Ready to go on

Monday, 25 April 2011

Let me introduce you to Ruby and Rachel, my Yiddish chickens, named by my wife and children. No.1 and no.2 would have done for me. Lovely, aren't they? So now I have an allotment full of burgeoning plants and two chickens at home, vaccinated and only three weeks away from laying, apparently?

I feel like Tom Good from The Good Life.

Actually, if anyone is thinking of keeping chickens, the Chicken shack was £150 and the chickens were £7 each. Bit of a bargain!

Of course, I can claim no involvement in any of this as I am still on tour and everything was done while I was in Plymouth. I got back from there yesterday evening, a lovely drive on a sunny day through, Devon, Somerset, Oxfordshire and, unfortunately, round the M25. You can't have everything. And now I am ready to set off again, back round the M25 to Aylesbury, where we are performing this evening. There really isn't a lot of time at home once you hit the road.

We do have a week at the Richmond theatre later in the tour, but I found out on Friday that I am going to be recording a fourth series of Inspector Steine for Radio 4 during that week. So, what would have been a pleasant week at home with a trip to a London theatre each evening, will now be a gruelling week of getting to London for 9.30 am each day and recording until it is time to head to the theatre for the show, then back across London and the last train to Tunbridge Wells, my home town, each evening. I shall be knackered and probably glad, by the end of the week, to get back on tour for a rest!

I'm not complaining really. I love recording radio comedy and this is some of the best. Written by the delightful, very talented, and gorgeously complementary Lynne Truss and with a cast and crew that I now regard as good friends, having already done three series with them, this is one of the highlights of my year. It just seems that every time we record Inspector Steine I am also doing another job, so I never get to socialise with the rest or fully enjoy the work, always being under pressure to get it all recorded in time. Yet, when you consider the number of unemployed actors and the state of the acting business following the recent cuts in funding, I can only be grateful that I am working at all.

At least there will be fresh eggs for breakfast each day. Probably? Come on Ruby and Rachel!! Perhaps I should get the Rabbi round? xx

Friday, 22 April 2011

More from Plymouth

On Thursday this week we reached the halfway point in our tour. Yes, I'm a bit surprised by that as well. We started rehearsing the play on January 4th so we have actually been involved with this project for the whole year and by the time we finish the London run it will be the middle of September.

This is the longest job I've ever done! I've been acting for thirty years so far and in all that time I've never been involved in something that went on for as long as this will. I'm used to that. It doesn't worry me that most jobs I've done have been short term. Luckily there has always seemed to be another one to get on with. I say 'luckily' because I am aware of how lucky I've been in my career. I have many friends who are just as good, if not better than me, at acting and they, unfairly, struggle to get enough work. I should imagine that it is because I have always been a Jack of all trades (and, yes, a master of none). I've spread my talent thinly over all areas of the profession, from panto to Shakespeare, with quite a lot of advertising and corporate work in between. It's been my choice and I've enjoyed it. Basically, I just like working.

However, if I have to face this difficult point in the tour, there can't really be a better place than Plymouth to do it in. Especially when the weather is so glorious?

I drove up on to Dartmoor today, wending my way through high hedged lanes reminiscent of how I imagine the countryside during the Second World War. Empty, peaceful, wild flowers everywhere; beautiful. They remind me of the rambles we went on when I was a child. I know I've already written about my childhood holidays this week but I find myself constantly thinking back to them as I slowly travel around the Devon countryside in my little open top car.

I was thinking today about a week that my brothers and I spent with my dad on the South coast in the late sixties. Someone had loaned my dad a caravan and we faced spending a boring week in it with only a rather shabby, nearby beach for fun.

However, next door to our rather barren camp site was a holiday park with chalets, an entertainment centre, a large swimming pool and a huge dining hall. Shangrila to us boys. We arrived at the camping site on the Saturday and were told to get changed in to our costumes and to wet our hair. We grabbed towels and walked towards the gated entrance to the 'exclusive' holiday camp.

Now, my dad was never one to spend money when it was unnecessary. I can't imagine that the holiday camp was terribly expensive for a weeks stay but it was too pricey for my dad to waste his money on. Especially when he believed that, with a bit of bottle, we could stay there for the week for free.

