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Strange reviving Radio Active without Geoffrey Perkins says Angus Deayton

PUBLISHED: 16:00 22 April 2018 | UPDATED: 16:47 22 April 2018

Angus Deayton (centre back) with his Radio Active cast-mates Michael Fenton Stevens, Helen Atkinson-Wood and Philip Pope. Picture: STEVE ULLATHORNE

Angus Deayton (centre back) with his Radio Active cast-mates Michael Fenton Stevens, Helen Atkinson-Wood and Philip Pope. Picture: STEVE ULLATHORNE

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Actor, writer, comedian and broadcaster Angus Deayton talks about resurrecting hit series Radio Active without his friend Geoffrey Perkins, modern comedy and life after Leveson.

“There’s a big Geoffrey-shaped hole in all our lives,” says Angus of resurrecting Radio Active without his co-writer and friend Geoffrey Perkins.

The writer, performer and producer, who died in a road accident in 2008, was a comedy innovator.

Spanning networks, he was responsible for radio and TV series including The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Drop the Dead Donkey, Spitting Image, the Harry Enfield programmes, The Fast Show, The Catherine Tate Show, The Thin Blue Line, My Family, Father Ted and Have I Got News for You to name but a few.

Not having him as a sounding board has been strange.

“He always takes the good ones,” laughs Angus. “Not having Geoffrey is the big difference and having to cover the areas that would be his territory in days of yore.

“Obviously we have to share out parts he used to do. We haven’t got anyone covering the character he played, which was Mike Flex, but yeah that was a steep learning curve. It’s partly in tribute to Geoffrey and he’s always there in spirit, as you say.”

Cast-mate Helen Atkinson-Wood agreed when I spoke to her soon after about the East Anglian INK Festival, of which she’s a patron.

“Geoffrey’s contribution was vast in the sense as a perfect writing partner for Angus, they were a terrific combination; and he was a comedy legend because he created so many fabulous other shows. Lovely Geoffrey.

“It’s fantastic fun for us. There is such a following for the show, such affection and vintage is so fashionable... it’s a timeless piece in a way and as long as there are people who want to see it we’re very happy to be showing it.”

The remaining members of the award-winning BBC Radio 4 hit - Angus, Helen, Michael Fenton Stevens and Philip Pope - reunite for special episodes culled from the long-running show’s archives.

It follows a sell-out and critically acclaimed run at Edinburgh Festival Fringe and performances at the Glastonbury and Underbelly Southbank Festivals.

While fun, it’s been quite challenging finding material written in 1984 that’s still relevant in 2018. It’s interesting, notes Angus, how spot-on their parodies have proven to be.

“We used to have a joke about there being a 24-hour weather channel and of course there is now, so in a way it was quite prophetic. A lot of it has come true.”

Not all of it for the better?

“Very little of it I would say. Almost all TV is wall-to-wall reality television now anyway. Over the course of seven series, Radio Active parodied pretty much every kind of format of TV and radio that existed.”

Billed as Britain’s “first national local radio station” - which later morphed into the TV series KYTV - modern telly with its endless panel shows could use, well, a little more inward-looking silliness.

“I think they [show makers] decided programmes about the media itself were to be avoided. A lot of the channel heads have gone in different directions and tried to discourage people from doing stuff they see as being too ‘in’. I think they were worried they alienated some of the audience, but I’m not sure that that’s necessarily true.

“A lot of the time you’re doing jokes about TV or radio and that’s the world a lot of people inhabit anyway. That’s what they spend most of their time doing, listening to the radio, watching telly; it’s a language everyone speaks.”

Angus, Helen - a patron of the East Anglian INK Festival –Michael and Philip haven’t really performed together since 1991. It was fun to reunite and how the group’s dynamics were exactly the same.

“It’s not like we’ve been apart for 30 years... we’d remained friends. We’ve been on holidays together, we’re godparents to each other’s children. We’ve been in and out of each other’s lives all that time.

“It wasn’t like the Eagles getting back together where they haven’t spoken to each other and refused to stay in the same hotel, let alone on the same floor. It was a very easy process.”

The trick to choosing material was speaking with a voice people can identify with, finding targets that were still relevant.

“Some things, the majority of stuff to be honest... a lot of the music for example are parodies of artists that are still around. We did Kenny Rogers, the Bee Gees. The last two Glastonburys Kenny Rogers and Barry Gibb have been headline acts on the Sunday afternoon so they haven’t gone away – thank God, for our sake.”

The tour was inspired by Neil Pearson’s Edinburgh Festival show The Missing Hancocks, which re-created four comedies Tony Hancock recorded for BBC Radio in 1955 and 1956.

“I was watching that thinking ‘well, that’s interesting.’ We spent the whole of the 1980s doing that. So we kind of nicked that as a format.”

Basically it’ll be like watching them record the shows in 1984.

“The Tony Hancock show was playing to audiences of all ages and I thought ‘if something’s funny, it’s funny’. It doesn’t matter too much what age you are or if you necessarily pick up the references, you get the idea,” says Angus.

With so many shows of yesteryear being revived, can we expect to see KYTV back on our screens?

“It would be delightful to think that would be possible. It [the Radio Active tour] wasn’t initially conceived as an idea that’d have any legs beyond the Edinburgh Festival but now we’re doing a national tour so who knows.”

Angus has never seen the point in having any particular game plan career-wise. It’s fair to say he’s had his share of ups and downs.

“In the end your career is dependent on what offers come at any given moment. It’s been a long, varied and interesting career but not one that I would ever say is that I was ever kind of in control of or planned at any stage.”

He certainly didn’t plan on being the subject of tabloid kiss-and-tells more than a decade ago which led to his Have I Got News For You exit. I wonder what he thinks of the media’s continued pursuit of people in the spotlight.

“I would say with the advent of Leveson and the inquiry things have been better. What’s important is that Leveson part two [looking at governance failings by newspapers and how these were investigated by the police] is implemented. Of course, it’s just been dropped by the Conservative Party. I think that’s crucial to get things back on course, otherwise things could go back to how they were.”

See Radio Active at the Theatre Royal, Bury St Edmunds, May 10, 8pm.

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