the show) knows only too well. The two of them have starred in Shameless right from the very first episode. And not having had a father figure present for much of his life, the 21-year-old looks to David for paternal influence.

"Not Frank as a character, obviously, but David, definitely. He's amazing," says Tittensor, smiling.

"And I don't think I've ever said this to Threlfall, but he's one of the most inspirational people, especially because I've grown up with him and seen how he works.

"It's nice to to look up to someone."

One person who knows Shameless inside and out is Dean Lennox Kelly. The actor walks into the room, peering out from behind a full face of hair and clutching a paperback copy of a Noel Coward classic (no doubt swotting up for a theatre role he's got in the pipeline). It's a surprise to see him back on set as his character Kev Ball was last seen in a Romanian courthouse after he and Veronica tried to buy an orphan.

Kev returns to Chatsworth for this episode, but the actor is quick to point out that it wasn't the momentous occasion he hoped for.

"I thought it was going to be like, 'Oh look, Kev's back!' And then Paul Abbott kindly reminded me that no one would know who I was."

But he's not giving much away about his storyline: "I return because Frank's in a bit of trouble and Kev was witness to something that will help him get off. I can give evidence as to where he was at a certain time and why he was in that particular place. Carl rings Kev and I return to try to save the day."

His voice is drowned out by the sounds of a passionate couple in the room next door. He contends with their noises, raising his voice before explaining that the team must be editing scenes. Just another day on the Shameless set...

Next door falls silent and he continues: "[The 100th episode] feels special because it's a milestone. It's flattering to be asked back - George Clooney went back to ER! I am forever Kev. You're always synonymous with one job and I'll always be the guy from Shameless."

Abbott's dressing down of Lennox Kelly is accurate. With more characters introduced each series, Shameless is barely recognisable in comparison to its freshman series all those years ago. But one of the show's most recent additions is adamant that the same values still ring true throughout the storylines - regardless of the fact the show is no longer centred around the notorious Gallaghers.

Karen Bryson, who plays Avril Powell, explains: "Throughout the whole of Shameless, right from season one, it's all been about family life and the bigger picture of the community.

"In real life, we've lost that. Shameless explores it and even in the face of adversity and socio-economic disadvantage, you still have that family thing.

"Regardless of what happens with the characters, that keeps this show having a heart."


:: Frank went missing after a few cross words with Steve (James McAvoy), who decided the best place for the drunk would be France - and packed him off, with the head Gallagher having no recollection of how he wound up there.

:: Frank and agoraphobic Sheila's numerous bedroom - and kitchen - antics.

:: Mimi's 'fat episode', which saw her determined to lose weight - and introduced us to expletives we didn't even know existed.

:: When Karen finally tamed her wild and sexually explicit ways by marrying Jamie - after many a run-in with Maguire matriarch Mimi.

:: The 100th episode of Shameless airs on Channel 4 on Tuesday, September 27

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