As we approached the manned gate we struck up a song and my father cheerily waved to the man in the hut next to the gate. He wore a uniform so he was important. "Been to the beach, have we?" the gate keeper enquired. "Yeah," my dad replied, "but these lot are soft. They say they prefer the pool!". He gave the gate keeper a conspiratorial raise of the eyebrows, smiled, and said, "Same thing every year! Still, good to see you again, John." "Fred." the man replied. "Fred!! Of course! Silly me." retorted my dad. "Have a pleasant stay, sir." Fred said, as he raised the gate.

First hurdle negotiated successfully. We spent the rest of the afternoon playing by the pool as dad wandered around and made himself known to everyone. He was very good at being the life and soul, and soon had a large crowd around him, laughing at his stories. Eventually he told us boys that we had to get changed for dinner and we gathered our towels and bags and headed of to the chalet area where we changed in the public loo.

Next hurdle was dinner. Surely this was pushing it? But not for my dad. We entered the dinning hall as if we had been staying there all our lives. "Chalet number?", the receptionist asked. We didn't have a chalet, of course, but my dad had spotted an empty one and gave the girl the number. She ticked it off and we were shown to our table where we enjoyed a three course dinner. This was our table now and we would have it for the week. But how were we going to get back to the caravan late at night without Fred suspecting us?

My dad had that sorted. He had found a side gate that you could leave by, but which wouldn't let you back in. He would leave by that every night with us in tow, as if we were going on a raid, and then walk back in through the gate the next morning with a newspaper under his arm just in time for breakfast."Got to work up an appetite." he would call to Fred.

That was the pattern of the week. A free meal at breakfast, lunch and dinner. Entertainment every evening, swimming every day and a short stroll back to the caravan at night as everyone else retired to their chalets.

That was the plan. My dad did his song. Told his jokes. And on cue, I tugged at his coat. "What do you want," he said, "You're ruining my act!" I steadied myself and said, "'Ere Mister? Have you seen what your sons doing off the top diving board?". Gag ruined. My career in tatters. Fortunately my dad turned it in to a very funny routine where he explained to me in a stage whisper what I'd done wrong, rehearsed the right lines with me, and then got me to do it properly. When I finally delivered the gag correctly the place erupted.

So that was our very enjoyable, free holiday. It seems a bit mad now, and a lot of fuss to save a small amount of money. But it was thrilling at the time. We were undercover agents.

This was, of course, fraud. And my dad was a highly respected lawyer who risked a criminal record. He had some bloody nerve though, didn't he?


This memory may well be a combination of a number of events but to me it's totally true. Each element of it is anyway. We all slightly edited the past, don't we? This is how I remember the times with my dad. And I like it!

Thursday, 21 April 2011

Back on tour - Plymouth

I bet you thought I'd given up, didn't you? Well, here I am again after a lovely week off spent digging and planting and eating out with my wife. I didn't dig and plant my wife, we dug and planted together at the allotment. Of course, I do dig her in the sixties sense of the word but I don't pl.....

Oh, bloody hell! One week off and I've lost it!!

Start again.

We are in lovely Plymouth this week and the weather is just gorgeous. I drove down here on Monday along the A303 (that's for all the Nuts In May fans) past Stonehenge, which all drivers slow down to have a look at. Apart from that delay, it's a lovely drive, especially with the top down. The car top, obviously.

The Theatre Royal, Plymouth, is a great theatre and the audiences have been very receptive and friendly. I still feel like a bit of a visitor to the show with my little 'guest appearance' for the final ten minutes of each performance, but I'm managing to keep up my enthusiasm, I hope? It does mean that I require very little energy to perform each evening and can, therefore, give every day my full attention. I don't, unlike the main cast, have to save myself for the show.

As a result, despite my long drive here on Monday, I spent Tuesday touring the area. In the morning I crossed the famous Brunnel bridge in to Cornwall and explored the winding Cornish lanes along the coast to Looe, Polperot and nearly to Liskeard. I have been there before, but not since I was at University. Then I stayed in a caravan for a wet and windy week with my (soon to be) wife and a college friend. It was very different on Tuesday morning. Beautiful sunny weather and crowds of Easter holiday makers. You get so used to everyone else getting on with their normal lives while you spend the days on tour sightseeing that it was rather inconvenient to have other people enjoying themselves in your presence. I felt slightly resentful; firstly that they were there at all, and secondly that they were in groups and had other people to enjoy it with. It can be a solitary life on tour.

