Shaun Williamson has taken on some challenges in his time.
But none, perhaps, as big as filling the boots of comedy giant Ronnie Barker in the new stage version of Porridge.
A veteran of almost 800 episodes of EastEnders after he only signed up to do four, Shaun is so versatile as an actor, singer and after dinner speaker that he went on to win Celebrity Mastermind and Stars in Their Eyes and also has nine pantos under his belt.
Now 45, he’s at a similar age to Barker when he was at the height of his powers in Porridge.
And, at 15-and-a-half stone, a not dissimilar weight.
Shaun says: “I would have been about ten when I first started watching Porridge.
“I loved it. Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais just wrote the episodes so well, it’s as simple as that.”
What Shaun is not doing, he says, is an impersonation of Ronnie. “Although I’m a Cockney, like Ronnie I use my own voice and let the script speak for itself,” he says.
“The original casting was like gold dust, with Brian Wilde, Fulton Mackay and Richard Beckinsale.
“Our cast doesn’t look glaringly different, so that’s fairly wise.
“Our first act is based on a fixed boxing match episode, and the second on an escape tunnel at Christmas.
“We’ve only had one ‘bad’ review.
“That was from the Daily Mail complaining it was ‘old stuff’, not that I was bad.
“Other nationals have given us excellent reviews – I do read them because if someone thought I was abysmal, I’d want to know why.
“When Martin Clunes did the Reggie Perrin on TV he got so much stick, but this is a different thing doing Porridge for the stage.”
“The company behind the Porridge revival is Calibre Productions which has already taken Dad’s Army and ‘Allo ‘Allo! out on tour. They have experience in this sort of thing.”
They say you should never meet your heroes, but Shaun did meet Ronnie Barker once.
“I went to one of those An Audience With shows, starring Ronnie Corbett.
“Ronnie Barker was there so I went up to him to say ‘hello’ to a man who, The Two Ronnies proved, had so many different people inside him.
“Those Audience With... shows are mental, with celebrities everywhere.
“It’s difficult to ‘collar’ someone and, then, if you do, what do you say?
“I didn’t get the chance to talk to him for long, so that I couldn’t make a **** of myself or for him to say ‘**** off, you’re boring me’.”
Shaun says he enjoyed starring in Saturday Night Fever at the Birmingham Hippodrome once.
“But I’ve never played the Alex, so I’m really looking forward to that as there’s plenty left for me to see in Birmingham.” Maidstone-born Shaun has two children, Sophie, 12, who is at grammar school, and nine-year-old Joe.
Despite his Celebrity Mastermind success, and the fact that he recently starred in the first celebrity team to beat the Eggheads, Shaun admits he was never academically gifted at school, only getting moderate ‘O’ Level grades in English and history that he was pleased with. “Everything else I gave up on,” he says.
“Maths would never have done me any good because my brain doesn’t work like that. Most children at 14 or 15 should be learning trades like how to be an electrician, plumbing or do car maintenance,” he says.
“And skills like how to iron and wash clothes. These, and things like social skills like letting older people get on a bus first, are basic things you are never taught. But what use is chemistry to more than 90 per cent of the population?”