WHEN Larry Lamb tells you his portrayal of the villainous and manipulative Archie Mitchell in Eastenders was partly based on his father, Ronald, you get some idea of the trauma that scarred the childhood of one of Britain’s most popular television actors.
Those formative years in post-war suburban London are writ large in Lamb’s autobiography, Mummy’s Boy, which shot straight into the top 10 of the best-selling list when it was published in March.
The fact the book has been praised by critics for its blend of adventure, drama and a fair smattering of showbusiness, lets us know, however, that this early turbulence, though never forgotten, proved the springboard for a fascinating life.
And Lamb, 63, will be a hot ticket when he talks about that life at the four-day Brewin Dolphin Borders Book Festival in Melrose later this month.
It is an appearance he relishes. “We used to drive through the Borders when my son George was a child because his mum hailed from Broughty Ferry,” he told The Southern this week. “I remember thinking that Jedburgh was beautiful with its abbey, but never really got the chance to explore.
“I’m hoping to put that to rights when I come to Melrose. I’ve heard so much about the easy-going atmosphere at the festival, so I’m really looking forward to meeting Borderers and, one of my old friends, Barbara Dickson, who is also appearing.”
It’s clear that the real Larry Lamb is much more akin to the affable Michael Shipman, star of the hit BBC comedy Gavin and Stacey, than the sinister Archie Mitchell who was killed off at Christmas, 2009.
“It was just after Archie that I was approached to write my memoir,” he recalled. “The publishers gave me excellent advice on how my story should be structured, but it is all my own words.
“It was therapeutic in many ways, coming to terms with the past and realising that, at some point after my father died, I decided I could no longer go on blaming this guy for the rest of my days.”
Acting was not a natural career choice for Lamb, although he has vague recollections of a great uncle having been in music halls.
His childhood memories are dominated with recollections of his mismatched parents and the cruelty of his self-pitying father to his mother, which led to the breakdown of the marriage.
The eldest of three children, Lamb was the pacifier, but, in that role, also bore the brunt of abuse. When the marriage broke down, he and his brother, Wesley, lived with their father, only seeing his mother and sister in rushed meetings at bus stops and in public parks.
His mother’s absence left a gaping hole in his life and, as soon as he was old enough, he left home, trying, he recalls, to put as much distance as possible between himself and his volatile childhood.
The book then plots an amazing journey which would take him to work as an encyclopaedia salesman in Germany and in the oil business in Libya and Nova Scotia.
It was in Canada that his interest and prowess in acting developed and he returned to the UK to become a regular cast member of the cult ferry-based soap Triangle, starring alongside Kate O’Mara.
In Mummy’s Boy, he recounts the ups and downs of his acting career, captivating the reader with tales from Broadway to the West End where he shared the stage with acting greats such as Maggie Smith and Vanessa Redgrave.
He also relives moments he’d rather forget, such as his humilation at being sacked by legendary director Sir Peter Hall and the night he froze on stage during his opening speech in Hamlet.
Lamb talks candidly about fatherhood and his determination that, while his marriage to George’s mother did not last, he would have the kind of relationship with his son he had never been able to have with his own father. “Although there are some very serious aspects to my story, not least the sheer embarrassment that the children of warring parents are subjected to, I like to think it’s more of a Boy’s Own adventure.
“If my father gave me anything, it was a sense of absolute inquisitiveness, the will to learn four languages and an insatiable interest in other people.”
Larry Lamb is at the main Festival Marquee on Sunday, June 19, at 6pm. £13 (£11 concessions).