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Actor John Thomson: Keeping it clean and being funny

After a trip to Casualty, John Thomson is returning to his comedy roots. He talks to Susan Griffin about housework, his 'hungry years' and Cold Feet reunion rumours

Published 10/10/2015

John Thomson as comedian Bernard Righton
John Thomson as comedian Bernard Righton
John Thomson (second from left) in Cold Feet

It seems the Nineties are enjoying something of a renaissance on screens. Shane Meadows has been revisiting the dawn of the decade in This Is England '90, Danny Boyle has confirmed the Trainspotting crew will be reuniting for a sequel, and a pop-up exhibition of the iconic Friends set proved a huge hit recently.

Now there are rumours that the cast of much-loved late-Nineties series Cold Feet - which includes James Nesbitt, Hermione Norris and Fay Ripley - will be reprising their roles.

"It's not 100% lit, it's subject to contract," reveals John Thomson, who played Pete Gifford in the seminal show. "It might start next year. All I can say is that it's likely, but the deals aren't done."

The 46-year-old, who lives in Manchester, says he "would love to do it" - "I'm genuinely excited if it goes again, because it's probably the best thing I've done" - but in the meantime, new Gold series, Legends Of Stand-Up And Bernard Righton, has been keeping him busy.

In the five-parter (a sixth programme will air at Christmas), Thomson appears as his stand-up alter ego, the 'legendary club comedian' Bernard Righton, to compere programmes celebrating the world's greatest comedians.

The character - which was created around 1990 when Thomson and fellow funny man Steve Coogan were at Manchester Polytechnic (now Manchester Metropolitan University) together - is based on a politically correct version of the late controversial comedian Bernard Manning.

"Imagine if he'd seen the light and he wasn't offensive any more?" explains Thomson, who was born in Salford and used to work in one of the working men's clubs where many comedians of Manning's generation honed their craft.

"I know the scene, I've seen acts, and know what the comedians were about. Of course their kind of humour is a thing of the past, some of it was terribly offensive and things have moved away from that."

Describing his own stand-up style as "a bit pick and mix", Thomson recalls how a five-minute stint as Bernard Righton prompted the audience to start chanting, 'Bernard! Bernard!'

"It really took off, and I thought, 'I'm missing a trick here'. So I knuckled down, wrote a set, and that's how he started."

The character appeared as a compere in Coogan's live show, and the pair won the Perrier Comedy Award at Edinburgh in 1992. After a long absence, Thomson revisited the character when he returned to stand-up in 2012.

"Originally, I'd gone off the boil with him. I felt there was a lot of jeopardy involved, the venue might not be right, or the audience might be in a quiet mood."

A man who enjoys keeping busy, he describes 2012 and 2013 as "the hungry years".

"That was the only time I thought, 'What has happened here? I don't understand. I've got so many skills'. So I just changed agents, and the rest is history. "If you looked at my diary, you'd go 'How does he do it?' I also do a lot of narrative voice-overs and currently I've got (Channel 4 series) Obsessive Compulsive Cleaners," he continues. "I love that show."

He can relate to the contributors. "I am obsessively tidy - to a point," he confesses. "I iron everything and every Monday I do six hours top to bottom, the whole house: polish, clean, dust, the lot. I just wear my shorts because I'm sweating."

He also appeared in an episode of Casualty earlier this year, despite a dismissive attitude from certain quarters.

"Someone said, 'Why are you doing that?' It's very narrow-minded, because that show's been around what, 30 years?"

The director Steve Hughes, who he worked with previously on Waterloo Road, asked him personally to make an appearance, and it meant he could collaborate with close friends, some of whom warned him the money was "not really good".

"I went, 'The money's secondary, I'd rather be working', and I loved it," says Thomson.

The funny man, who's contributed to the likes of Spitting Image and The Fast Show, reveals he never intended to become a comedian, and only did stand-up to get his equity card.

"I wanted to be an actor, but they've [comedy and acting] worked beautifully hand-in-hand. I'm not one of these actors that goes, 'I'm so tired of being funny, I really need to do King Lear'."

Legends Of Stand-Up And Bernard Righton begins on Gold on Monday,


Belfast Telegraph

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