Posted: Wed Dec 12, 2007 1:25 am Post subject: Alan Davies
Alan Davies bites tramp
Alan Davies has admitted attacking a homeless man, sinking his teeth into his ear after an all-day drinking session. Paul McElfatrick shrieked in pain as the QI comedian sunk his teeth in, drawing blood. Davies admitted getting into a 2am ‘tussle’ outside London media hangout The Groucho Club after McElfatrick taunted him.
Davies told the Daily Mirror, which broke the story: ‘I remember this guy coming up and wanting to talk. After a while he started getting aggressive. He began calling me the C-word and other names. I lost it a bit and we had something of a tussle. My friends pulled us apart. I didn't realise he was homeless.’
McElfatrick said the fight started when he called out ‘Jonathan Creek’ to Davies. He said: ‘His face darkened and he almost spat the words, “My name's Alan. You know my name - Alan. What's my name? It's Alan. Then he suddenly went for my left ear. It was incredibly painful. I shrieked and my eyes were watering. He hung on and drew blood.’
‘I've seen Alan on TV and he seems so mild-mannered with his sheepish grin and silly jokes. So when I felt his teeth around my ear I just couldn't believe it. I was shaking with shock afterwards. You'd think an educated millionaire like him would have more decency.’
The Mirror published grainy stills from CCTV footage showing the attack, which came on the day Davies delivered the eulogy at the funeral of Jonathan Creek producer Verity Lambert. He said: ‘I was very upset and emotional. I had a lot to drink over many hours. Far too much really and a lot more than normal but it was an upsetting day. I guess this isn't going to look good, is it? What a nightmare. I'm really not normally an aggressive guy, honest.’
Drawing blood from biting a tramp's ear - it must be great to be at 'the top' and feel so superior!
The 5-minute Interview: Alan Davies, Comedian and actor 'I met Jennifer Aniston and she was really flirty' 04 January 2008
Alan Davies, 41, starred in the BBC television series 'Jonathan Creek' for eight years. He is also a regular panelist on the BBC quiz show 'QI', which can be seen on DVD now
If I weren't talking to you right now I would be...
Well I'm in my dressing room right now so I would be working – probably talking to Karen Taylor, who plays my wife in the film we are making [Angus, Thongs and Full-frontal Snogging].
A phrase I use far too often is...
"Is it lunch yet?"
I wish people would take more notice of...
People on motorbikes.
The most surprising that happened to me was...
I once met Jennifer Aniston and she was really flirty. It was about 10 years ago. She had seen some of my stand-up and she kept on saying how hilarious I was. I was really flattered.
A common misconception of me is...
One is that I'm really nice and the other is that I'm quite horrible. I never get any middle ground. The truth is that I'm quite nice and a bit horrible.
I am not a politician but...
If I was I would ban speed bumps. I guess that's not what you want to hear at The Independent. Oh, and I would stop people from eating processed meat.
I'm good at...
Eating Minstrels. I can eat an entire tub of those big ones you get at the cinema. I've done the maths on this and a whole tub of Minstrels is 1,300 calories, which is the same as two whole meals.
I'm very bad at...
Sleeping. I'll be just about to go to sleep and I'll get distracted by something.
The ideal night out is...
I love going to the pub after the Arsenal game with my mates to meet my wife and spend a lot of money on the quiz machine, then going for some nice Thai food.
In moments of weakness...
I agree to go to the QI book launch.
You know me as a comedian but in another life I'd have been...
I would have probably done something that was very attention seeking. I used to think that I was quite political and that one day I would be an MP.
The best age to be is...
I'm 41 so I think this is a pretty good age. I enjoyed 15 a lot. I saw the Jam six times, the Stranglers and the Pretenders and U2. That tells you how long U2 have been around for.
In a nutshell, my philosophy is...
When you're turning left on your bike, always have a little glance over you left shoulder. It will save your life.