In the afternoon I went the other way up the coast, the Devon section, Paignton, Torquay and Torbay. This is an area that I remember more clearly from my youth. We spent a number of summer holidays in Torbay. Actually, just outside it at a caravan park come holiday camp in the hills overlooking the Torbay coast.

I have such strong memories of those holidays, probably because they seemed such a long way from home.

We always stayed the Friday night at my Aunt Fran's house in South London and got up before the sun had risen on the Saturday morning to begin the long journey to Devon. This was in the 1960's and the route was A roads all the way. Out in to Surrey, along the Hog's Back, through Hampshire on the road I took on Monday, then the A38 in to Devon (I really am turning in to Keith from Nuts In May). This really was an 'are we there yet' journey, two car loads, with four adults, five children and dogs and all the gear we would need for the week. My brothers and I fought over the right to travel between my two cousins in my Uncle Ben's Morris where you would be pampered and given lots of sweets by Fran, a lovely giggling, rouged, buxom woman. She had a great zest for life and passion about her that, even as a young boy, I knew was a bit 'naughty'. I didn't know anything about sex, of course, but there was no doubt that Aunt Fran was a sexy woman and proud of it. The last time I saw her, just before she died of cancer, she was in her hospital bed and kept apologising for the way she looked and trying to hide the lower part of her face with her bedsheets. "I'm sorry Michael," she said, "They've taken my teeth away and I look dreadful. I haven't even got any make-up on." I'm proud that I managed to say, with a smile and with complete honesty, "You're always be beautiful to me, Aunt Fran." Despite being very unwell and in pain she still managed a giggle. The naughty giggle that I remember so well.

I tried to find the camp site we used to stay at but couldn't. It's probably a good thing. The memories are so strong and definite that the reality would only spoil them; sitting around in deck chairs between the caravans with my dad making everyone laugh with his ridiculous stories of the war; walking through the camp site with my cousins, Benny and Lyn, who were such astonishingly good looking teenagers that people would stare at them, at least it always seemed that way to me; Skip, the bald, beret wearing, camp entertainer (camp in the sense of 'site'); the glistening, blue swimming pool surrounded by sunbathing mothers and yelping, splashing children; the 'main hall', where the entertainments would take place every evening; my dad winning the talent show with his Al Jolson and Maurice Chevalier impersonations and joke routine done in an Irish accent that always ended with the line 'Glorry be, if we'd brought your mother we could have saved the horse and cart!'.

I suppose it was what I might now describe as being 'tacky'? But that's only because I've learnt to pretend that I'm posh. I still love being in a crowd of people like that. Working class people who know how to have a good time. Even last night, I came out of the theatre to find the pub next door was doing karaoke. I was straight in there with all the people who think that it doesn't matter how well you sing as long as you 'have a go'. Of course, I can sing, so I'm just showing off really. The people were drunk but friendly. And they were happy. Ever been to a Michelin star restaurant? If you have you'll know the difference.

I can still picture that smoke filled hall at the Torbay Campsite; sunburned faces from a day by the pool, red lipped women drinking port and lemon, elderly couples clapping along to 'Yellow River', groups of girls dancing 'The Slosh' in rows while their men hung around the bar area downing pints, and us children running between the tables or dashing off to the amusements in the hope that coins would have been left in the one armed bandits.

I am going on, aren't I, but it's been a while since I wrote a blog so I hope you'll excuse my ramblings?

Finally, I wanted to relate one particular memory of those holidays. One afternoon the pool area, the main hall and the play areas around the caravans were strangely quiet. Deserted, virtually. Everyone was crammed in to the bar. Five hundred people or more, gathered around one black and white television, most of them relying on the sound alone or the reaction of the people closest to the TV to tell them what was going on.

I was eight years old and had been given the job of keeping an eye on my younger brother, so I only occasionally popped in to this noisy, smokey, slightly frightening place. I didn't really understand what it was all about but I knew that it was important and seemed to be taking all day! It was only at the end that I got swept up in the whole thing.

