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"I've been a pro since I was 12, so I guess I'm a television survivor"

Published 01/08/2015

Host Brian Conley
Host Brian Conley

Brian Conley is back on our screens as the host of BBC One's new TV That Made Me, which he bills as 'Desert Island Discs for telly'. From Cilla Black to The Big Bang Theory, he talks to Keeley Bolger about his favourite shows, past and present.

Brian Conley laughs as he recalls his grand childhood ambitions. "I grew up watching The Generation Game and I always used to think, 'I could do this'," says the 53-year-old, who was born and bred in West London.

"I never thought I'd be a guest," he adds. "[I thought], 'No, I'm hosting it. Guests are only on once. I want to get paid to do it'."

It's fair to say, those boyhood dreams did come true - for the past 40 years, Conley has been kept busy hosting chat shows, sketch shows and West End shows, and even taking part in reality shows, with a stint as a contestant on I'm A Celebrity... Get Me Out Of Here! three years ago.

Growing up the son of a dinner lady and a BBC rigger supervisor, he never doubted that he'd find a way to work on TV.

"I saw it as approachable," explains the entertainer who, along with his brother and sister, would regularly pop into the BBC Television Centre to see their dad at work, and often eat in the canteen there.

"My younger brother's a very successful floor manager. He's just finished Britain's Got Talent, Strictly Come Dancing and Ant And Dec's Saturday Night Takeaway. I would honestly say he's the number one floor manager in the country.

"My sister used to work in costume drama at the BBC, so we've all been a part of it. I knew I could be an entertainer and I could tell a few jokes."

Hooked on showbiz from an early age, Conley went to stage school, which helped him forge ahead with his acting career.

"I auditioned once for Opportunity Knocks and didn't get through," explains the father-of-two, who also cropped up on Top Of The Pops as a youngster, singing in a children's choir for the 1978 Scott Fitzgerald and Yvonne Keeley song, If I Had Words.

"They'd had a young lad on who'd done very well, so [presenter] Hughie Green said to me, 'The problem is, you're another young lad and we've sort of done that, so come back in a couple of years'."

By that point, the show had fizzled out, but as a drama school pupil, Conley was taken to other auditions and eventually landed small parts in Seventies kids' sci-fi series The Tomorrow People, Survivors and Grange Hill.

After leaving school, he worked as a Pontins Bluecoat, and then spent a number of years on the club circuit, honing his comedic craft.

Although a long stint in panto and the Cameron Mackintosh musical Barnum has meant a break from the small screen recently, he will be making a return to his telly roots with BBC One's new daytime series, TV That Made Me.

Each episode of the daytime show will see a well-known personality reveal the television programmes that have shaped their lives.

"It's a bit like Desert Island Discs but for television," says Conley of the series, which boasts Eamonn Holmes, Sandi Toksvig, Linford Christie, Gok Wan, Natalie Cassidy and Jo Wood among its guests.

"As well as sort of finding out information about those programmes and their reaction to watching them again, it really did open it up and make interesting conversation," he adds.

Like many who experienced the Seventies and Eighties, he looks back fondly on programmes such as Cilla Black's eponymous variety show.

"I did have a real crush on Cilla when I was younger," Conley confesses with a chuckle, before adding that he later told the well-loved Liverpudlian about it, when he eventually got to meet her. "I think she was quite taken by that."

These days, it's the likes of The Big Bang Theory, Britain's Got Talent and The X Factor that bring Conley to settle on the sofa with his own family - teenage daughters Amy and Lucy and wife Anne-Marie - at their home in Buckinghamshire.

He admits he's pleased he doesn't have to set foot in the I'm A Celebrity... jungle again, though.

At the time - 2012 - Conley was taking his regular course of anti-depressants, but the lack of food available to contestants meant he had to stop taking them, and he eventually quit on medical grounds, citing "malnutrition and exhaustion".

Surviving the jungle might have been a bridge too far, but Conley is proud to have stayed afloat in showbusiness for four decades.

"I think the fact I've survived for all these years is my high point," he says. "Professional since the age of 12, I've done eight Royal Variety Shows, my own television show, game shows, my own chat show ... I've done it all.

"I'm just amazed that I'm still plodding along, to be honest," Conley continues. "I always say there are lots of famous people, but not so many famous people can do anything."

  • TV That Made Me starts on BBC One on Monday, August 3

Belfast Telegraph

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