Tracy-Ann Oberman is famous to soap fans for playing Chrissie Watts — Dirty Den’s long-suffering wife and eventual killer — in EastEnders. She later appeared in the hit comedy Friday Night Dinner, and earlier this year she played Ritchie Tozer's theatrical agent in the acclaimed drama It's A Sin. Now Tracy-Ann is starring in another drama, the four-part Ridley Road, which is based on real-life events in the East End of London in 1962.
In the UK all episodes are streaming on BBC iPlayer. Ridley Road premieres in the US on PBS Masterpiece in May. The drama is set in East London’s Ridley Road in 1962 — a time when anti-Semitism was flourishing and the neo-Nazi group The National Socialist Movement (NSM) was on the rise.
The story follows a young Jewish girl Vivien Epstein (Agnes O’Casey) who moves to London from Manchester, looking for her boyfriend Jack (Tom Varey). Vivien discovers that Jack has infiltrated the fascist group, the NSM, led by the fanatical Colin Jordan (Rory Kinnear) with his thuggish driver Lee (Danny Hatchard), and is working undercover for the Jewish resistance group The 62 Group.
Tracy-Ann plays Nancy Malinovsky who is close to Vivien and she tells us about her Ridley Road role.
Tracy-Ann Oberman on her character Nancy
“Nancy is a brilliant female character,” says Tracy-Ann Oberman. “She’s married to Soly (Eddie Marsan), who is the leader of the 62 Group. Nancy is brave, fearless, clever, passionate about fighting Nazis, proud of her community and her Jewish identity and she goes out of her way to be a really important member. She’s almost like the brains behind the 62 group, fighting Colin Jordan and the NSM. She also takes on the role of mentoring Vivien.”
Oberman on Nancy and Soly’s relationship
“Their relationship works because they’re passionate about their identity," reveals Tracy-Ann. "Any Jewish person that was alive in the 1960s had family that were lost in the Holocaust. They knew people that had gone in and freed those camps. They would have lost all their Eastern European family in Auschwitz and other concentration camps. Soly and Nancy are passionate about protecting their community. Even though they may not be religious Jews, they will do what it takes to make sure it never happens again. To them, Colin Jordan is as bad as Hitler. They will stand and make sure they are not victims of a state that doesn’t protect them or their rights. They help each other because Soly is hot-headed and Nancy has a cooler, more intelligent approach. They work brilliantly together and are the perfect couple in taking on and leading the 62 Group.”
On working with Soly actor Eddie Marsan…
“I’ve worked with Eddie before. We did a film together where I played his wife, so it’s been really lovely working with him again,” says Tracy-Ann. “He’s such a brilliant actor to work with, he’s very inspiring and he’s very generous, particularly about making sure that Nancy was as much a part of the 62 Group and the fighting against fascists as the men were.”
On Nancy and Vivien’s relationship in Ridley Road
“Nancy is like a handler. She sees Vivien and she sees the potential of a young girl who feels as passionately about fighting fascism as she did,” explains Tracy-Ann. “Nancy helps Vivien and nurtures her and mentors her to be able to go in undercover and take on Colin. She’s like a mother figure, but a mother figure that slaps you about a little bit and gets you to go hang out with Nazis.”
Tracy-Ann on what drew her to this Ridley Road role…
“I feel that this bit of history has been forgotten — the legacy of Oswald Mosley in the 1930s and 40s, then the fact that the fascists rose so soon after the Holocaust in World War II and the murder of six million Jews. The very fact that Britain had this rise of fascism in the 60s, led by Colin Jordan and the legacy of Mosley, is really important to remember,” explains Tracy-Ann. “I think it’s also important to remember that the Jewish community was under so much threat, so soon after the Holocaust. Fascist marches were taking place in Trafalgar Square but the police and the authorities did very little to protect the Jewish community. This is why the Jewish community had to protect themselves. Sarah Solemani (Chivalry) has written this script, based on Jo Bloom’s book, to retell this bit of Jewish history and community history.”
On the importance of Ridley Road for today's audiencs
“Ridley Road is an important story to tell at this moment in time because there’s so much race hate and extremism that’s happening,” says Tracy-Ann. “This story is a reminder of what happens when you allow racism, particularly anti-Semitism to flourish. It’s a shocking reminder that this country, even in the 1960s, so soon after World War II, had this growing rise of anti-Semitism, where fascists like Colin Jordan were able to mobilize people to talk about the Jewish entity and how to get rid of them and to gas them again, when six million had just been gassed in the concentration camps of Europe. That bleeds into other forms of racism as well, so we have to stop othering minorities and protect them. If the authorities aren’t going to protect them, then the community should take it into their own hands and that’s what this story reminds us.
“I knew a lot about the 62 Group. I had family members who talked about being a part of the group and I know a man who is a leading member of the community who was a big part of the group. The 62 Group represents how communities can take things into their own hands. Although I knew quite a bit about it, I had not realized how much anti-Semitism and neo-Nazi hatred were on the rise again in Britain in 1962. It’s frightening to me that there were marches going on in Trafalgar Square against the Jewish entity, I thought that had finished in the 1930s and after the Holocaust, it wouldn’t have happened again.
"I also think Ridley Road is important because this has been a woefully unexplored part of British history. It’s important to remember Colin Jordan, Francoise Dior, George Rockwell and their involvement in an anti-Jewish, fascist movement.”
What were the filming highlights?
“Every part of filming this was a highlight for me. Especially re-enacting the meetings of the 62 Group, just because it felt so close to me. I knew so many people that were really there and, on the frontline, doing that work. I think just being in the 60s, like being in Oscar’s hair salon and everything being so authentic was beautiful. Driving a vintage taxi and having to drive Vivien into the woods and slap her about was great. Everything has been a highlight and it’s a story that I really wanted to be a part of.”
“I hope audiences love Ridley Road as much as we’ve loved filming it and I think that they will be shocked. It will be exciting, it’s a love story, it’s sexy but it’s also frightening. It’s a bit of history that people have forgotten and I hope that it makes them look at anti-Semitism and racism and take it more seriously."
“People should watch Ridley Road because I think it’s the best of British television. It’s classy, exciting, it looks amazing, the actors are great, the story is gripping, its historical, epic, sexy and it’s inspired by a true story.”
More related Ridley Road content
- Agnes O’Casey interview — "It’s a really important story for now"
- Tamzin Outhwaite on Ridley Road — "I felt like it was really my hair salon"
- Rory Kinnear interview: "Colin continued his diatribe of hate until the end"
- Danny Hatchard reveals the motivations behind his Ridley Road character
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I'm a huge fan of television so I really have found the perfect job, as I've been writing about TV shows, films and interviewing major television, film and sports stars for over 25 years. I'm currently TV Content Director on What's On TV, TV Times, TV and Satellite Week magazines plus Whattowatch.com. I previously worked on Woman and Woman's Own in the 1990s. Outside of work I swim every morning, support Charlton Athletic football club and get nostalgic about TV shows Cagney & Lacey, I Claudius, Dallas and Tenko. I'm totally on top of everything good coming up too.