Always look over your shoulder before turning left on a motorbike? Pearls of wisdom that only 41 years on the planet can gift you! haha
'I was very unhappy, I had eczema, I wasn't sleeping, I was smoking dope all the time ... ' To millions, he's the happy-chappy comedian and cuddly TV sleuth. But Alan Davies has a dark side, too. Here, he tells Rachel Cooke about the heartbreak of losing his mother when he was six, why we should all try psychotherapy and what he learnt from the most important decade of his life Rachel Cooke
6 September 2009
It's a bit uncomfortable, meeting Alan Davies. Or at least, it is at first. The actor and comedian has decreed that we meet at a greasy spoon near his house in Highbury in north London, which is fine by me, but then there's an embarrassing moment when I attempt to shift the table and my chair, the better to accommodate him in our cosy Formica corner, only to find that both pieces of furniture are in fact firmly fixed to the ground. He laughs, and I blush, stupidly.
Then he seems to take offence at my first question, which prods at the chutzpah involved in writing a memoir that covers only a decade of his life (his first book is called My Favourite People and Me, 1978-1988). I'm truly not being mean. I'm just not sure that his life has been so incredible and action packed that he can get away with divvying it up into parcels like this (though, to be fair, there won't be a sequel: this is your lot). But he looks tense, wincing in a way that suggests he thinks I'm just another spiteful journalist, duffing him up for no good reason other than because I can. "In one sense, you might say that it is a short period of time," he says, carefully. "But I think it's relative. When you're young, a year is a long time; two years is a very long time. I was at [senior] school for six years, which seemed like an eternity. Time changes as you get older."
After this, though, we somehow recover; we play nice, and I warm to him. He has a streak of earnestness running through him that I find irresistibly endearing. The trouble is that, as Davies later admits himself, his reputation - for prickliness, for loathing the press - precedes him, which means that he assumes (unfairly) that I am expecting to dislike him, and that this then makes him act prickly, even though he is not prickly, and thus the whole miserable cycle continues, his standing calcifying yet further in the minds of strangers.
He thinks it all started when he was going out with the actor Julia Sawalha, and she was having a few local difficulties with her family; the tabloid press was regularly camped outside their door. In an effort to protect her - and because her story wasn't his to tell - he was silent and, no doubt, grumpy: the result of chivalry, and of weariness.
Then, in 2007, there was the incident of the tramp and his ear, which Davies bit during a "tussle" with the man outside the Groucho Club in Soho - a nasty little event, admittedly, but one which had come at the end of a long and unhappy day (he had been at the funeral of his friend, the television producer Verity Lambert, and was drunk), and for which he immediately apologised. The tabloid press has had him down as a privacy-obsessed neurotic weirdo pretty much ever since, and there is very little he can do about it.
But perhaps My Favourite People and Me will go some way towards tempering this perception. The story of Davies's teenage years as told through his many and various heroes (there are four of them for every year: Barry Sheene and Harry Redknapp, John Belushi and Bertolt Brecht, Kylie Minogue and Michael Foot ... it's a long list), is emphatically not a misery memoir.
"I wanted to write a book about the things that made me happy, not the things that made me miserable," he says. On the other hand, he found "everything extremely difficult" as a boy, and the period when things were most difficult happens to coincide with the period covered by this book. Sometimes, then, a piercing anecdote will cut through his blissed-out accounts of how he came to love Arsenal, the Labour Party and Anton Chekhov, in spite of his best efforts. No matter how many beloved 7" singles he describes to you - nor how many gigs and football matches - the impression grows of a lonely and unhappy boy, self-sufficient, isolated, and poorly used by some of the adults around him, and you feel in your bones that this child was very much the father of the man.
Is he someone who can get in touch with his childhood easily? For lots of us, childhood is, as Larkin had it, a forgotten boredom. "Yeah, though it took a lot of thinking. [Writing a book] was a lot more work than I anticipated. There's a lot of dredging around in your youth, which isn't entirely pleasurable."
Like lots of young people, he spent a lot of time wondering when, exactly, his childhood would finally be over. "I think that's very common, and it's not just about childhood either; a lot of people feel like that all the time. I used to, though I don't any more. Certainly, as a child, I had those moments. Not liking your position [in life]: usually, that's associated with being poor or powerless, both of which you are as a child." Often, he felt like an imposter. "Or not an imposter, so much as an interloper ... I wasn't in the right family. In 1992, I did a show in Edinburgh called The Love Child of Alan Ladd, in which I speculated that I might be, well, the love child of Alan Ladd. My mum loved Alan Ladd, and apparently, I am named after him. Then I found out - this was the climax of a pretty terrible show - that he had died two years before I was born."
