7 Questions With… In The Long Run’s Kellie Shirley: ‘We had a massive dance-off in a Peckham car park’

BT TV talks to Kellie Shirley about returning to the 1980s for Idris Elba’s hit comedy In The Long Run on Sky One.

By Alex Fletcher Published: 20 July 2020 - 2.10pm
Sky UK

Watch In The Long Run season 3 from Thursday July 23rd on Sky One with NOW TV

“Shellsuits and Babycham – bring it on!”

Kellie Shirley can’t wait for fans to see In The Long Run season 3 on Sky One.

In fact, she’s already campaigning for a fourth season. “I really hope we get to come back. It’s just the best,” says the former EastEnders star, who plays Kirsty – the wife of Bill Bailey’s eccentric Bagpipes.

Season 3 finds Kirsty and Bagpipes trying to spice up their love life in the bedroom, a new catering business venture for Kirsty and a look at the impact of Margaret Thatcher’s council house sales on working class communities.

BT TV caught up with Kellie to find out what it’s really like having Idris Elba as a boss, the joys of shooting bedroom scenes with Bill Bailey and the urgent need for the diversity of In The Long Run to spread across the TV industry…

1. Idris Elba created, writes and stars in the series – what is he like as a boss?

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

This show is really important to him. It’s the only West African family that is central to any British TV programme and comedy. It’s some feat that he’s managed to create something that hasn’t been done before.

He’s really charismatic, he’s f***ing funny.

The scenes when we’re altogether as a cast, Idris, Bill, Madeline, Jimmy and everyone, I just have to pinch myself, it’s so much fun.

I feel really lucky to be part of In The Long Run. It has an important message about family, unity and cultures mixing… and it’s funny.

When I was growing up as a kid, I just adored Only Fools and Horses and it’s got that feel to it. I’m very lucky to have Idris as a boss, he’s incredibly generous as an actor and a human being. He’s not precious at all. It’s about his family, but he always wants our ideas about our own families and lives in the 80s.

2. What can we expect from Kirsty and Bagpipes this year?

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

Kirsty is still trying to rekindle her love life with Bagpipes. They’ve been married for quite some time and I never know how to say this… but they’re trying to sort out their sex life.

We’re also looking at working class aspirations and Kirsty wants to launch her own catering company. Bagpipes is kind of behind her and being supportive and those scenes are great fun because I’m a terrible cook myself. I’m serving up these mouth-watering dishes and I can’t even cook chips without them being frozen in the middle still.

There is also a story about when Margaret Thatcher started asking people to buy their own properties, the idea of regeneration – we explore that in season 3. Is that even possible or does it just drive people out of the area and where do they go? It’s happening at the moment in London. In Elephant and Castle, the cheapest one bedroom flat is £800,000. How can normal working class families live their anymore with the families that have grown up there? That’s something very relevant to now that we explore.

And also everything with Black Lives Matter is quite spooky, because when we look at what happened in 1986, it’s like holding up a mirror to now. It’s depressing.

3. Episode three features a bedroom scene and an omelette – what was that like to film?

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

It’s sexy stuff. It’s just embarrassing at the best of times having to do a sexy scene. Is that when we’ve got our feet together and the covers are going up and down? Haha.

I know Bill is one of the biggest comedians in Britain and beyond, but he was slightly mortified at pretending to…. ‘do it’ with me. I wish I could articulate these things better!

We had lots of fun doing it, but we were mortified and embarrassed having to do a sex scene in front of a crew of 20 people. But if you’re going to do a sex scene you want to do it with Bill Bailey definitely.

It was gross, funny and very real.

4. The show’s costumes are incredible. Did you have any favourites in series 3?

Kellie Shirley in Sky One's In The Long Run Sky UK

Amanda Monk is the costume designer. She’s been nominated for an Emmy for After Life, which she’s amazed about because Ricky Gervais just wears a v-neck, but anyway!

She is meticulous and everything we wear is from the period and all the good stuff from seasons 1 and 2, she kept, so I’ve got this amazing massive wardrobe. She makes sure people don’t clash with colours or patterns and it’s an incredible attention to detail.

I get some fabulous Pat Butcher earrings this year. Amanda gets it all from charity shops and boot sales and she’s a Goddess. Amanda Monk is a goddess.

It was so much fun putting on the costumes everyday. I remember thinking 80s fashion was really baggy. I had MC Hammer and shellsuits in my head. But everything was actually a lot slimmer in the 80s. So I couldn’t eat as much as I wanted to in the food truck!

5. Idris has put together a classic 80s soundtrack. Do you hear the music when you’re filming the big party scenes?

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

The 80s music starts as soon as we get onto set. From 5am in the morning with make-up and costumes, we have it all blaring out. Pepsi and Shirlie, Bon Jovi… the whole day. We can’t get away from it. Rick Astley. The lot. We also get all the amazing music from Sierra Leone, Femi Kuti. It’s a real mixture of 80s pop sounds and West Africa.

It’s just so much fun when we’re altogether. Everyone has a naughty glint in their eye.

We film those scenes at the Milton Arms in Peckham. Peckham Liberal Club.  It’s just up the road from where I live. They used it recently for Cruelle De Vil, the new Disney film. It hasn’t been changed since the 1950s.

One day we also had a massive dance off in Peckham car park. We got the music pumped up, we were doing the limbo – I’ve got this amazing video on my phone. It’s just a huge dance off with us all being daft, just like on the show. It was hilarious. It’s just a shame there were no cameras rolling apart from my iPhone. I really hope we get to do a fourth season, because it’s just the best.

6. The show stands out for its diversity. Is it exciting to work on a show leading the way on that front?

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

Diversity in the crew as well! I’ve been doing this job for 20 years and this is the only time I’ve ever worked with a cameraman who is black. Ever. The first female directors, ever. We have diversity on the screen, but in the crew it’s the first time I’ve ever worked on a set anything like this. As a company, Green Door (Idris Elba's production company) gets the best people but it also reflects life. It’s effortless and not a token thing. It’s just the way Idris runs things.

He gets assistant directors who are really great, but might have reached the glass ceiling and he makes sure they work alongside the other directors. It helps because they simply haven’t been given the opportunities before.

We had an assistant producer with Ghanaian heritage, which was so important because he was aware of the details about the culture and the language. If you’re doing a show about different cultures with different dialects, it’s important you have sensitivity about it. Green Door is head and shoulders above any company I’ve worked with for representation.

7. What do you think needs to change to stop shows like In The Long Run feeling like a rarity?

If you get controllers of TV channels and they end up being all white and male, they are going to choose shows that reflect their own experience – to a certain extent. It needs to go from the top and filter all the way down. We’ll only see big change when it shifts at the top.

Green Door is a production company where the proof is in the pudding. They have 50/50 gender, female writers, and women in every department, it’s one of the most exciting places to work, they have working class people in different departments, which again I’ve only really experienced once before on EastEnders.

In The Long Run season 3 starts on Thursday July 23. on Sky One with the NOW TV Entertainment Pass.