The one-time member of Parliament, Patron of the National Piers Society, European Monopoly champion, teddy-bear enthusiast and the man who boasts a wardrobe of a hundred hideous woolly jumpers, Gyles Brandreth tells a wonderful yarn about his comedy debut.
A stand–up gig in Manchester was the first of many vocations he tried after leaving Oxford University in the early Seventies – but nobody told him it was as a warm-up act for foul-mouthed comic Bernard Manning.
“I said to my agent, I wanted to do some comedy – the word stand up didn’t exist in those days,” recalled Brandreth.
“I think he thought he’d teach me a lesson, throw me in at the deep end.
“I turned up wet behind the ears, carrying a tiny briefcase, wearing a pinstripe suit at a working men’s club called The Embassy somewhere off Rochdale Road.
“It was like a smoky subterranean aircraft hangar, full of men and Bernard Manning.
I love words, so playing with language has been part of my life and all my lifeGyles Brandreth
He said: ‘How long are you booked for lad?
“I’m booked to do 30 minutes, Mr Manning.
“You’ll be lucky to do 30 seconds, lad. Good luck, I’ll do all I can to help.’
“I think he took pity on me.”
Brandreth continued: “Anyway, on I went to a few moans and grumbles. They didn’t clap or laugh, they didn’t even smile, but they didn’t jeer; I wasn’t booed off stage.
“However, a few minutes into the act I sensed that they weren’t looking at me – they seemed to be looking over my shoulder.
“Suddenly, I realised Bernard Manning had positioned a couple of topless go-go dancers behind me and that’s what they were gawping at.
“It was a incredibly valuable comedy experience, aged 21, in a school of very hard stage knocks.”
Words have been Brandreth’s life, be they written or spoken.
He has appeared on Countdown in Dictionary Corner more times than he cares to remember and has written numerous books – including The Joy of Lex – which is all about words.
His latest tour – Words…Words….Words….takes language as its theme.
“Language is a great power – it’s what defines us,” added Brandreth who brings his one man show to Clitheroe’s Grand Theatre later this month.
“I find language is everything.
“And we are so blessed in Britain that English is our parent tongue.
“I love words, so playing with language has been part of my life and all my life.
“Take the word twerking, for example. It is a not a new word.
“Twerking was in the dictionary 200 years old ago and I told Miley Cyrus.”
Brandreth can’t hide his passion for the north either and talks fondly about his Lancashire roots.
His mother’s family was raised in Accrington.
“I knew Accy before they knew Stanley,” he jokes.
“My great aunt, Miss Addison, was the headmistress at a primary school in Accrington.
“I was a journalist on the Manchester Evening News. I love Lancashire.”
He even served a single term as the Conservative MP for Chester, introducing the Marriage Act 20 years ago, as well as holding a junior ministerial position as a Lord of the Treasury.
“One of the last things I had to do was sign a cheque for £136 billion, for Britain’s social security payments.
“Because it was such a huge sum, I had to sign it in the presence of Her Majesty The Queen. It was mind-boggling really.”
He adds: “People have asked me if I’d go back into politics. Not a chance. The Houses of Parliament is no longer the fulcrum of great debate and that’s very sad.” An Evening with Gyles Brandreth. Clitheroe Grand Theatre. July 27th. £18-50.