"Some people are on the pitch. They think it's all over? It is now!" The whole bar erupted and everyone hugged each other. My mum and dad were crying and laughing and I was hauled in to the air and placed on my father's shoulders as he led a great parade of chanting people on a circuit of the swimming pool. "We are the champions, we are the champions!" My word, we certainly were.


Years later, when we were making a comedy television programme called KYTV, we did an episode on the Swinging Sixties and one of the sketches involved Kenneth Wolstenholme, the man who said those immortal words. We asked him to repeat them. "Oh, yes," he said, "I remember the ones you mean. 'Some people are on the pitch. They think it's all over? it is now! Take that, Fritz!! That's for Dunkirk!'. Are those the ones you mean?" The interviewer, Geoffrey Perkins, had to look dumbfounded and then said' "I don't recall that last bit?". "Oh no," Kenneth replied, "they must have faded out my mic. What a shame." Imagine getting the man himself to make a joke like that about the thing that he will be remembered for forever? Astonishing!

Friday, 8 April 2011

Friday - Malvern

I'm sitting in the lounge of the lovely house we are renting this week listening to 'The Man With A Child In His Eyes' by Kate Bush. The sun is shining and I have just been left alone by most of the cast who have headed off to the theatre to get ready for tonight's show. I don't have to be there until nine o'clock, so I have been left to tidy after our gorgeous BBQ this afternoon which involved me, mostly, sitting in my car with the top down acting out all the roles in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang for Chris Larkin's wonderful children. I didn't even eat much. It was an absolute joy.

I love small children. They are so open to fun and adventure and if you are enthusiastic with them they will repay you tenfold. Chris's children were certainly happy today to be at the beach and see a pirate ship and pretend we were flying over the mountains. So was I.

I almost certainly get it from my dad. He was brilliant at creating 'adventures'. A game he used to play, in the summer holidays, one that I have done with my own children and their friends, was to jump in the car and let all the children take it in turns to choose which direction we would drive in, right, left or straight on. This may sound like a recipe for disaster on a Heston Blumenthal scale, but we always ended up at some amazing castle or lake or the beach. Of course, he knew that's where we were heading. It just took us a bit longer to get there than if we had gone there directly. Still, that wasn't a problem. We had all day!

The other brilliant thing he did was to tell us, on walks, that there used to be money trees near where we were. "That was in the old days," he would say, "before people got greedy and cut them all down. What a shame," he would sigh, "otherwise we could just gather the money that used to pop out of the bark and buy an ice cream?" He had already been to the wood and planted small coins in to the bark of the trees on the route of our walk. Once we spotted one we would be off, dashing all over the place, giving off shrieks of joy whenever we spotted some more. There was always just enough for us to buy an ice cream each.

I once did that on a holiday in France. We were sharing a large Chateau in the Dordogne with about thirty other families and, as dinner was prepared, I was put in charge of entertaining the children. There were about 15 of them between 3 and 7 years old. One evening I suggested we walked through the woods next to our stunning house. I'd walked the route earlier in the day and placed centimes in all the trees. I told the kids about the greedy people who had cut down all the money trees and they agreed that it was a shame. I had to drag the story out because they were taking a long time to spot the shiny coins sticking out of the cracks in the bark, but, once one had been spotted, they were off! Half an hour of very egalitarian money harvesting. Children can very generous with each other, especially when they think there is an endless supply of something. The coins were shared out and we returned to the house after about an hour, each child clutching a small, sweaty handful of almost worthless coins; not that they knew that or cared. To them, and me, it was a moment of magic. Well done, dad.

Later that evening I was taken aside by the father of two of the children. "Mike," he said, seriously, "I have spent the last five years trying to teach my children the value of money and you have managed to destroy that education in one fell swoop. Please don't do it again."

I still know those children. They are lovely. Very sensible, responsible teenagers. Bright, thoughtful and caring. A credit to their parents. But every time I see them they talk to me about the money trees. I refuse to admit, as they claim, that it was me that put the money in the bark. I tell them that money trees still exist in France if they ever want to look for them with their children? Have a look yourself sometime. It's well worth the effort.

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

Wednesday - to be, or not to be?

We have a matinee this afternoon, so my free time today is limited, but I thought I might pop over to Tewkesbury at some point? I haven't been there since I was eighteen but I'm sure the memory of that visit will be heavily nudged by my return?

