Idris Elba’s In The Long Run: Shell suits, vol-au-vents and Luther rumours - Secrets from the set of the 1980s comedy

We catch up with the cast of the Sky One comedy In The Long Run, including Idris Elba, Bill Bailey and Jimmy Akingbola, ahead of its third series.

By Alex Fletcher Published: 17 July 2020 - 2.20pm
Sky UK

Watch In The Long Run season 3 from Wednesday, July 22 on Sky One with NOW TV.

The return of In The Long Run for a third series of laughter, joy and 80s nostalgia will finally bring a little bit of sunshine to 2020.

Created by and starring Idris Elba, the show is based on the Golden Globe-winning actor’s own early years growing up in Hackney and East Ham and his family’s story after moving to London from Sierra Leone.

A warm but honest portrayal of life for Africans living in Britain during a turbulent political era, the series feels particularly timely for 2020 as questions about the British relationship with race are back under the spotlight.

A banging soundtrack, stunning 80s outfits and brimming with belly laughs, if you haven’t watched In The Long Run before, now is the perfect time to catch up with the box sets before series three arrives on July 23.

We caught up with Idris and the cast to find out what hijinks we can expect from the Easmon and De La Croix families in the new episodes…

Mama is coming to London

Idris Elba as Walter in Sky One's In The Long Run Sky UK

The big new arrival for series three is Ellen Thomas, who lands in London as Walter and Valentine’s charismatic Mama.

“It’s a big deal for mum to come from Africa,” said Elba. “Mama has been writing to us every week so she has expectations of what she’s coming to see in London.

Explaining the inspiration for the character, he said: “This is really based on my mum. My mum was a staunch Roman Catholic, going to church all her life and she couldn’t quite convert me and her dad.

“My dad didn’t like to go to her church, but every now and then he was dragged there by his hair. We expand on that story a little bit. Walter wants to make good, he wants mummy to know he’s a good lad, so he pretends he’s very religious.

“But his mum says, ‘Great, you can take a sermon then’. And rather than giving up, he decides to give the sermon a go and you can imagine the comedy of errors… All I can say is Walter gets Madonna confused with Maradona!”

Why In The Long Run really matters

In The Long Run brings together comedic and dramatic talents including Bill Bailey, Jimmy Akingbola, Kellie Shirley and Madeline Appiah. The fact that this majority black cast still feels very unique and unusual for a British TV show should be a stark warning about how far the TV industry still has to go to become truly inclusive and diverse.

“It’s the only show I’ve worked on off set and on set that is properly diverse,” says ex-EastEnders star Shirley.  

“That sets it out from everything else. Obviously it’s funny, but it’s also real and warm. And it shows real life the way I grew up. I’m really proud to be part of it, because I think it’s head and shoulders above lots of shows out there.”

Akingbola, who has recently starred in ITV’s Kate & Koji, believes that their series hasn’t got nearly enough praise for what its achieved in its first two series.

“I think it’s iconic. It deserves more props than it gets,” he said.

“This is a show telling a story from an African family point of view. That’s something to be celebrated and I think we’re representing and showing how that can be done in an inclusive way.”

Jimmy Akingbola and Idris Elba as Valentine and Walter in Sky One's In The Long Run Sky UK

Akingbola grew up like Elba in London to parents who emigrated from Africa. And he said that the element of the show he was most proud of was the emotional and difficult moments that the series touches upon.

“It’s got loads of heart, but I also love the moments that go against that”, he said.

“For me Bill’s arc as Bagpipes, being a father and having a daughter who is not his, a daughter of colour, that story is so beautiful to me.

“That represents where I grew up and friends I knew, who had something similar. That’s what is so beautiful about this show, yes we have warmth, but we’re not afraid to go there with real stories.”

Talking about her personal highlight from series three, Madeline Appiah said: “My favourite moment would probably be a scene in episode five where Agnes gets the community together and we relive her experience of coming to the UK and we find out how proud she is to have been part of this community.

