Chef in a 1980s-themed guest house might not be every young man’s dream job but Nitin Kundra reckons this could be his big break.
He is not really a chef, of course. He doesn’t even work in the hospitality business. No, Nitin is a successful actor who grew up in Newcastle and has landed a plum part in new ITV comedy series Edge of Heaven.
If you tune into the first episode on Friday evening you will see him as Tandeep Chatterjee who runs the breakfast element of wife Judy’s Margate B&B and has a particular penchant for black pudding.
Nitin, it turns out, does not have a particular penchant for black pudding but as a seasoned professional he’s prepared to put up with it.
“It’s not really something I would have but black pudding is his speciality and that’s an on-going joke throughout the series,” says the affable actor.
In the fickle world that is TV commissioning, getting six hour-long episodes of a new sitcom to screen is a major achievement. Full marks to writers Robert Evans and Paul McKenzie.
But full marks also to an actor who has not done an awful lot of work in the North East but has been making a name for himself elsewhere.
Nitin’s first television break came 10 years ago when he played Asif Hussain in ITV firefighting drama Steel City Blues, set on Teesside. He appeared in all seven episodes but it wasn’t re-commissioned.
He has put in several soap opera appearances – Casualty, Coronation Street, Emmerdale – and joined eccentric Keith Lemon and friends on panel show Celebrity Juice.
Nitin also has a respectable theatre CV, having performed at the National Theatre and, more recently, at Manchester’s Royal Exchange. In fact, he was in a play there just before he had to start rehearsing for the sitcom.
After taking his final bow in Too Clever by Half on a Saturday night, there was precious little time to party. He had to get back to London to prepare for a 5.30am departure on Monday for Longcross Film Studios in Surrey and the first day’s work on Edge of Heaven.
That was quite a mental gear change. Too Clever By Half, directed by Paul Hunter of theatre company Told by an Idiot, was set in 1960s Moscow... many miles in every sense from the Kent seaside town of Margate.
Nitin has very high hopes of the sitcom. “When I first read the scripts I was thinking this is a real page-turner. It was really easy to read, very straightforward and very warm and funny. The laughs seemed to come thick and fast.”
The powers-that-be at ITV evidently thought so too. Rather than commission a one-off pilot episode, they organised a read-through with actors sitting round a table, scripts in hand.
“Sometimes these things do go to pilot and then if it picks up an audience they’ll commission a series. Increasingly, though, they are doing it this way and I think it’s good. One-offs can go missing in the schedules. I’ve auditioned for a few pilots and some of them see the light of day and some of them never get made.”
It was about a year ago that Nitin read the part of Tandeep and presumably had the money men in stitches. But the then had an anxious wait to see if he would land the part in the commissioned series. It doesn’t always work out this way, apparently.
Nitin got the thumbs up, hence that early start and a series of location visits to Margate.
“It’s a seaside place where a lot of Londoners used to go on holiday, especially in the 1970s and 80s,” he says. “They used to have quite a lot of bands playing there back in the day.
“It fell on hard times like a lot of these old seaside towns – like Whitley Bay where I went on New Year’s Day for some fresh air. You look around and see that it’s taken such a hammering. I remember going to Spanish City when I was about 11 or 12 in the holidays with other kids.
“But there are signs that things are starting to happen in Whitlery Bay and it’s the same with Margate. They’ve got a new art gallery in Margate (Turner Contemporary) and Wayne Hemingway has been doing some stuff there. It looks as if it’s having a bit of a renaissance now.”
And it is in this renaissance world that we find Tandeep, wife and devoted Wham! fan Judy Taylor-Chatterjee (played by actress Camille Coduri) and the Edge of Heaven guesthouse with its themed suites named in honour of stars such as Madonna and Michael Jackson.
In marrying Judy, Tandeep has also acquired her two grown-up children, Alfie, a loser in love, and Ann-Marie, who’s just been demobbed from the Army. There is, as you might guess, quite an extended family including a grandmother, Nanny Mo, and two gay uncles. All, whatever else happens, will never run short of black pudding.
Nitin sees Edge of Heaven as “a good family show”.
He says: “The writer, Robert Evans, really wanted to get the sense of those shows people used to sit down together to watch. In that sense, there’s a real sense of nostalgia about it. I’ve seen the first episode now and I think it’s a really strong comedy drama. It’s got a really good slot on a Friday night and the previews have been very good. I’m hoping people will really enjoy it.”
One aspect it doesn’t share with 1970s sitcoms is the attitude to colour. For all their qualities, shows like Rising Damp and Some Mothers Do ’Ave ’Em can make your skin crawl. And that’s an apt phrase because skin colour, back then, was deemed worthy not just of note but of gags which now seem hopelessly outmoded, not to say insensitive.
Nitin says he was very struck by the fact that Sir Ben Kingsley, the very distinguished British actor, was born Krishna Pandit Bhanji. “You wonder if he hadn’t changed his name would he still have been so successful. I’d like to think not but these things are worth thinking about.”
One of the great things about Edge of Heaven is that it is “completely colour blind”, says Nitin.
Unable to think of any gags reliant on Tandeep’s ethnicity – though plenty of gags showing that Tandeep is a really funny guy – he says: “It is just a true reflection of multi-cultural Britain.”
If anything, the focus is directed to the fact that Tandeep is supposed to be a lot younger than Judy.
Nitin has invented his own back story to the couple’s relationship, suggesting that Tandeep was down in Margate on a stag party with a load of Geordie mates, got left behind and slept on the beach... whereupon Judy found him and proved to be his guardian angel.
For Nitin this is proving to be a bit of a landmark year. Not only is he looking forward to seeing how Edge of Heaven is received, he is also due to be married in May to fiancée Helen, from Cambridgeshire, a senior designer for Timberland shoes. They are looking forward to a honeymoon in Havana.
Before the family gathering that comes with a wedding, however, there’s the matter of Friday’s all-important first episode. Nitin, who grew up in Chapel Park and went to Ponteland High School, expects his parents, Arun and Ashu Kundra, brother Mohit and sister Ritu to be tuning in. Hopefully, they – and we – will laugh till our sides ache.
Edge of Heaven is on ITV1 at 9pm on Friday