THOSE WITH a few years behind them will remember him as Bill Reynolds in the hit 1970s sitcom Love Thy Neighbour, while those of the younger persuasion know him as Patrick Trueman in EastEnders.
With an incredible 60 years in show business behind him, Rudolph Walker will be celebrating the achievement along with his 80th birthday in a special bash put on in his honour at the Hackney Empire on October 20. Hosted by comedy duo – Eddie Gee and Robbie Nestor – the celebration in honour of this television and theatre icon will bring together some of the best in black entertainment including calypso artist Tobago Crusoe, comedian Richard Blackwood, singer Jermaine Jackman and the highly accomplished London Community Gospel Choir to name just a few.
Walker – whose birthday is on September 28 – is looking forward to being among good company on the night. “It is great that I get to celebrate my birthday and many years in show business with friends and family,” said Walker. He continued: “I have to thank my wife [Evangeline], and my agent, Sarah Moore, who put this together for me. “I’ve been told that there will also be some special guests appearing who have not been listed on the promotional poster which is rather exciting.”
Walker, who received an OBE in 2006 for his services to drama, feels humbled to know that both his generation and a younger generation of entertainers will come together to celebrate this special occasion with him. “Well, that in itself is fantastic. It’s something that I am very much looking forward to celebrating,” he said.
“Over the years I have tried my best to encourage the younger entertainers, so I feel blessed and privileged that they are participating and entertaining the crowd while also raising vital funds for my foundation.” All proceeds from the event will go to the Rudolph Walker Foundation – a charity which Walker set up a decade ago to develop and nurture the creative skills and talents of young people.
“Back in the ‘70s, when I starred in a popular television series called Love Thy Neighbour I did a lot of work in schools especially in Brixton,” said Walker. He continued: “Many of the schools that I worked in such as Tulse Hill, for example, no longer exist. “In those days, as is the case now, young people were viewed as troublemakers especially by the police, when in reality it was often just a group of friends hanging around on the street after school.
“Many of these young people expressed their frustration at their treatment by those in authority. “So in response to this I devised a programme through drama where they could meet after school and be involved in writing and directing their own pieces of work.” He continued: “I would invite some of my celebrity friends to come along, judge their work and present them with trophies and motivational talks. Then, 10 years ago I was approached by Mervin Cato to work with young people in Hackney.
“I did the same programme I had done all those years ago in Brixton and it has proven so successful that we now have schools from Cardiff, Bristol and Birmingham taking part. VISION “It is our vision to take this programme as far as the Caribbean and beyond.” Walker, who hails from Trinidad, came to London in 1960 aged just 20, just after the first group of individuals from the Caribbean set sail to England aboard the famous Empire Windrush on June 22, 1948. But he says he has had an interest in acting from a young age.
“I started as an amateur actor in Trinidad at a very young age, with little parts in plays as well as poetry recitations at primary school,” he said. “While I also played cricket for my school with my teachers encouraging me to pursue it further, it was my love for the theatre which took over. “I joined a leading amateur dramatic company in Trinidad, had my own theatre company at a very young age then naturally made my move to England where I thought I would have more opportunities to succeed – and fortunately for me I did.”
Walker would take evening acting classes and be given some supporting roles and walk on parts before becoming a household name – first with Love Thy Neighbour and latterly in EastEnders. “I was one of the few leading black actors at the time and the casting director and executive producer of EastEnders were looking for someone to play the role of Patrick Trueman. I am told that my name came up in discussion to play the role and so when I was approached I had no hesitation and the rest, as they say, is history.”
For Walker, being an entertainer was never about the money. He said: “I get a buzz and energy from entertaining people. I get to discover things about myself while acting in various roles as well as meet lots of great people who then go on to become lifelong friends of mine. It has never been about the glitz and glamour.
From a young age I have just enjoyed what I do.” At the age 79, there seems to be no signs of Walker slowing down. “I can still communicate, run around, perform on screen and stage as well as play tennis and cricket. So I have a lot to be thankful for,” he said. 60 years as an entertainer has brought many fond memories to Walker, and so he admitted finding it hard to pick the best moment in his highly illustrious career.
“I would say that doing a play at the Theatre Royal Stratford East called The King of England was one of my best moments because it’s one that I have always held dear to me. “I received an award for best performance which I suppose went a long way towards my future achievements. I also acted in a series on BBC in 1985 called Black Silk which was based on the life of a brilliant Guyanese lawyer called Rudy Narayan who allowed me to take his story to the BBC with him given the opportunity to write the first script.
“There was no Society for Black Lawyers during that time so what we did through that series was groundbreaking. “Then, of course, I can’t deny that receiving the OBE for my services to drama and recognition of that fact from my fellow professionals gave me a great deal of satisfaction.”
From Trinidad to England and from stage to screen – Rudolph Walker is here to stay and for those celebrating his many years in the entertainment industry – they are happy that he does.
Tickets for the event, starting at £35, can be bought at https:// hackneyempire.co.uk/whats-on/ rudolph-walkers-80th-birthday