Tewkesbury was the starting point for a very important holiday for me. It was a  treat for having completed our A levels succesfully, a canal/river trip with five other friends from school. I'm astonished, when I think about it now, that we were ever allowed to hire a river boat for a week at such a tender age? Three eighteen year old boys and three eighteen year old girls cruising down the river, alone? And I'm amazed the phrase 'cruising down the river alone' hasn't become a euphemism for a mass drunken orgy?

That's what we boys would have liked it to be. In reality it was just six friends going on holiday together and if anyone was going to get lucky it would have been an older, more manly, male stranger. And we would have had to stay off the boat for the entire evening while it happened.

Having driven up here the other day I realise how much roads have improved since then. In 1975 it took us ages. There was no M25 or M40 so our journey from Kent went straight through London and then along the A40, passing through Oxford. We started the journey first thing in the morning in two cars driven by generous parents. We may have been eighteen but we didn't own cars. The journey took so long that I am fairly certain we listened to the whole of the Wimbledon Final between Bjorn Borg and Ilie Nastase, Borg's first victory, during the journey? This means we must have arrived at about five thirty?

We were given a brief description of how to steer and moor the boat. The girls stashed their bags in the bow, we stashed our gear in the stern (again, sadly, not a euphemism) and we set off to find the nearest river pub.

The plan was to cruise from Tewkesbury to Stratford and back. We got to Stratford in a couple of days and moored our six berth cruiser on the far bank of the Avon from the Memorial Theatre. We were, as it transpired, directly opposite the balcony to the Green Room, and we could see groups of heavily made-up actors in costume, standing on the balcony, smoking in the late evening sun.

Now, I had always been interested in theatre, but I had had very little experience of it. My only previous involvement with Shakespeare had been through exams, so obviously, I loathed him. Watching these actors, laughing and smoking, so relaxed in their costumes, waiting for their entrance in the dying sun, I think I fell in love? Not with them, but with who they were and the lives they seemed to lead.

I suggested to my fellow travellers that we should go and see a show while we were there? My male mates looked at me as if I were mad, then they noticed that the girls seemed quite keen on the idea, so they feigned interest. On the way to the pub that night we went in to the theatre and bought six tickets for the next night's production of Romeo and Juliet. Very cheap tickets, I remember. We had elected to stand against the rail at the back of the stalls. I don't know if they still do that, but it was a great way for youngsters to enjoy the shows at a bargain price.

To, for once, be brief; we went to see Romeo and Juliet. Ian McKellen and Francesca Annis. God, she was beautiful and magnificent and stunning and I envied the future Gandalf so much. Why couldn't a girl, or preferably a woman - that woman on stage - declare their love for me in that way? Why would she go for him? He was far too old to be Romeo. My mate Kevin thought he was gay? I was the right age. She should have been forcing my face in to her heaving bos...... anyway, you can see how my teenage mind enjoyed the experience. I was completely hooked. So hooked that, despite a great deal mickey taking, I went back again the next day to see the matinee. I think it was the same play, I'm not sure. It didn't really matter. I just wanted to be in the theatre. Afterwards I went on the theatre tour and walked on to a professional stage for the first time. "Would anyone like to get in to Juliet's grave?" our tour guide asked. Once again this turned out, disappointingly, to not be a euphemism. My hand shot up though (nor's that!) and I stepped forward and climbed down in to the pit where Francesca Annis had been laid. (look, will you stop it?! You're just being smutty and juvenile!).

The point is, it was then and there that I became determined that I would one day act on that stage. I didn't know how to go about it, but I knew that I would - one day.

Despite all the things I've done, I'm still waiting. Next year, perhaps? xx

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

Monday - Malvern

The final week of the tour before we have a week’s holiday and we find ourselves in Malvern. Not find ourselves in the hippie sense of the word, of course, but this is where we are, so if we need to find ourselves we won't have to look too far.

I'm staying with a group of people from the company in a house. This is the first time I've done this on this tour and I'm quite looking forward to the company, particularly after the show. It can be a bit soul destroying heading back on your own to a small bedroom in digs, knowing that you are probably not going to chat with anyone else until you get to the theatre the next evening. Some people seem to cope with it well; they are probably better practised than me; I don't do well on my own. That may explain my use of this blog as a source of chatting. At least, it sometimes feels like that. I hope it does to you?

