Exclusive Interview With Rudolph Waker (Patrick Trueman)
By Larry Jaffee
As my luck would have it, my plane was just landing at Heathrow the
evening of 27th of September while Rudolph Walker’s 70th birthday bash
was in full swing at the other end of sprawling London at the Hackney
Unfortunately I learned of the black-tie event, which was a benefit
for his new foundation, too late but good mate Sylvester Williams, who
EastEnders fans know as ‘Mick the jazzman,’ managed to put in a good
word for me at the party with Walker (Patrick Trueman) to land an
exclusive interview with the Walford Gazette.
There’s little doubt that his character over the past eight years has
injected some much-needed humour to Albert Square’s proceedings.
Despite his advanced years, this sage’s sly wink suggests someone who,
based on his life’s experiences, knows how to enjoy a good time and
not take life too seriously, but still have compassion for his fellow
man or woman. Words to live by.
A few days later I receive an email from Rudolph to meet him Monday at
2 p.m. at The Crypt, St Martins-in-the-Field Church, Trafalgar Square.
Not as scary as it sounds, the church’s café turned out to be the
perfect meeting place.
Walker is anxious to discuss the launch of his new foundation, whose
aim is to provide disadvantaged youths with the same kind of
opportunities he’s received during his illustrious acting career on
stage (including some time with the Royal Shakespeare Theatre Company)
and television, which includes far more than EastEnders. On telly, he
co-starred in Love Thy Neighbour, the groundbreaking, 1970s Britcom
that dispelled racial stereotypes, and The Thin Blue Line, a 1990s
Britcom starring Rowan Atkinson (Mr. Bean) about a dysfunctional
police station that also played on American public television.
“The House of Commons also wants to have an ‘official’ launch [of the
Rudolph Walker Foundation] next year. It’s quite nice to get that sort
of accolade,” he says, humbly. Among the guests at his Hackney gala
were EastEnders colleagues including Steve McFadden (Phil Mitchell),
Nick Bailey (Anthony Trueman), Shane Richie (Alfie Moon) and Jake Wood
(Max Branning, but we Yanks know his voice better as the Geico gekko).
“The problems that I had when I came over here (England) in 1960 still
are true. Young actors still have problems getting access to do their
thing. You’re restricted. Venues are not controlled by people of
colour. That’s extremely difficult for a young actor or director
coming out of film school. They don’t have access to cameras, editing
suites. Some have very little money and want to do a 10-minute or
15-minute documentary to kick-start their career. The foundation will
give them the opportunity to at least get their foot in the door.”
A pet peeve of Walker’s is all the negative news that’s reported on a
daily basis. He would also like to make sure that young people who
make their contributions to their communities are recognised in the
media for doing so. “The foundation will honour them, either through a
monetary reward or a special dinner.
This isn’t the first time Walker has practiced what he preaches in
terms of educational philanthropy. In the 1970s he started a drama
competition between two high schools in Brixton, south London. “A high
percentage of black kids were getting picked up by police, having
problems with their parents,” he explains. Rudolph devised an
after-school programme in which groups of six or seven kids would
write their own short plays, and among themselves appoint a director.
Since then, he’s visited schools all over Britain.
According to his plan, the foundation will also offer courses for
young people who think they might like an entertainment career, but
they “need an extra push incentive. They need someone to guide them.”
The classes will be not only in acting, but also dancing and building
self-esteem. Walker says his aim is to help disadvantaged youths to
Walker admits it’s a “little scary” about now having to deliver the
aims of the foundation to help disadvantaged youths, and but that goes
along with the territory and he’s determined to see it through.
When I suggest to Rudolph that Patrick Trueman has provided some
much-needed comic relief to EastEnders, and he must be doing something
right. Although EastEnders over the course of its nearly quarter
century has had black male patriarch character types – Tony Carpenter
(Oscar James) and Jules Tavernier (Tommy Etyle) come to mind – most of
these families have been short-lived and merely pass through The
Square, whereas Patrick has become a fixture.
“Before joining [EE], I told the producer [comedy] is an area I would
like to explore [with the character] because there was not enough of
it [in the show]. [Patrick] treats a lot of things with a certain
amount of humour. His way of escaping a problem is to find something
funny to do or say or sometimes to get himself out of a tight corner.
That’s really the sort of foundation. I try to put as much humour as
possible into the character.”
Since he had already achieved success in the theatre and on
television, “I didn’t go into EastEnders ‘to be discovered.’ But the
huge success of EastEnders is phenomenal. There’s no two ways about
it. It’s quite something.”
