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Dave Spikey interview: 'How did The Royal Bodyguard get on TV?'

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Dave Spikey as Jerry 'St. Clair' Dignan in 'Phoenix Nights'

© WENN

Dave Spikey found fame playing hapless club compare Jerry 'St. Clair' Dignan in classic Channel 4 sitcom Phoenix Nights. Spikey went on to become one of the UK's best-loved stand-ups and a team captain on 8 Out Of 10 Cats.

Digital Spy caught up with Spikey to talk about his work on More4's TV Book Club, his passion for the English language and his thoughts on a possible third series of Phoenix Nights.

You're one of the presenters on TV Book Club. Have you always been a secret bookworm?
"I have actually. It's a dream job in a way. I come from a working-class background, two up two down, outside toilet, all that. In Bolton. But my parents were just exceptional. My dad was a painter and decorator - no job too small, estimates for free - all that. He didn't really have any qualifications, he'd done national service and the army and I think he realised he'd missed the boat education-wise and academically.

"So he started to educate himself and I just went along for the ride. He really encouraged us to read and we didn't have a television in the house at the start. So since the moment I could read, I've had books around me. The Enid Blytons at the start, then James Bond in my teens and then moving onto the classics. Books was a major part of my childhood."

Do you think we do enough to encourage reading in this country?
"No, I don't in this day and age. I got involved in the Save The Libraries campaign. Nobody can afford to buy all the books, so we need to keep them. I know kids would rather play on Xboxes and stuff, but we've got to keep up these things, our language is dying. When we are slipping into Facebook speak and text speak, I call it a refuge for the illiterate.

"I have friends text me 'l8r'. That's actually l-eight-r, l-eight-r. And how much time does it save you? You have to hold down the key for longer to get the 8, so not much. I need an enigma code breaker to understand them. It's like me texting you in Polish. We're in danger of losing our language. Reading is what improves your language at the informative age and that's why it's so important kids are encouraged to do it more and more. We need to celebrate the English language and its ambiguities. Anything that encourages us to save the language has got to be done."

The English language seems to be a favourite topic of yours in your stand-up shows...
"Yeah it is. There must be a term for it, but in English you can have a phrase that means exactly the opposite of what you're saying. I've been writing about football commentary and there's the example of "a perfectly good goal". The only time that phrase is ever used, which would suggest that it's a perfectly good goal, is when it's not a goal. That was a perfectly good goal, oh no it wasn't, it wasn't a goal.

"You get some fantastically inspired journalism as well. I saw a story in Scotland about 14-year-old boys taking Viagra. The journalist said that the boys were 'pulled' into the headmaster's office. I love that word 'pulled'. The selection of that word conjures up some images. Later in the report it said that the boys claimed to have not taken the drug, but they had good reason to believe that not to be the case. It's genius.

"I've got a bit obsessed with our language, but I love it. I was watching TV when I was on tour and there was a siege situation. The TV reporter said that the police were sending in a trained negotiator. Oh a trained negotiator. That's who I'd want. Not one of those untrained ones. I'll give it a go, pass me the megaphone. 'Come out, I've got some cheese'. 'You're s**t at this'. 'I know, I'm not trained'.

"It's everywhere you look. Unwanted gold - what's that all about? We're in a double dip recession and people have unwanted gold? You send it in an envelope in this day and age to Cash For Gold and just post it. Our postman looks like BA Baracus. Unwanted Rembrandts, that will be next."

Dave Spikey
at the ITV studios
London

© WENN



What TV projects have you got in the pipeline right now?
"It depends where the pipeline starts. It's so frustrating at the moment. I had high hopes for a script I did called Footballers' Wives, but that got all the way through and knocked back at the last. But that's the nature of the game at the moment. I'm working with Neil Fitzmaurice, who I did Phoenix Nights with and I know it sounds like we're getting on the Strictly bangwagon, but it's about ballroom dancing.

"It's set at a basic social club in Blackpool and it's about the rivalries, snobbishness and the fact that the blokes don't want to be there. We've gone through all the hoops, done about three re-writes and gone through local BBC Comedy to commissioners and we're at the stage of doing a read-through with a top cast hopefully. But I don't know why they don't just commission shows anymore. It takes about two years to get on the telly and comedy moves on, doesn't it? Even just subtly. The mood changes. You want to get it made and people seem to be putting obstacles in the way constantly."

Do you get the impression that commissioners don't judge writing on its merits and are looking for replicas of other shows?
"And certain writers get carte blanche... yes. I mean everyone in the country is saying, 'How on earth did The Royal Bodyguard get on television... ever... ever... I mean ever. It is unbelievable. That goes for a lot of stuff, doesn't it? As a writer, you know when your work is good and you know when there's a wider audience. It's so frustrating sitting at home watching this tripe on the television. It does come down to TV commissioners looking for a certain thing.

"The big thing right now is Mrs Brown's Boys. So everyone is looking for non-episodic studio-based sitcoms right now. I've heard it before. You get notes back and they say, 'We'd like your show to be more like...'. That's fine, but will they still want that by the time it's made? A year and 18 months down the line, you will be looking for something else and the latest hit. It's blinkered and everyone is always playing safe."

Peter Kay made some comments last year about bringing Phoenix Nights back. Have you heard anything?
"I've not, no. He said on some radio show that it was happening. I've been working with Neil, Ted Robbins and not one of us has heard there's going to be another series, so I doubt it very much. I don't know why he said it or whether it was just tongue-in-cheek. I don't know."

Do you think he may have the desire to bring it back now after an extended break?
"I couldn't speak for Peter. I haven't spoken to him in a couple of years. He did the Geraldine thing, a spoof documentary-type thing. He's just a done a massive tour, so he's probably been concentrating on that. I couldn't say what's next for him."

Did you think the show could have run for much longer?
"We certainly did. Me and Neil had things planned out in our head that we developed during the filming of the first two series. But Peter decided that he wanted to take Max & Paddy off and I suppose even then we thought it might come back. But as time goes by, Neil had moved onto a film, I'd started working with ITV and it's never cropped up again. I think you always want to do more though. Especially when something is successful and you enjoy it. I think there was another series in it."

Do you think the show was ever overshadowed by The Office?
"I don't think so. I loved The Office. We did alright. We won a couple of awards at the Comedy Awards and beat them in some categories. But they were quite different sorts of comedy and we loved Phoenix for what it was."

From your experience, is there any difference in the sense of humour between Northerners and Southerners?
"I'm quite naive and I think funny is funny. I think if comedy characters are written well and drawn well, people will like it. Everyone up North loves Fools and Horses. We loved Steptoe and Son. It's not about where it's set or anything else, it's about the characters, the aspirations and the writing. It doesn't matter what region a story comes from, I mean I do bits about Wigan in my stand-up routine, but as long as you set the scene up it gets laughs all round the country."

Dave Spikey is a presenter on The TV Book Club which starts on Sunday, January 29 at 7.10pm on More4.

Dave Spikey's 'Words Don't Come Easy' tour starts February 2012. See www.davespikey.co.uk for dates and ticket information.

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