Alan Davies grew up in suburban Essex, the youngest of three children. His father was an accountant, and a very careful one, too; he was the kind of man who would write down the cost of the Starsky and Hutch magazine he had bought for his son (30p) in his daily cash book. He and his younger son had nothing - or very little - in common. Does he think he is more like his mother? The truth is that he doesn't really know. She died, from leukaemia, when Davies was six. "She was quite bright, and forthright ... but I've got very little to go on."
In the past, interviewers have made much of the loss of Davies's mother. Her early death isn't exactly a secret. But it's a shock, all the same, finding out via his book just how shielded he was - if that is the right word - from the business of her dying. It wasn't only that he wasn't allowed to see her while she was ill, or even that he wasn't allowed to attend her funeral. Thirty years ago, we did death differently; I know that. But he wasn't even told whether she had been buried or cremated - and, faced with his father, apparently he felt unable to ask. In his book, he describes how, at around the time of the 10th anniversary of her death, he and his friend, Ernie, biked to Parndon Wood cemetery in Harlow, to try and find her grave. Their search having failed, he was eventually directed to a Book of Remembrance. "I thumbed through it and came to 22 August," he writes. "There was my mum's name. It was a relief to know she was there." He and Ernie then scoured the wood behind the crematorium, looking for a plaque with her name on it. "There was still no sign of her. Nor was her name engraved on any of the commemorative benches. I wondered if her ashes had been scattered."
This passage made me ache for him, and I tell him so. "Mmm. It wasn't ideal. It was a big day in my life when I found the Book of Remembrance, and saw her name. But where the ashes are, I don't know. I was reading about Jade Goody, about how she wanted to prepare her sons, to say goodbye. There's no good way to do it, but she was trying her best. My mum had two small boys, and a little girl. I didn't say goodbye to her, or even know she was going. I remember her being in hospital. We went to visit a couple of times. But then I remember asking to visit, and being told: no. My gran told me that there was one doctor who said she should be able to see her children if she wants to, and another who said it would be a very bad thing if she saw her children, which seems crazy to me. It's verging on a criminal act. You're not in a position to remove a mother from her children, whether she is ill or not. You're not the social services. You're a doctor. There is a huge amount of residual rage and fury associated with that. By the time I was 16, and I went to the cemetery on my motorbike with my mate, I was very angry."
Scoot back to the younger Alan, then, suddenly alone with his father and his brother and sister, and you can see why he might have had so many different enthusiasms, why he joined so many fan clubs. You can imagine, too, why he became a dedicated shoplifter as he grew older (he even nicked money from the handbag of the woman his father paid to take care of his children until he got home from the office). His silently grieving father was out at work, he didn't get on with his elder brother - "He hasn't spoken to me since 1976, other than to say [adopts a flat voice] 'Hello', and from 1976 to 1982, he called me stupid on a daily basis" - and his maternal grandmother had emigrated to join her other daughter in Australia, having fallen out with her son-in-law.
"I did a lot on my own," he says. "I had to. There was no choice. There was no one to be with."
When Davies was 10, just to make things even worse, his father pulled him from a school he liked (or, at any rate, didn't dislike) and sent him instead to Bancroft's, a single-sex public school in Woodford Green. "Yeah, I hated it. I've no reason to be grateful [for my education] at all. I would have happily gone to any other school within a 50-mile radius, or to no school." But he was unable to tell his father how much he hated it; it seemed best to try and keep his only remaining parent reasonably happy. "My whole family had gone to that school - my dad, my granddad, my uncle, my great uncle, my cousin, my brother - and there was a great deal of pressure on a small person starting out in their life."
Not so long ago, during the making of a Horizon documentary about maths, Davies returned to Bancroft's with a camera crew. "It's completely transformed. I suspect the academic pressure is the same, but maybe the philosophy of the school is more human, more forgiving."
