Big Issue Vendor

Line Of Duty star Lennie James’s Isolation Preservation Kit

The actor on how athletics, classic drama and Muhammad Ali's life is keeping him going


Hill Street Blues is the best television show of all time. It’s probably dated – it was made in the 1980s – but it is the show that defines what we now think of as one-hour television drama. It is brilliant, great storytelling, anarchic and fantastic. Being from England, but being shut down in Austin, Texas, I discovered Detectorists, with Mackenzie Crook and Toby Jones. It is so English. It is so home. It couldn’t have come from any place else. And they both do the most exquisite job. It is just so smart and moving and poignant. It’s very simple and straightforward and honest, and particularly its depiction of the men I find very refreshing and revealing.


I was watching something the other day, I can’t remember who the athlete is, but he’s a long-distance runner. And because he hasn’t got a treadmill in the place that he’s staying in, he gets into the bath, holds on to the railing, and squirts washing-up liquid or soap into the bath and then slides his legs back and forward as fast as he can. So I’m doing things like that, push-ups on chairs and skipping.


I keep periodically threatening to learn to play the guitar and speak French. My wife’s family are French speaking, my daughters are all fluent French speakers and I’m not. It has been my one huge regret that when my girls started learning French I didn’t learn along with them. I am going to try.


I’m a big Motown and ska fan, The Specials, The Beat, Madness, UB40 are getting me through. Son Little’s album Aloha is fantastic. Jacob Banks is constantly played in my house. Michael Kiwanuka, not just because he’s a Spurs fan. And because I’m not home, I have suddenly got into the podcast of Desert Island Discs, right the way back to Sue Lawley and Kirsty Young, now Lauren Laverne, they’re fascinating.

Image: Mathew Parri Thomas


There have been loads of books about Muhammad Ali but Muhammad Ali: His Life and Times by Thomas Hauser really puts him into context. Hauser writes about particular moments in Ali’s life, when he won his gold medal in the Italian [Rome 1960] Olympics, Rumble in the Jungle, the Thrilla in Manila, when they took his title away because he wouldn’t go to Vietnam, and talks to a wide range of people about it. They give testimony and it is a brilliant way of telling his story while relating him to the world. They talk to Ali himself, his ex-wife, his current wife, Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, people around the civil rights movement. One of my kids bought it for my birthday and now I’m re-reading it as part of research for something I’m working on.

Save Me Too is on Sky Atlantic and Now TV