Actor Shaun Williamson“I thought I’d self-educate myself. And when Trivial Pursuit came out in 1985, I was hooked.”

As heard on The Ray D'Arcy Show

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Shaun Williamson – Barry from EastEnders – has written a book about his journey into the world of quizzing and along the way, he writes about being in the BBC’s uber-soap, what it was like making Extras with Ricky Gervais, acting with David Bowie, and oh yes, he also reveals that he has a long-lost son. It’s like an EastEnders super-celebrity Christmas special. With quizzes. Shaun joined Ray D’Arcy on a dodgy connection on Tuesday to talk about the book, his career, his son and quizzes. Why quizzes? 

“I think what it was, is that I wasted my education, really. Part of me knew – not in an arrogant way – that a Maths O-Level was never going to get me the sort of job that I wanted. So, I think much later, I regretted this and I thought I’d self-educate myself. And when Trivial Pursuit came out in 1985, I was hooked.” 

By any yardstick, Shaun has had a remarkable career  or rather, series of careers – from teenage alcohol-fuelled postman to Pontins blue coat, from a failed stint in the Royal Navy to Barry in EastEndersBut the revelation that he has a son that he only came to know recently must be rank highly on the list of things you don’t expect to read in a book about an actor trying to become a quizmaster. In a very un-soap-like twist, Shaun and his son, Gary, were happily reunited and both Gary and Gary’s mother get on well with Shaun’s wife and family. Brilliantly, Gary, Shaun told Ray, didn’t know him from EastEnders, but he did know him from Ricky Gervais’s comedy series Extras, where celebrity guests went to play outrageously over-the-top caricatures of themselves 

“Ricky Gervais was very honest, he said, ‘’Look, everyone’s going to brutally get the mickey taken out of them in this show. Brutally.’ I said, ‘Well, who else have you got?’ He said, ‘Ben Stiller, Samuel L Jackson, Kate Winslet.’ I said, ‘I’ll do it.’” 

Extras was a comedy classic and for Shaun, playing an out of work version of himself that everybody refers to as Barry from EastEndersit was “a pleasure to be humiliated in such company”.  

You can hear the whole chat between Shaun and Ray – including nuggets like Gary’s mother being a barmaid from circus folk who was able to juggle four chairs and appeared on Top of the Pops, as well as hearing how Shaun gets on when Ray puts some quiz questions to him  – by going here. 

A Matter of Facts: One Man’s Journey into the Nation’s Quiz Obsession by Shaun Williamson is published by Cassell. 

Niall Ó Sioradáin 

© The Listener 2020

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