Salvation, of a kind, came via his stepbrother (his father eventually remarried), who recommended a media and drama course at Loughton College, though relations with his father continued to be tricky. At one point, after a row (Davies came home "half-cut", only to be told by his furious father that he would still be woken at 7am the following morning), he left home and moved into a squat. This didn't last. The bailiffs came; he was evicted. But when he went to Newham Council to speak to a housing officer, it was politely suggested to him that it might be a good idea to return home. So he did. Then in 1984, having done an audition in which he had to pretend to be struggling through a blizzard, followed by a reading as Lady Macbeth - "See the 18-year-old boy, who smokes like James Dean with a stroke, give his Lady Macbeth-sleepwalking-in-Essex routine!" - he won a place to read drama at Kent University. Kent had lots of things going for it - he was particularly keen to join the Taekwondo society - but it also meant separation from his girlfriend, Justine. "Any separation was hard for me," he writes in My Favourite People. "Bringing to the surface all the sadness over my mum ... I cried most of the way there, and then queued up at the college pay phones for ages to speak to her later."
Davies is funny about his time at Kent, gently sending up his own political correctness - "I had no money to help the miners, so I just watched the strike on TV while wearing badges saying 'Coal not dole'" - but he is less insightful about what drew him to comedy as a career. For this is where it all started: just as he finished writing his fourth-year dissertation on Peter Brook, a friend asked him to MC an Amnesty International benefit at the Whitstable Labour Club, for which he performed some stand-up and a skit on the old Flake ad in which the chocolate was unwrapped only to reveal that it was sheathed in a condom (this was in 1988, at the height of Aids anxiety). His book ends just as he starts performing his first few paid gigs, at comedy nights in London pubs, but to me, he seems an unlikely kind of a comedian, anxious and rather shy. But perhaps it is just one of those things: that people are compelled to do the things of which they are most afraid (I am a journalist who is terrified of the telephone). What does he think? "I only know that I enjoyed it. I never really suffered from fear. I didn't mind the adrenalin. So I carried on doing it." Did he always believe he could make a living from it? "No! I never thought about that. I just wanted to be on stage."
But make a living from it he did, to a degree where, very quickly, he could pick and choose when it came to work. In the 1990s, he paid off his mortgage when he became the face of Abbey National - a gig which, had he known quite how successful he would eventually turn out to be, he would almost certainly have turned down. Still, money cannot buy a man happiness, as any fool knows. What it can do, however, is pay for an awful lot of therapy - though he denies that it is only something for the rich. "We're in a very privileged position, here in the first world," he says. "We can afford to do it, many of us. It's cheaper than the gym. And it absolutely works. It should be on the national health. It helps you to an understanding of your own feelings, and it stops those feelings which you previously didn't understand leading to destructive behaviour, towards yourself, and towards other people, particularly in intimate relationships."
His psychotherapist, whom he started seeing in his late 20s, was recommended to him by his friend Jo Brand, who was once a psychiatric nurse, and he went every week for four years, and then intermittently for another four. I wrinkle my nose, and tell him that I've always found repression to be a very useful emotional tool. He laughs. "You should do it! I've had this conversation many, many times, with many different people, and there's always resistance. It seems to spring from fearfulness ... the idea of an invader. But that isn't the process. It isn't someone digging into you. They only receive what you transmit. I was very unhappy. Really unhappy. And I didn't see any prospect of being happy. I'd had a difficult upbringing, my family relationships weren't great, I'd become a stand-up comedian, I was getting eczema, I wasn't sleeping, I was smoking dope all the time. Once you've written all those things down as a list ... A concerned friend and ex-psychiatric nurse like Jo ... it's not going to take much for her to say: 'Have you ever thought about seeing someone? You've just broken up with another girlfriend after another set of blazing rows, and you're very distressed. Give this guy a call: you're really strung out.'"
How much of his distress does he put down to his mother's death? He lost her at six, which a lot of people would say was better than, say, losing her at 14. Six-year-olds seem better able to recover. "But you don't recover," he says. "You never recover. It's not a question of recovery. That doesn't exist. There's never a time when you're over it, when it doesn't surface every day. The impact it has on your emotional development and wellbeing will surface at certain points in your life. It's a constantly present thing. The absence of your mother is an absence that is felt all the time. The presence of absence is one of the phrases that my therapist used. It's an odd thing to describe. It's a mental state, and sometimes it sucks. Usually, it comes up when you think you might lose something, when a relationship is going wrong, or when you fear it is going wrong. So you have a powerful reaction to a relationship breaking up. It's disproportionate. The process of breaking up triggers a deep-rooted emotional trauma. It's like the silt on the river bed; it has washed it all up, and you relive it every time."