As a result of my inability to survive without human contact I am also a great twitterer and I strike up conversation with strangers at the drop of a hat. You would be surprised at the number of people who are willing to strike up a conversation if you are willing to take the risk of starting one. You have to choose your moments, obviously. Suddenly bursting in to conversation in the middle of the street will get you some very strange looks. I know, I've tried it. Shops are a good place, as are pubs and cafes. You will never get a very involved or detailed encounter but it is better than walking around all day in silence; at least I think it is. You will have to ask the people I accost if they like it or not? If you can find them? They are probably hiding somewhere making sure that they don't bump in to the weird bloke who looks like Jon Snow, just shorter.

So, anyway, I've been to Waitrose in Malvern, a disturbingly quiet shop until I put a stop to that. I've bought several bottles of nice wine and some cheese and biscuits which I will share with my fellow house stayers when we get back tonight. If they all just head for their bedrooms and leave me alone be prepared for a very sombre, depressed, hung-over blog in the morning, bemoaning the lack of sociability among actors these days. I doubt that I will be disappointed, though. I may still be hung-over, but I doubt I will be disappointed.


Blimey! Four in the morning talking bollocks and listening to my very extensive ipod collection. Good night!

I do a ridiculously eclectic collection of music on my ipod; mostly because I have this strange obsession with number 1's. Obviously not going for a wee, although at my age that can be an issue. No, I mean the chart No. 1's. I have them all. Really. I was bought a copy of the Guinness Book of Hit Records some years ago and discovered a list of all the number ones up to that point. At the time it was under a thousand since the chart had begun in 1956. I was amazed that there were so few and casually stared searching to see how many of them I had as mp3's. Not many, as it happened so I bought some more. And then some more. Until I had filled all the gaps. I now go to iTunes every few weeks and update the list.

This has kept me in touch with the more modern stuff, a difficult thing when you don't have young children or teenagers around to force their music on you and to stop you listening only to songs from your youth and developing this ridiculous attitude that 'music isn't what it was'. .

There are now well over 1200 number ones and I have them all on my ipod. Weird, I know, but it means that I am able to make birthday presents for my friends that are fairly unique. I search for the number one songs that were number one on their birthday and compile CDs of the 'hits of their years' - the songs that were number one on each of their birthdays. It is a brilliant gift for people who are around fifty as their list just about covers the whole of the charts and, because people tend to remember the songs that were around on their birthday, it brings back many happy memories to the recipient.

There is also a, sort of, hidden secret reason why I wanted to get this strange collection. I am one of the very few artists that is on that list. Not the greatest song in the world, but mine own - I sang the lead vocal on the Spitting Image hit, The Chicken Song. Therefore I am part of a very small club that includes The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Frank Sinatra, Madonna, etc. Alright, my one is one of the crap ones along with Grandad by Clive Dunn and Ernie by Benny Hill, but I'm in the club so that's what counts. (oh yes, and The Stonk, by Hale and Pace)

Please bow down in adoration, or hide your face in shame, now. xxx

Friday, 1 April 2011


Woke in a tizz this morning to check that my alarm was working as our stage manager, Jules, was picking me up in her car to drive off for a day out at Alton Towers. I haven't been there for over twenty years and, despite my cold, well, man-flu, I couldn't resist a day of fun, could I?

I found myself standing on the doorstep of my digs waiting for them to turn up like an expectant schoolboy. My landlady said I reminded her of her son waiting for the postman on his birthday. The weather wasn't what had been promised by the BBC weather forecasters but it wasn't raining and, as Alton Towers only opened, after its winter break, last weekend, I was anticipating a day of rides with no queues, the only thing that detracts from those sort of places.

There were five of us in the car; myself, Jules, Mikey (our sound man and Jules' boyfriend), Rachel the costume person, and Sarah, who is understudying the part of Claire. We were going to meet up with Michael, another understudy, at the M1. It didn't take us long to get there and, as we hit the motorway, Jules put her foot down. Not a lot happened - apart from great billows of white smoke that came pouring out of the back of the car. We pulled off the road in to the service station and Mikey and Michael checked the engine. I am pretty useless when it comes to engines so I stood back. Yet, even with my lack of mechanical knowledge, I was able to  agree that the oil shouldn't look like chocolate milk. "Probably the head gasket?", said Michael. "Probably." I concurred. What is a head gasket, I wonder?

