No matter how many times I made a joke at his expense, that big dopey grin of his remained permanently plastered across his face; a cigarette often dangling from his mouth. It was as though he didn’t have a care in the world apart from what time the pub opened and where his next shag was coming from. He was a simple guy with simple needs and all too often would say things without thinking. One of my favourite quotes of his came when we was watching an England football match and he was wearing a replica shirt. When a friends little brother asked him what the difference was between the football top he was wearing and the ones the players on TV had on his reply was: “The only difference is if I was playing I would have my name across the back and my number – nutter.”
And when a girl who he was dating bragged about how big his manhood was, we got him T-Short made up for our lads holiday in Crete which read on the front The Beast of Greece has Returned and we put the number nine on the back but with the inches symbol just below it. Whenever girls asked if they could see his well-endowed member he would shove his hands into his pants and rub himself to the point of excitement explaining ‘I’ve only got a semi.’
He played and had the frame of a rugby player, but smoked and drank too much to ever really be considered an athlete. But despite the fact that he probably could have squashed me (and God knows I deserved it the amount of ribbing I used to give him) not once did he ever get pissed off or display any aggression, and I guess I never really saw him as the type of guy that could quite easily rip your arm off like pulling the wing from a fly.
But the reason I think I always think of that afternoon in that Mitcham pub whenever I think about the Ollie character is because of what happened that day. There was a guy in there who’d had a bit too much to drink and was looking to start a fight with anyone he could. I happened to unfortunately wander within his eye line and he threatened to batter me on the basis I’d spilt his drink or knocked his pork scratching’s out of his hand. I can’t remember the exact reason, but it was ridiculous whatever it was. I’m not exactly a fighter and this guy was clearly a bit of a bad lad who probably had two or three punch-ups a day. But at the precise moment where I was probably about to poop myself, my mate appeared from behind me and asked if there was a problem. That was all he said. He didn’t say it with any malice or anger but at the same time he carried himself in a way that said ‘don’t fuck with me!’
It worked a treat. Within seconds the guy who wanted to batter me backed away, My mate stood his ground for a few seconds longer before he turned to me and said: ‘You shit yourself there didn’t you?!’ And then he laughed and that big dopey grin returned to his face.
I included that story in The Drought because I think it captures perfectly who Ollie Pemberton is. He’s a stereotypical big friendly giant; by no means is he the brightest spark and he will do and say before thinking, but his loyalty to his friends is never in question, and like that day in the pub where I completely fell to bits, not once did he lose his head and he had the presence of mind to use his own strengths (his size) to defuse things without even raising his voice.
For the choice of who I’d choose to play Ollie in my fantasy movie version of The Drought I could have quite easily gone with someone who simply just looked the part – big and thick! But I think when you read the book you’ll find that some of funniest and sometimes most subtle of comedy moments come from Ollie. That is why I opted for Will Poulter because not only is he a brilliant comedic actor (Meet the Millers) but he can also have an air of danger about him (Wild Bill).
In a way, Ollie Pemberton is somewhere in the middle of the two characters Poulter played in Meet the Millers and Wild Bill but with a healthy sprinkle of Trigger from Only Fools & Horses! The fact that Poulter happens to look a lot like my friend who I based the character on is a bonus for me, but probably not so much for Will Poulter!