A pause. "That's relatively easy for me to say now, but it took several years of therapy for me to understand it. I used to be determined. 'My mum died when I was six,' I used to say to myself: 'I should be over it by now'. So I would hold the other person [in the relationship] responsible, or I would blame myself: 'It's me; it's not you, it's me.' That rubbish. But the real pain was much deeper. When I was able to identify the feelings, name it, voice it, control the process ... I'm better now than when I was in my twenties, or when I was at school, and every day was a churning mess."
Can he say that he is happy - or happier - these days? "I am much better at it now than before." He used to be destructive when it came to his own happiness. Now he is able to let well alone. He is happily married, to a former literary agent, Katie Maskell, who will soon publish her first book for children. He is working hard: another Jonathan Creek special; a new BBC sitcom; and there is always QI, the weird quiz show chaired by Stephen Fry in which Davies plays the fool, which looks like it will run forever and ever. And his father? How does he get on with him now? He smiles. "He's OK. He's devoted to his bowls club, and that's about the limit of the conversation."
Alan Davies talks about his role in new sitcom Whites The show follows the trials and tribulations of head chef Roland White (Davies) and his long-suffering sous-chef Bib (Darren Boyd) at a country house hotel.
SO, WHAT'S WHITES ALL ABOUT?
Roland had a lot of talent in his 20s and could have been a Gordon Ramsay, but it didn't happen for him for various reasons. Now he works in a good restaurant in a nice hotel, but he's no longer at the cutting edge. He's in his 40s and has lost his motivation. He doesn't really like going to work and his wife has left him. It's all cheerful stuff!
WHAT SORT OF STYLE IS IT, OLD OR NEW?
It's not your traditional sitcom. There's no laughter track. Without being like anything else, in the style of shooting, it's very loose and authentic -- in the best traditions of The Office, The Thick Of It and Curb Your Enthusiasm. It's a really nice ensemble piece. The supporting cast are often much funnier. It's really fun being part of an ensemble.
TELL ME ABOUT YOUR CHARACTER
I'm the executive chef, but he's given himself that title. He had the chance of being a hip young gunslinger Gordon Ramsay-type, but he missed the boat. He still aspires to that but it's not going to come his way -- he's lost all his drive and motivation and it's his beleaguered sous-chef who does all the work. If he left him he would be at a loss.
IS IT ONE FOR ALL THE FAMILY, OR IS IT A BIT NEAR THE KNUCKLE?
Bizarrely there's no swearing. Whether that's come from the BBC post- Jonathan Ross, I don't know. There does seem to be some desire with the BBC to make shows that can only be broadcast in Sunday school. To be honest, I don't mind the lack of swearing. I've always been uncomfortable with that. It seems so odd that you get these extraordinary bouts of effing and blinding in cookery programmes, but we've steered clear of that.
ARE YOU MUCH OF A CHEF YOURSELF?
I can make you some vegetables if you like. I'm the king of the single pan.
HOW DID YOU GET INVOLVED? I was over at the BBC working on scripts of my own. I have been wanting to do a really funny half hour for some time and it (has) never really worked out. Then I saw this script and I said "I'd love to do it" -- we made a pilot and there you go. I don't know if the bosses like it, but the head of comedy sent me a text saying he liked it, so that's a start.
WAS IT FUN GOING BACK TO ACTING? I really enjoyed it. Didn't so much like being away from the wife and baby but that's part of the job and we made the most of the weekends. It was nice just hanging out with such a good bunch.
OBVIOUSLY QI HAS BEEN A HUGE SUCCESS. HOW DOES IT FARE ABROAD?
In a way it's taken off but in a way it hasn't. There's an issue with QI because of the images they use behind the panel. They all have to get clearance and that means we haven't been seen overseas the same way you might have hoped. I think they may have got round that now. The Australians tried doing their own version, but it couldn't work without Stephen Fry. He can do anything. He can write novels, he can act, he's a columnist; but what he does better than everybody else is preside over a class of naughty boys like a 1950s schoolmaster.
FINALLY, WOULD YOU EVER GO BACK TO STAND-UP COMEDY?
