How do you feel about a whole new audience seeing The Complete And Utter History Of Britain?
It’s funny, everything that one does now is attainable on the internet or somewhere. When we started off doing things like The Frost Report and even Monty Python, once they’d had their screening, that was it. A lot of them were just destroyed to make room for other tapes and stuff. The Complete and Utter History of Britain was quite a progressive show at the time. It was a bit of a risk, very experimental. But I think it’s great that people can see all the bits that survive, and can make up their own minds about it.
Was it fun for you to look back at it?
Yes it was. I really enjoyed doing it. At that period, I’d only been working as a writer and actor for about four years, and we’d done so much. We worked and wrote and sold our material wherever we could, whether it was The Russ Conway Show, The Two Ronnies, The Frost Report or wherever. So it was great to do a series that you could have some control over.
You’ve got your own tour coming up in September, what can you tell us about that?
It’s really to help publicise the last volume of diaries, which cover the period 1988 to 1998, which is when I suddenly took this leap into the dark and became a travel presenter. That’s why the diaries and the show are called Travelling to Work. I’ve done a lot of one-man shows on stage, at book festivals, where they’re partly about the travels and partly about Python and all that, so really it’s doing a sort of streamlined version of those shows, but with some new material. It is basically first-half travel, then second-half how you make the change from being a schoolboy who told jokes on the class back row in Sheffield to standing in front of 15,000 people at the O2. I wanted to make it a national tour because I love getting out of London.
Did you always want to work in tv and film?
I think I probably did but never ever thought I would. I enjoyed acting at school, but my father in particular was very, very stern about that. He thought the idea of being an actor would be a waste of his money and time, and my education. It was only really when I went to Oxford in 1962 where I met up with people like Terry Jones who gave me the opportunity to act in plays there and also in revue. So yeah, I gravitated towards the few strengths I had, writing and performing, and just didn’t tell my father I hadn’t become a bank manager or a BBC trainee.