“It touched me very much, because I know that was a story for a lot of people who migrated to the UK. Agnes is very honest, she says it like it is and I think it’s just a beautiful moment. And eye-opening for me.

“This perception that we come over here and it’s all great. There are a lot of things that aren’t as you expected. But she has managed to make a life with a family and is part of this community.”

Those 80s-tastic period details

Idris Elba as Walter and Madeline Appiah as Agnes in Sky One's In The Long Run Sky UK

The show’s authenticity doesn’t just come from Elba’s personal stories, it also comes with the attention to details in bringing 80s London life alive on the screen.

Elba’s passion for DJ-ing comes to the fore with a red hot soundtrack including Grandmaster Flash, Whitney, David Bowie, Blondie, Stevie Wonder. It makes for killer Spotify Playlists.

And the show’s costume department spared no expense in building styles and bespoke costumes for each character.

“Each season, it gets better and better,” said Madeline Appiah. “They are now able to just bring out costumes because they just knew your character. They really worked with each of us. You can see the styles immediately.”

Akingbola added: “The detail of the show reflects how diverse and inclusive the team is. You can’t not do those things. If you look at the suit Valentine wore when he arrived in season one, you should have seen the amount of friends who text me with pictures of their dads in similar costumes.  

“Our main goal has to be making the show as real as possible and that has to be reflected in the costumes.”

Elba said: “It’s got the costumes, it’s got the hairstyles, it’s got the cars, it’s got… Bill Bailey. The music. The speech, the look of the place.”

Bailey, who also moved to London in the 1980s from the West Country, described watching the show as being similar to “uncorking a bottle of fizz from the 1980s”.

“It bursts out,” he said. “The 80s was a divisive decade, but it had an energy to it. It had agency. Things were changing. People were trying to improve their lives, get on, move on and make something of themselves. It was hard, and even though it was tough for many, many people, it was a great time.

“That’s one of the reasons I love this show. It’s bottled the energy of that time. When you watch an episode, you uncork it – while wearing a shellsuit!”

Bill Bailey got stuck in

Bill Bailey as Bagpipes in Sky One's In The Long Run Sky UK

“Do you remember when you ate 27 vol-au-vents?” laughs Shirley.

“That was nothing to do with the shooting. That was a regular day,” deadpans Bailey.

In the third series, food is a hot topic in the De La Croix household as Kirsty attempts to get her catering business of the ground and is experimenting with culinary dishes that combine styles from around the world.

After recalling the bowls and bowls of gloop that he had to consume for the scenes, Elba points out: “I actually cooked all that".

“Ah really…. Well, that’s awkward,” replies Bailey.

Talking about her character’s foodie passion, Shirley reveals: “This is the storyline that makes my mum and dad laugh the most because I’m such a bad cook.

“The story is about about working class aspirations and I really want to cook and cook well. I take all the different cultures from around the estate and I try and create this business model and it doesn’t go to plan.

“It was so much fun to do, especially as I’m so dreadful in the kitchen myself. I play someone so inventive and creative, when I can’t even do frozen chips.”

Those Luther rumours

In The Long Run season 3 - Full cast key art Sky UK

It’s impossible to be in the presence of Idris Elba and for the topic of Luther not to come up.

The dark BBC crime drama has had five series – the last was four episodes in 2019 – but fans are desperate for some more action from the brooding, big coat-wearing detective.

And there is some good news from Elba on that front.

Allthough there is “no formal plan”, Elba revealed: “I have made it clear that I would like Luther to come back as a film. I can tell you we are this *gestures with fingers* close to making a film.”

Akingbola jokes: “Does Luther have a brother? I’ve got the long coat and I’m ready. Just checking!”

Watch In The Long Run season 3 from Wednesday, July 23 at 10pm on Sky One with the NOW TV Entertainment Pass.

Catch up on the season one and two Box Set on NOW TV.