Sometimes I think I'd like to, and then I think about it again and it all seems a bit huge an undertaking. Maybe ... I might.
'Qantas steward told me to 'fuck off''
19th December 2011
Qantas is facing more bad press after British comedian Alan Davies claimed that one of the company’s air stewards told him to ‘fuck off’ during a flight. The QI star, who made the allegations on Twitter, said the incident happened after his two-year-old daughter was found playing in the first-class toilets by a member of staff on board a flight from Bangkok to London.
He began the Twitter feed with: ‘Life in #qantas town. A steward made my 2 yr old cry after turfing her out of a '1st class' toilet & told me to 'fuck off' when I complained. I was actually holding my crying two year old girl in my arms when the #qantas steward told me to fuck off. Made for a less enjoyable journey.’ Mr Davies said he asked the steward for his name who then replied ‘get out of my face’. He said: ‘Managed to call him a gutless coward and sat down. Got his name later.’
The comedian said he went into the unmarked toilet in order to keep his daughter entertained on the long flight because ‘#qantas don't provide anything for children, so playing with a cup in the sink is as good as it gets.’ Mr Davies, who wasn’t flying first-class said it was ‘unclear’ that the toilet was for first-class passengers only. He then claimed that Qantas’ chief steward had accused him of making the allegations up. He said: ‘Then the chief #qantas steward came out and told me he didn't believe me, argued with me over it and made my daughter cry again.’
Comedian Alan Davies
The star, who took part in QI Live’s tour of Australia in October with Stephen Fry said: ‘Worst thing was the #qantas flight was already 4 hours late, the food was rank & THEN the steward made my daughter cry & told me to fuck off.’ Mr Davies then asked if anyone knew the name and address of Qantas’ CEO Alan Joyce. One joker, writing under the name ‘fake Alan Joyce’ replied: ‘Our official position on the @alandavies1 situation is this: it's a misunderstanding. We told the person next to him to fuck off.’
A Qantas spokesperson said the company was taking Mr Davies’ comments ‘seriously’ and would investigate the allegation. The airline apologised to the comedian via its Twitter account, saying: ‘We are appalled to hear about your experience onboard last night & take this very seriously. We are investigating this now and will be in touch with you shortly. Once again we apologise to you & your daughter.’
The Big Interview: Alan Davies
15th October 2012
Many people will recognise him as the detective-cum-magician in the Bafta-winning BBC drama, Jonathan Creek, while for others he’s synonymous with the much-loved quiz show QI, playing the fool alongside the sagacious Stephen Fry. So it may come as a surprise to some people to learn that he first made his name as a stand-up comedian, rather than TV actor, and even more of a surprise that he hasn’t toured since 1999. But now he’s back with a new – and long overdue – show that takes in Sheffield City Hall tonight and Halifax’s Victoria Theatre next month.
But why such a long gap? “Laziness, really,” he says, with a chuckle. “Actually I’d been thinking about getting back into stand-up for a while but I didn’t have any gigs and because I didn’t have any gigs I didn’t have any new material so I was stuck.” Eventually, though, he was “nagged” by his agent into doing a tour in Australia last year. “I didn’t think people would know who I was so I was amazed when people actually turned up. It was pretty nerve-wracking because it’s been so long but once I got back into the swing of things it was great.”
The title of his new stand-up show, Life Is Pain, comes from a anecdote about a little girl who was being told off by her mother and said disconsolately “Life is pain.” “It’s just funny to think of something so bleak and yet so true coming out of the mouth of a child,” he says.
A lot has happened to Davies in the 13 years since he was last up on stage doing stand-up – he’s got married and become a father for a start – and at the age of 46, he doesn’t feel like he has a point to prove. “Coming back to stand-up has been like opening the bottle and letting the genie out. I feel I’m more honest and that’s a good thing because if you’re going to stand up there and talk then you’ve got to have something to say and I believe the more personal it is, the better it is.”
He talks about his childhood and the loss of his mother, who died of leukaemia when he was six, as well as philosophical musings on modern life and the challenges of being a father. “I’ve never shied away from talking about the more difficult things like losing my mother, but there are things I feel I can talk about now that I might not have done years ago, because there’s that bit of distance.”
