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That Reminds Me: The peerless Peter Kay

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WHAT do the comedians Jimmy Carr, Ricky Gervais, Jack Whitehall, Joe Lycett, Michael McIntyre, John Bishop, Alan Carr, Russell Howard and Jon Richardson have in common? They are all ‘more influential’ than Peter Kay. And if you believe that, you’ll think the moon is made of green cheese, Covid jabs are good for you and politicians never tell porkies.

The source for the amazing claim about Kay, who is beyond doubt Britain’s favourite comic, is a survey by a ticket-selling company which analysed factors including estimated net worth, number of television specials, YouTube views and social media followers. Under those criteria, Bolton’s finest came only tenth on the list. Which goes to show you can do anything with statistics.

What skewed the figures was the fact that in 2017 Kay cancelled a national tour because of ‘unforeseen family circumstances’. Since then he has limited his public appearances to a few charity gigs.

He is returning to the spotlight with a comeback tour, beginning in Manchester next month, concluding in Sheffield in August and including a 12-night ‘residency’ at the 20,000-capacity O2 Arena in London. In recognition of the cost-of-living crisis, ticket prices have been pegged at the same as 2010-11, when he set a world record for a stand-up tour with a total attendance of 1.14million.

Let’s hope that he still has the knack of reducing audiences of all ages to tears of helpless laughter. I, for one, don’t doubt him.

Peter John Kay was born on July 2 1973 in Farnworth, Bolton. His school career was to say the least undistinguished, leaving with just the one GCSE, in art, and his early jobs included working in a bingo hall, a petrol station, a toilet roll factory, a Netto supermarket and the Manchester Arena.

A late developer, he studied drama, theatre studies and English Lit at Liverpool University, then switched to Salford University where he took a Higher National Diploma in media performance, including stand-up comedy. At some point he was taught drama and dance by my sister Jill, or so she claims.

In the mid-1990s he was named North West Comedian of the Year, a competition hosted by his future collaborator and fellow Farnworthian Dave Spikey. In 1997 he made his TV debut as a hopeless, partially sighted getaway driver in a comedy series, New Voices. He also appeared that year as a shopfitter in Coronation Street, and a delivery driver in the BBC drama Born To Run

His breakthrough came in 1998 with The Services, a mockumentary about a motorway outlet for Channel 4’s Comedy Lab. This won a Royal Television Society award for best newcomer and served as a pilot episode for his 2000 series for C4, That Peter Kay Thing, narrated by the splendid Andrew Sachs. Episode 1, In The Club, is set in a working men’s club called the Neptune where the grand final of the Talent Trek 99 contest is being held. It introduces us to Kay’s inspired creation Brian Potter, the money-obsessed, wheelchair-bound social secretary who can in fact walk.

Episode 2, Eyes Down, is drawn from Kay’s work experience as a bingo caller while Episode 3, The Ice Cream Man Cometh, features him as Mr Softy Top, who sells pornographic videos from his van and harbours a pathological dislike of children.

The Arena revisits Kay’s spell as a steward at the Manchester Evening News Arena and is utterly hilarious, particularly when he mugs for the camera – which is frequently.

After a rather sad episode about an elderly paperboy named Leonard, the series concludes with Lonely at the Top,  charting the rise and fall of singer Marc Park in the year after he won Talent Trek with his partner Cheryl Avenue. ‘I’m Marc Park!’ ‘And I’m Cheryl Avenue!’ ‘Together we are Park Avenue!’ Marc dumps Cheryl after she becomes pregnant, but she goes on to become a star while he must return to his job as a greengrocer.

After the Neptune Club burns down, Brian Potter returns in 2001 with a new venue, the Phoenix Club, setting for 12 brilliant episodes of Phoenix Nights. This is a triumph of bad taste, with political incorrectness oozing from every pore. Here’s a compilation of musical showstoppers. And here’s a lovely scene set in the gents’ where compere Jerry St Clair, played by Spikey, explains the marital arts to Potter while being completely drowned out by a hand dryer apart from the final three words, which I will leave it to you to discover.

Phoenix Nights featured two bouncers who then had their own spin-off series, Max and Paddy’s Road to Nowhere, with Kay as Max and Paddy McGuinness as his sidekick. This I found slightly underwhelming, unlike Peter’s wonderful series of adverts for John Smith’s bitter. Here’s the full collection. My favourite is probably the scene in an Indian restaurant where he speaks on the phone to his young daughter Britney, who has told the babysitter she is having nightmares about ‘wardrobe monsters’. He tells here there is no such thing as wardrobe monsters. ‘It’s the burglars breaking through the window, that’s what you ought to be worried about. Sweet dreams.’ He then hangs up and orders ‘two more lamb bhunas’. Genius.

In 2006 Kay appeared in Doctor Who as a monster, the Abzorbaloff. And in 2008 he earned a Bafta award for his two-hour satire on talent shows Peter Kay’s Britain’s Got the Pop Factor . . . and Possibly a New Celebrity Jesus Christ Soapstar Superstar Strictly on Ice. He won a second Royal Television Society award, as best actor, for his role as Geraldine McQueen,  a transgender dinner lady from Ireland.

I never really took to Peter Kay’s Car Share, probably because of his female co-star, but that’s no doubt my fault.

Any road up, here’s to a successful comeback tour. And as for that ludicrous survey at the beginning of this piece, I would say that Peter Kay is funnier than the other nine comics put together.

Just to prove it, here he is bringing mayhem to the final Parkinson show in 2007, producing a cake which he identifies as a Victoria Sandwich and remarking to fellow guest David Beckham: ‘Bet you’ve had that a few times, ’aven’t yer?’

Old jokes’ home

My girlfriend’s dog died so I bought her another identical one. She said: ‘What am I meant to do with two dead dogs?’

A PS from PG

If you can visualise a bulldog which has just been kicked in the ribs and had its dinner sneaked by the cat, you will have Hildebrand Glossop as he now stood before me.

PG Wodehouse: Right Ho, Jeeves

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Alan Ashworth
Alan Ashworth
Alan Ashworth is a former national newspaper journalist now retreated to the Ribble Valley, where he grows cacti and tramps the fells. He and his wife Margaret run a website, A-M Records , which includes their collected TCW columns plus extra features including Tracks of the Day. Requests, queries and comments can be sent to alanj126@yahoo.co.uk

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