Two hours later the RAC man turned up to confirm our analysis and he towed the car to Leicester with Jules and Mikey. The rest of us clambered in to Michael's van/car and came back to town.

So, that was my trip to Alton Towers. The most exciting ride was going up the escalator in the services to the loo.

Never mind. I enjoyed the company and spent a fun hour reminiscing with Mikey about my time in Australia. He wasn't there, in fact I doubt he was even born at the time, but he is Australian and we were able to talk about good old Down Under as if I were almost a native.

I spent virtually a year of my life in Oz in the first part of the 1980's, spread over three separate trips. The first time was as the Oxford Revue and I was only six months out of university. We went back the following year and played larger theatres. We released the HeeBeeGeeBees there as a record. The Heebs was a parody that we did of the BeeGees; a song called Meaningless Songs In Very High Voices which did really well, so we were invited back to perform just the parody songs. By this time we had released two albums of parodies covering most of the stars of that era, The Police, The Jackson, Men at Work, Queen, Paul McCartney and Wings and loads more, so we were able to put together a full hour and half of material and make it almost entirely music. This did require some extraordinarily fast changes between numbers for the three of us (Philip Pope, Angus Deayton and me).

Because of our hard to explain popularity, we played some really massive venues. This was before comedy became the new rock and roll, remember? Comedy acts didn't play large venues but we were playing music gigs. We outsold Men At Work who did the same tour as us but just a few days ahead. Thousands of people at a time, crammed in to a standing area surrounded by a huge bar. Everyone well pissed up and very rowdy as they would be if, say, INXS were about to come on. These were the sort of venues that bands like that were playing at the time. Instead they got three English blokes with a few instruments, backing tracks played in off tape, a variety of rather tatty costumes, (certainly by the end of the run,) and a bunch of wigs that could have done with a good comb.

Our opening night was in Sydney. We had done a warm up tour of colleges in England to try out the show but this was another league. In fact, The Retired Serviceman's League; massive gambling palaces built as social clubs for ex-servicemen. They had started in a small way after WWII but as they had the rights to gambling, they grew very quickly. Most of them had a large venue for the likes of the Four Tops and Ronnie Corbett to play somewhere in the building. Now it was our turn.

To get from the dressing room to the stage for our opening gig you had to cross a metal walkway that passed above the heads of the crowd and then down a spiral staircase which brought you to the back of the stage. At 10.00pm we were announced and, with our Bee Gees scarves and tight gold jeans on, we slowly crossed the platform, grinning inanely and waving to the crowd as if we actually were international super stars, not just a bunch of twats, which is what we felt like. Below us were three and a half thousand, drunken Australians. They may have been cheering? They sounded like they were baying for our blood. We walked down the spiral staircase, on to the stage and up to the three mics at the front of it. This was the signal for the music to start.

It didn't.

the speakers. The crowd had found it funny to begin with, but now they were growing restless. Luckily our mics were working so we gave them, "Good evening, Sydney!", which bought us a few more seconds. Clearly though this was not enough. The crowd looked as if they might turn on us and the only way out of there was back up the spiral staircase and across the metal gangway above their heads. Every one of them was clutching a tinnie of beer. It would have been suicide.

To my co-performers' horror I started to ad-lib. They knew that this was a very dangerous thing for me to do and that I was likely to say something that would get us barred from the country. I'm not good at thinking before I speak. I decided to introduce the members of the band. Of course we didn't have a band. So I told the audience that we had flown to Australia, but had almost not got there. Our last gig was in Tibet, I said, and on our way across the Himalayas our plane had crashed. We thought we were goners. There was nothing to eat. "That's why we have no band members with us tonight, ladies and gentlemen," I said, "because, unfortunately, we had to eat them!".

Angus and Phil stared at me as if I had gone mad. However, it seems that Australians have the same bizarre humour as me, at least some of them do and I got a laugh and ironic cheer. As it faded the music burst in to life and we began to sing.

I think that is the most frightened I've ever been on stage.

On this tour, whilst standing backstage waiting for my entrance to play to an audience of 800 middle class English people, I've been asked by other cast members if I feel nervous. Now you know why I'm able to honestly answer, no.