Matt Verrey came from a family steeped in acting and cut his teeth as an extra in Grange Hill, progressing to various speaking parts in some high-profile TV series. Now he puts his skill as a showman to good use in fronting new product presentations for the 1810 Company
My father’s side of the family all came from an acting background, so I was registered with a theatrical agent in 1983 at the age of 10. I shared an agent with the now infamous Matt Lucas and we were close friends between the ages of 10 and 13.
I did some photo shoots for magazines at first, having a spread in the Sunday Times colour supplement as a ‘Billy Bunter’ type character for Harrods Christmas foods in 1984.
I moved on to be an extra in the TV series Grange Hill for a couple of years, on and off, between 1984 and 1987.
It was a minor role – a non-speaking part as a classmate in class E2 – it was the era of the ‘just say no’ campaign with the main characters at the time being Roland and Zammo.
On the set there was loads of Grange Hill stationery, school paper and badges, which were props for the show. I remember taking a handful into my real school on the days I wasn’t filming to give out to a few of my friends. Big mistake! Within hours, I had a shopping list as long as my arm for requests for different bits and pieces from the set. Needless to say, I had to disappoint a lot of my schoolmates.
I had a great group of friends within the other extras on the show. We would all travel in together and home again on a minibus and spent most of the days as a group while waiting to film. Most of the cast were great – the kids with the speaking parts were obviously the coolest, but we all took lunch at the same time and got on well.
There were exceptions, though. In one scene where we were filmed running down a corridor, an actor, who later appeared in LWT’s London’s Burning, deliberately tripped me, causing me to break my right leg in two places. I filmed the rest of the season with my leg in plaster. After this, I was treated to a taxi to and from filming on a daily basis, as I couldn’t walk to the minibus stop. Filming took place at the BBC TV centre in Shepherd’s Bush for the interior scenes, and the outside shots were shot at Elstree.
While we were filming at Elstree, the set was being built for a new soap the BBC was launching in February 1985, called EastEnders. I had the privilege of watching the set being built day by day, which was great. Some of the set built then is still in use today and they still film EastEnders there.
During one Grange Hill scene taking place in the canteen, it took about 25 takes to get right – over three hours. I was eating lunch in the background. They provided salt and vinegar crisps for me to eat and kept changing the bag on every take. I ate so many I was sick. I’ve not eaten a salt and vinegar crisp since.
The harshest teacher in the series at the time – Mr Bronson – was played by the nicest of all the cast, Michael Sheard. He was an absolute pussycat. No one at my real school would believe me.
I really enjoyed my time on Grange Hill. The best bit, if I’m honest, was seeing myself on TV and achieving minor celebrity status with all of my friends and family.
It wasn’t without its challenges, though – lots of standing around, often outside in the cold, lots of repeating the scene, not to mention those crisps!
After Grange Hill, I went on to do some speaking roles in various TV series for the BBC and LWT. My first speaking role was in a 1985 series for LWT called Drummonds with Richard Pasco. I followed this up with a John Mortimer adaptation starring Sir Michael Hordern filmed at the back end of 1986, and a series for BBC called Breaking Up, together with various adverts.
I think my acting experience has helped set me up beautifully for what I do now – being a business development manager. It taught me presentation and elocution skills, and helped with public speaking.
I’m working for the 1810 Company as BDM for London and South-East and having a whale of a time. I love it for lots of reasons. The team’s great – professional, passionate and enthused about the products, the future and KBB. We take the business seriously, but we don’t take ourselves too seriously.