Davies grew up in Essex, the youngest of three children raised by their accountant father. He didn’t enjoy school and it wasn’t until he went to Kent University in the 1980s to study drama, that he stumbled on the idea of being a comedian. “We did a lot of improv and I would always try and be funny. I was a bit of a show-off but it’s always given me huge pleasure to be able to make people laugh,” he says.
He started out not in the comedy clubs of London or the Edinburgh Fringe but in the unlikely surroundings of the Whitstable Labour Club. “Back when I was a student it was a run down fishing village although now it’s all very gentrified. It used to be full of students but they can’t afford to live there. Whitstable was a funny old place, there were quite a lot of artists so it had a bit of a bohemian feel to it. “But the only place to go after the pubs closed was the Labour club and one evening I got tagged on to an Amnesty International benefit. I’d been threatening to get up on stage so they put my name on the poster and dared me to do it.”
As it turned out his debut went well enough for him to try his luck on the comedy circuit which led to a spell working in North America. “I had a three month stint in Canada performing at various Fringe festivals and Comedy clubs, which was fantastic.” When he returned to the UK he took over from Frank Skinner as MC at a comedy club in Birmingham. “I remember doing it for the first time and people saying, ‘you’re not Frank. Where’s Frank?’” he says, laughing. “Those were happy days and I look back very fondly on them, it was just me on tour but you always seemed to be surrounded by other comics.”
By the early 90s, he was quickly making a name for himself. He was named Best Young Comic by Time Out and appeared on Tonight with Jonathan Ross before winning the Edinburgh Festival Critics Award for Comedy in 1994. Then, in 1996, he took on the title role in Jonathan Creek playing a trick-deviser for a stage magician with a side interest in solving crimes. “I’d always wanted to be an actor and Jonathan Creek was my big break in acting terms and the fact the show is still being watched around the world is amazing. A lot of people who like QI started watching Jonathan Creek so it keeps finding a new audience, and it’s very gratifying to be part of something written by David Renwick, who’s just brilliant.”
But while Jonathan Creek was a huge success, not all his television work has gone down as well as he would have liked. He played chef Roland White in the BBC comedy Whites, “that was great fun to do,” only for it be axed after just one series, which he admits is a source of frustration.
Davies also appeared on screen as the face of Abbey National a few years back when he fronted its ad campaign. This would have been unremarkable had it not been for the fact the commercials were directed by comedy writer and TV producer John Lloyd. “He said he had this idea for a TV show, a quiz show where it doesn’t matter if you get the answer right, you just had to be interesting. I said it sounded great and he said, ‘good’ because not everyone had been quite as positive. So we did a pilot and it went from there.”
The show in question, of course, was QI and over the past 11 years has developed into one of the BBC’s best-loved programmes. It is also one of those rare gifts from the TV gods – a show that is simultaneously informative and entertaining. Davies has appeared live in every episode bar one (when he was watching Arsenal play in the Champions League final) and along with host Stephen Fry has become part of the show’s fabric.
“Stephen wasn’t on telly a great deal at the time so to get him was quite a coup because he’s always so witty and clever,” he says. On screen, he and Fry appear to get on well together, so is it the case off screen, too? “We enjoy working together probably because we’re both a bit barking, but we don’t socialise with each other that much because he’s always off travelling.” And why does he think the show is so popular? “John Lloyd says it’s because it’s about toffs against oiks, even though I’m a very middle-class, well-educated oik, I’m still an oik by their standards,” he says, with a chuckle.
“I think the longevity is down to the hard work of the research team who spend months behind the scenes researching new material which seems to just flow out of Stephen who sits there like some kind of deity. I don’t do any of the hard work, I just turn up on the day and say something silly and play the fool.” It’s a role he’s happy to oblige with, just as he’s delighted to have reconnected with his stand-up roots. “It’s very gratifying that people want to come and see you and I’m amazed that I had an audience,” he says. “It’s a privilege to be able to do this and it’s exciting to be on stage, there’s nobody there to tell you what to do, no one’s going to cancel your show and it’s entirely down to you whether or not you succeed.”
A lot of people would struggle under that kind of pressure, but Davies says he’s in his element. “I feel comfortable on stage, it might be a bit nerve-wracking at first but as Bill Bailey always says: ‘Face to the front and keep saying funny things’ ... that’s the secret of stand-up comedy.”
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