Ricky Tomlinson and Sue Johnston reunite for 'a trip or two'

Ricky Tomlinson and Sue Johnston reunite for 'a trip or two'

By Alison Jones,
Wednesday, 3rd April 2024
Ricky, Sue & a Trip or Two (Credit: Channel 4)
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Sue Johnston and Ricky Tomlinson are travelling the country for a new More4 series. Alison Jones reports

The nation’s favourite TV husband and wife, Ricky Tomlinson and Sue Johnston, are roadtripping their way round Britain in their new show for More4, revisiting places that shaped them as performers and people.

Ricky, Sue & a Trip or Two is a celebration of their 40 years as an on-screen married couple, first as Brookside’s Sheila and Bobby Grant, then as Jim and Barbara in The Royle Family, and the lasting bond it has created between them.

Episode two, which is based around the Midlands, was shown at an RTS Midlands screening at the Midlands Arts Centre (MAC), followed by a Q&A with the two stars.

Jazz Gowans, Creative Director at Nine Lives Media, who was behind the show, revealed how it came together: “We’d been working with the brilliant Colin McKeown [co-creator of Brookside] and his team at LA Productions, trying to find the right project. They rang up and said Ricky and Sue might be available at the same time. We were jumping up and down and pinching ourselves.

“The idea for what they’d do was collaborative. It was very much driven by what they felt was real and authentic.”

Tomlinson said they knew that this very personal travelogue would work. “The chemistry between us was just natural. We have a lot in common – we’re both fanatical Liverpool supporters. And we have a good laugh. We’re lucky at our age [Tomlinson is 84 and Johnston is 80] still to be working and having a laugh and a joke.”

The first episode in the three-part series focuses on Liverpool, the city they’re most closely associated with, but the second reveals some surprising, and emotional, connections to the Midlands.

Many of their guides to Birmingham were in the audience at the MAC, including comedian Shazia Mirza, who tried to persuade plain-food-loving Tomlinson of the delights of curry with a meal at the Michelin-starred Opheem, and local historian Professor Carl Chinn, who navigated a trip on the canal.

Director Debbie Isitt, whom Tomlinson worked with on the film Nativity!, was also there, and a community group who were out rowing on the canal when they saw the Royle pair go by, and lost an oar in surprise.

There were tears amid the laughter, as Tomlinson recalled his time in Shrewsbury Prison, after being jailed for his activities as a trade union picket during the national building workers’ strike in 1972. He and construction worker Des Warren were known as the Shrewsbury Two as people protested at their unfair imprisonment – including Johnston.

“We did our time, but we wouldn’t wear clothes and we wouldn’t work because we shouldn’t have been there,” recalls Tomlinson. “It killed Dessie; they were giving him the liquid cosh [a cocktail of tranquillisers] and needle. I went on hunger strike for 31 days and was so ill they moved me to the prison hospital.

“One of the last times I saw Dessie before he died – he’d been hard as nails – he was just a crease in a sheet lying on a mattress.”

Johnston recalled the groundbreaking work she did as an actress with Theatre-in-Education at Coventry’s Belgrade Theatre: “It was wonderful. It opened up children’s lives and minds. Teachers told us they had never seen their pupils react that way.

“When I did Brookside, the young make-up assistant remembered us going into her school when she was 11, and it affected her. We did things that mattered, they meant something.”

Johnston said she was proud they had shown off the often underappreciated beauty of Birmingham in the episode, though, in typical Jim Royle style, Tomlinson said he wouldn’t be back for another curry: “No thanks, my arse still hasn’t recovered.”

The screening and panel, hosted by Nikki Tapper of BBC Radio WM, was an RTS Midlands event held at the Midlands Arts Centre on 20 March. It was produced by Jayne Rae.

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