Old leftie, 40, seeks hot date. No vest required

Alexei Sayle, tired of 'yoof', has written a romantic drama. He talks to James Rampton
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The Independent Culture
A gaggle of over-excited people are crammed in hard against the pale, patterned wallpaper at the Imperial Tandoori Restaurant in Kennington, deepest south London. No, it's not another Christmas party, but a film crew crowding out a location for Sorry About Last Night, Alexei Sayle's amusing first television film.

Huddled in the corner underneath copper representations of Eastern gods, Andy (played by Sayle) is staring over the poppadoms and pints of lager into the eyes of Julie (Siobhan Redmond, who was Maureen in Between the Lines). The characters are a pair of lonely thirtysomethings on a romantic first date, discussing the Labour Party gathering where they met. "That's all politics is really, meetings," Julie observes. "The Russian Revolution was just a meeting that got out of hand. Normal, ordinary people have got much better things to do than go to meetings all the time."

"So the country ends up being run by anti-social misfits who've got too much time on their hands," Andy rejoins. "Yeah, people like us, in fact," comes the riposte.

After they leave the curry-house, the date turns into a nightmarish quest to find a post-closing-time drink, reminiscent of Martin Scorsese's yuppy revenge film, After Hours. As Julie declares, the pair are determined to prove to the world that "we're not dreary Labour Party geeks. We're mad, we're wild, we're crazy, we're free, and we don't wear a vest."

Sitting in his caravan before filming and daintily picking at a plate of curried seafood, Sayle reflects on what led him to write his first screenplay, 16 years after he entered showbiz. Turning 40, he says, caused him to re-evaluate his career. "I've been a 'yoof' entertainer, a post-punk alternative comedian, but you can't stick with that forever. You have to re-locate your material. You have to let your Greatest Hits go. As I get older, I prefer dramatic roles. Someone who's quiet and shy and a bit of a mess is more interesting than the more shouty stuff."

The character of Andy certainly fulfils those criteria, but perhaps surprisingly, taking into account Sayle's previously anti-authority persona, he is also an ex-soldier. "I was looking for someone a bit original," he explains. "Like a lot of lefties, I'm drawn to authority figures and men in uniforms. We're all disappointed traffic wardens."

Redmond's character is a solicitor who works so hard she has little time for socialising. Her hair neatly done up in curlers, the actress joins us in the caravan to discuss the role. "As a middle-aged woman who occasionally feels like throwing off the shackles, it spoke to me." Redmond is quick to add that she does not share the character's desperation for a drink. "I can get pissed on a packet of wine gums. It's not very good to be singing under the table while everyone else is still taking their coats off."

In between writing columns for this newspaper, Sayle has been developing another screenplay, which is "about the collapse of communism, and at the moment it's called I Was a Teenage Communist. It's about what you do when you find that everything you believed in turns out to have been a complete load of crap." He pauses before deadpanning: "It's a comedy."

'Sorry About Last Night', Wed 27 Dec, 10.50pm BBC1

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