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A lovely chat with Larry and George Lamb about charm, communists, and fatherhood

The two nicest blokes on telly on the secret of not being a loathed wretch, like you

A lovely chat with Larry and George Lamb about charm, communists, and fatherhood

On paper, you should hate the Lambs - they are tall and good looking, everyone’s mum fancies them, they both dress nice and that - but it is futile. You like the Lambs, don’t you? Their easy charm means that you could watch them do pretty much fucking anything: if the show was Larry Lamb and George Lamb sitting in a pub tucking into a roast - lamb, presumably - you’d watch the hell out of it. They are icons of British Charm. If you looked ‘charm’ up in the dictionary, maybe you would find George introducing you to his dad Larry before they both ask you how your day was and if you’d like a nice cup of rooibos before telling you, proper charmingly, how they’ve just started getting into it and if you have one before bed, you’ll drift of into a deep, gorgeous sleep like it’s nobody’s business. 

In their new show Britain By Bike, they cycle the British countryside to explore this green and grey isle while also, at the very same time, exploring their own relationship. It is an extremely watchable show about two nice blokes cycling about the country being nice to each other and the people they meet. It’s like Michael Portillo’s Great Continental Railway Journeys, only they’re not Tories. It’s like if Noddy and Big Ears were just two incredibly handsome men who wanted to cycle about in Scotland and not nightmarish, frozen-faced puppets of yore. 

The general dynamic between father and son is one we’ve often mined for inspiration, and the further, ethereal nature of charm is endlessly fascinating, so we thought we’d sit down for a chinwag with Larry and George to talk charm, connection, and being attacked by Himalayan communists.

So how does one go about being charming, then?

Larry Lamb: George is lucky because he was basically raised by his mother, so he’s instinctively a gentleman. I was raised by my dad, so I instinctively wasn’t.

George Lamb: He was instinctively a caveman.

Larry: Exactly. Two different takes, two different generations: I’ve had to learn the hard way by being around people who’ve had a lot more charm than I was handed down. George grew up with women, so women love him. He went to a co-education school and lived with girls in the same house in the school, so he was used to having a friendly relationship with them. To me, women were always… When I was young, one was trained to be a “chaser” of women. Charm was… Well, we had chat but not charm, if you know what I mean?

Well, you both seem like you have plenty of chat, so that’s quite important.

Larry: Chat is important as an opening, but if you don’t have an element of charm - as I soon found out - pretty soon you find that isn’t going to quite work. George has oodles of the stuff. And that’s really about his mum and teaching him to keep things equal, speaking to people on the same level as yourself. That’s what it all comes down to: manners, equality, not assuming you’ve got something more important to offer than they have, and making a relationship even from the beginning, whether that’s a friendship or something else that might go further.

George: For me, it’s about making people feel at else. Whoever they are, wherever they are. And if you’re able to do that, you’re going to put yourself in a great position for whatever happens going forward.

What about if you have someone that is, shall we say, a little bit less open, a little bit more guarded?

Larry: Charm. Charm per se has to work with anybody, not necessarily just with people you want something from. You can’t only be charming to the people you want to be charming to. Somehow or other, you have to find that way to get ‘in’ to the person, to deal with them in the way that they want to be dealt with. You need to do that very quickly. When it comes to charm, it’s really not about you, it’s about them. I instinctively ask people a lot of questions. I’m not really that interested in talking about me, I want to know about them. The more you wanna know about people, the more likely you are to draw them out. 

Going back to charm 101 - the body language, eye contact, all that; the sorta things that might work if you do them too much it comes off as very creepy. Have people cottoned on to all that now or does it still work?

George: My mum always told me - and you probably did as well, Dad…

Larry: She probably told me.

George: She said authority is taken, not given. If you didn’t shake their hand properly, if you didn’t look them in the eye, she didn’t like that. Not just for manners; for that connection. The respect of it. It only takes a split second, doesn’t it, to let each other know that you’re here and that you’re no threat to them and that they’re no threat to you. On a subconscious level, that gives you a good footing for a good conversation. I remember once sitting down with Angelina Jolie at a junket - in her absolute heyday - and she knew exactly how much power she held. The whole time I was interviewing her, she just wouldn’t let me out of her gaze. It’s an intense face she’s got and she knows what she’s doing. And I’m just sat there going: “I’m not gonna fucking be out-stared here. I am not losing this.” So I try and hold that gaze. And I’m smouldering, she’s smouldering, and I’ve not looked at my notes this whole time, and we’re getting to the end of the interview, and I kinda hesitated and asked a question I’d already asked and she just smiled and said: “You asked that already.” I just thought, fuck’s sake. She got me. And then she got up and left like, “Byeee…” Yeah, unless you’re Angelina Jolie, don’t try and smoulder for too long. You have to hold back that smoulder.

The poor people in that room. I bet they couldn’t look directly at the two of you, like it was the eclipse.

Larry: And also, can I say, remembering their name is important. I introduced Kevin Spacey as Kevin Costner.

Spacey seems like he’d take it well.

George: Yeah, he took it well the first time. The second time…

Doing Britain By Bike together, what did you learn about each other?

George: Well I’m naturally a lot funnier than him.

Larry: I just wait until he drops the ball and I move in with the joke.