Among his storylines Walker says he enjoyed the one that involved
whether Anthony or Paul was his real son.
I tell him that my favourite scene of Patrick’s involves his
friendship with Jim Branning (John Bardon) when they start dancing to
classic reggae song “The Israelites” by Desmond Dekker, and how Jim
the character has undergone such a transformation. When he was first
introduced, Jim was basically a white racist who ridiculed his
daughter Carol for being involved with a black man (Alan Jackson). But
Jim ends up becoming best of friends with Patrick. I note to Rudolph
I spoke with John a few days earlier, and it was good to hear he was
slowly recovering from his stroke and back occasionally at the studio
“They had plans to develop that relationship and go onto some
exploits, but because of [John’s] illness that’s been put on hold for
the time being,” Walker notes. He’s amazed to hear that U.S. public TV
audiences have just recent viewed the episode in which Jim and
Patrick’s homemade still blows up and burns Jim’s face, an accident
that occurred on EastEnders more than five years ago. “Wow, you’re
really behind,” he adds.
In early 2009, a controversy over an episode of EastEnders that
featured an all-black cast left Walker unimpressed, and at the time
he declined to provide the media with a comment.
“I didn’t want to buy into the fact that it was an all-black cast. So
what? Nobody talks about when there’s an all-white cast, which happens
90% of the time,” he explains, adding that he wasn’t aware that the
episode had an all-black cast. “When you’re involved in a storyline,
you don’t have time to read all the scripts. You obviously concentrate
on your scenes.”
The storyline in that episode dealt with the 1958 race riots in
London’s Notting Hill, in which Patrick tells his family of his
experiences as a young black man at the time.
Rudolph himself came to London in 1960 from his native Trinidad. “I
was aware of the protests. There was an aftermath, and several other
protests up and down the country: Bristol, Birmingham, London.”
He has a solution to the root cause of the world’s problems that
remain today: “Having respect for each other as human beings. That’s a
lesson we seem to be moving further and further away from as a race as
people. Until we do that we are going to have problems right across
He’s hopeful that the election of Barack Obama is more than a token gesture.
“There’s a side of me that’s cynical. I suppose you don’t get to 70
without being cynical.”
Patrick waltzed into Walford suspiciously soon after his estranged
wife's death and quickly made his mark on the Square. With his
trademark trilby cocked to one side, his taste for Caribbean rum and
an eye for the ladies, trouble is always just round the corner.
Most likely to say: “Yeah man! Now don’t go stressin’ yourself, man!”
His philosophy is explained in a nutshell on his website: “An Actor’s
life for me is one which keeps you creative; forever developing,
growing, flourishing and enriching, yourself and others. Therefore you
cannot afford to become complacent or relaxed for too long… hence
retirement is never a choice; you simply go on to ‘the end.’”
In 2005, Rudolph Walker also starred in a BBC comedy called Crouch
about the ups and down of a contemporary black family in London. The
show also featured Mona Hammond (EastEnders’ Blossom Jackson), who
also appeared in the 1985 British eight-part drama series Black Silk,
in which Walker played the title role of a barrister.
Wrote critic Carl Gardner in The Listener of Black Silk: “This is the
story of a privileged, black male and his attempt literally to take on
the institutions of the law, to play the role, to dress up, to mimic,
to integrate… It’s a logic, based on the notions of personal
achievement, which never had much credence in Britain – and which is
irrelevant to 99% of blacks in this country in 1985, when black
communal self-identity is the order of the day.”
Respect Your Elders
“We went up and down country doing plays in church halls and town
halls. It was great because I got to rub shoulders with actors like
Earl Cameron and Edric Connor. It’s important to emphasise that this
earlier generation of actors made an important contribution, just as
we made and are continuing to make our contribution. I think one of
the sad things is that there’s a tendency now to criticise the older
actors and to accuse them of playing certain types of roles, be they
so-called Uncle Tom roles or whatever. What people don’t understand is
what that generation was going through professionally was just a
stage. We must acknowledge that they made their contribution. The
youngsters are where they are today because of what actors before me,
and actors like me, have been doing.”
–Rudolph Walker, interview with Stephen Bourne, in Black and White in
Colour: Black People in British Television Since 1936 (London: British
Film Institute, 1992), p. 77.
For further reading:
The Colour Black: Black Images In British Television, Editors Therese
Daniels and Jane Gerson (London: British Film Institute, 1990)
Black in the British Frame: Black People in British film and
Television 1896-1996, Stephen Bourne (London: Cassell, 1998)
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