George: We have a very unique relationship, an interesting dynamic. We know each other inside out - we are father and son at the end of the day - and we know how to push each other and muck about in a television way and then immediately click back to what we’d be like just in our living room. Even though we’re mates, there’s no getting away from that parent/child dynamic.

Larry: Everyone recognises it, and that’s what people like. When we talk to someone together, they’re getting off on talking to a father and his son. We met a lot of different father and sons on this trip: when we went to do fly-fishing, we were met by a guy who took us to see his dad. Two dads, two sons. That sorta thing is special.

It’s nice because you can see the whole life of both the father and the son. What the dad was like as a younger man, what the son will be like when he’s older. You can see the whole spectrum of it all at once.

Larry: Exactly. It’s fascinating to see familial relationships. It’s a treat: an insight into how people tick, and to how someone became who they are. None of us are unique but we all have incredibly different relationships with the people we love.

George: I think that it’s really sad that for so many people, these people bring you up, take you through life, get you up for school, feed you, look after you morning, noon, and night, and then when you old enough, you just bounce. “See you later. Send me some dough and I’ll see you at Christmas.” It certainly sounds like a rough deal on the parents, but it’s also a shame for the son too.

Larry: It’s interesting for us. George’s mum and I fell madly in love, married eleven weeks later, a year after that George was born, and about three years after that we realised we just couldn’t live with each other. We absolutely loved each other and still love each other dearly, but we’ve been happily separated about thirty-odd years. I’m lucky that his mum made sure that we saw each other a lot even though we weren’t under the same roof. We raised him together but I lived around the corner. He’s got his own very special relationship with his mother and he’s got a very special relationship with me. But it’s our own relationship: I don’t interfere with hers and she don’t interfere with mine. It’s a wonderful dynamic, that. It really is. It’s all about trust. It’s about not slagging each other off just because they’ve driven you ‘round the bend.

I know that I don’t go down the pub with my dad nearly enough and I wish I did that more. What do you think younger generations are missing out when they don’t do things like that with them?

George: If you look at every indigenous tribe on the planet, every single one, they defer to the elders of the tribe. Male or female elders, whichever. Every corner of the planet. You miss out on that wisdom. The amount of wisdom I’ve amassed from twenty to now; imagine what I’ll learn on top of that by the time I’m seventy, you know? It seems weird that we don’t tap into that enough. Ultimately, in the end, when you finally croak it, you’re gonna think about all the people you really loved, and what a weird thing that would be to be laying there and thinking about a parent you loved but didn’t spend as much time with as you should’ve.

Larry: While me and George spent a lot of time together, we didn’t grow up in each other’s pockets. Our relationship was formed in those early years - in time together and time apart - but as adults, we’ve become much closer together. We didn’t always go do stuff together: I didn’t take him to a lot of things.

George: And I think every relationship you have - family, friends, your partner - you need to put the effort and the time in. My granny in Scotland lived for a very long time so I was lucky enough to know her as an adult, so our relationship completely changed from me being a little boy. Getting to know someone in a different context - getting to know them, rather than this disciplinarian role they have to play in your life - is a beautiful thing.

It’s a big deal to learn that your mum and dad were only being tough on you because they just wanted you to grow up not a nobhead.

George: Exactly. That’s not who they are. That’s not your mum, that’s not your dad: the person they are when they’re away from that, when they’re with their mates or whatever, that’s the person you find as you get older. That’s the person I want to know.

Larry: When you move out, you’ve got to go back and spend the time with your parents as an adult. That’s how you find out who they are.

What’s the most important lesson you think you’ve taught each other?

Larry: It was from his mother, actually. My father was dominated by his father and he dominated me. That was how you raised a boy in those days: you dominated them and made them do what they were told. You don’t have to hit them, but it’s very easy for an adult man to dominate a young son in that way. His mother saw that that’s the way I was gonna end up going with him and, one day, she stopped me dead in my tracks and said: “If you want the same relationship with that boy, as your father has with you, just carry on doing what you’re doing…” That was a crucial moment in my life. From that moment on, I never did anything but treat George like a fellow human being. It became an honest relationship from that moment on.

George: For me, there was one moment: It was my dad’s sixtieth birthday and we were driving across the Himalayas. My dad decided against flying and said he wanted us to drive. At the time, the area we were going through had just had this big election and the communist party had been voted in and it was kicking off everywhere. It was a bit dangerous. We were going through this town in our minibus and, all of a sudden, we were in the middle of this protest and we were surrounded. The driver slammed on the breaks and all the locks went on the doors and everything was a panic: people were rocking the bus, and it all got pretty heavy. I was just sat there thinking: “Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit. This is really bad. Fucking dad, wanting to drive…” And dad just got up, opened up one of the windows, leant out, grabbed some bloke who was covered in red paint, got his hand and smeared a bunch of his paint all over his own face, and everyone just started going nuts, cheering. I’d gone into a total panic and I needed my dad to come and save me. They’re those moments where you just look at your dad and think: “I had absolutely no idea you were gonna do that.” I was just like “Yes, dad. You fucking nailed that.” I only hope one day I can do something like that for my son.

Watch Britain By Bike: Fridays at 8pm on Channel 5