‘I consider most headlines to be punchlines...’

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I go a few years back with Dave Spikey, meeting this popular Lancastrian when he dropped by at the Chorley Guardian offices with fellow comedian Peter Kay in early 2000.

At that point the pair had already made Channel 4’s That Peter Kay Thing and were set to air Phoenix Nights via the same broadcaster.

They were working on a fresh project based on a local newspaper, looking for inspiration. And five years later – by which stage Kay had set out on his own stratospheric journey – came ITV’s Dead Man Weds, Spikey playing Gordon Garden, an ex-national journalist appointed over acting Fogburrow Advertiser editor Lewis Donat, played by Johnny Vegas.

It’s been a busy decade since for Dave, an earlier decision to leave the NHS fully justified, a chance meeting on the comedy circuit with his fellow Boltonian leading to so much more.

That Peter Kay Thing won a British Comedy Award for Best New TV Comedy in 2000, the year Phoenix Nights debuted, Dave winning the nation’s hearts as cabaret star Jerry St Clair, the working men’s club comedy also winning a British Comedy Award, the People’s Choice.

In 2003 he embarked on his debut solo tour, Overnight Sensation, the resultant DVD leading to a gold disc, with a Royal Variety Performance, guest slots on Parkinson and much more following.

Beyond Dead Man Weds, Dave became a team captain alongside Jimmy Carr and Sean Lock on Channel 4 panel show 8 Out of 10 Cats, and presented a revival of TV quiz Bullseye.

The Best Medicine tour went down a storm, another DVD following, at which point he published He Took My Kidney, Then Broke My Heart, an irreverent look at ambiguous newspaper headlines.

And after touring Words Don’t Come Easy, Dave published best-selling autobiography My Life – Under the Microscope, while presenting Channel 4’s TV Book Club.

Yet the 64-year-old – real name Dave Bramwell – was never one to fully embrace celebrity status, and remains true to his adopted Chorley roots.

That said, I once visited the cottage he shares with his beloved wife Kay for a Lancashire Design and Living feature, at which point there was a bit of a menagerie, I recall.

“That seems a long while ago. It’s all changed here now – the house and garden. The animals have all gone now. Natural causes.

“We do too much travelling now, hence throwing myself into animal charities, raising money and supporting them that way.

“The kids used to help look after the animals, but they’ve long since moved away. We’ve not even got our dog now – just next-door’s cat, which comes and goes.”

Talking of his charity work, Dave was on Chorley Market a few days before we spoke, doing a blindfold walk for the area’s new Guide Dogs puppy training venture.

Apparently there was a similar awareness event for a testicular cancer initiative in Bolton that same week.

“I’ve never bought into the whole celebrity lifestyle thing, resisting the urge to fall into that false world of showbusiness.

“But having worked in the NHS for 30 years, I can see how just by turning up and giving my name to a cause it gives it a bit more publicity.

“There was this blindfold walk in Chorley, and before that a Bolton community initiative for testicular cancer, The Oddballs, publicising signs and symptoms.

“There were pictures of me all over Bolton holding a pair of balls in front of me.”

Now he’s back on the road, with new show, Punchlines, and it appears Dave sees a correlation between the humble joke and a passion for newspapers’ best and worst moments.

I put it to him that – knowing how streamlined most newspapers are these days – he’s probably finding even more opportunities to cut out headlines.

“There are. I consider most headlines to be punchlines. It’s the perfect definition, something you set up with an opening paragraph summarising it all, then tell the story, and bang – your headline draws attention to that story.

“There are two sorts, ones where journalists are really clever the way they’ve done it, mainly with ambiguity and a play on words, then some you just shouldn’t publish.

“I get sent them from all over the world because of the book and Dead Man Weds. There was one from The Baltimore Sun recently about the weather, which read ‘Eight and a half inches make June the wettest for a long time’. What were they thinking of?

“Then there are stories just demanding a punchline, like one from the Hartlepool Mail, a little story which said how police boarded a ship in the harbour to arrest a drunken sailor in conjunction with the harbour police at 5.30am.

“You just wonder what they’re going to do with the drunken sailor that early in the morning. So yeah – I’m still tucking into the newspaper stories.”

I tell Dave I’d only recently spoken to LEP legend Phil Gorner, whose ‘Llama Drama Ding Dong’ headline topped a tale about an escaped animal that ran amok in a school playground – as featured in his 2009 book.

“Either The Star or The Sun used that the other day. A lot of people tweeted, telling me someone had nicked ‘my’ headline. I always credit the LEP of course!

“In fact, didn’t that headline writer have previous on that front? A story about a fight during Ramadan, headlined ‘Ramadan Ding Dong’?”

Back to Punchlines, have you ever cocked-up, put one in the wrong place?

“You do now and again, generally if I’m getting too excited and really enjoying it, I’ll talk too fast. I’m more one for missing stuff out, getting to the punchline too early, having to go back and say, “Did I mention he was a chemist?’

“I did one the other night at Liverpool, but managed to rescue it. I got to the punchline too soon so had to twist it. But it sort of worked.”

Ever found yourself trying to over-analyse comedy?

“No, it sounds like I’m taking a very analytical approach to all this, in that I look at wordplay and ambiguity, misdirection, misleading, and how actions can be funny.

“But it’s not big, not clever. It’s basic analysis, not rocket science. And that’s only part of the show. I look at problems trying to remember jokes and punchlines, then into other signs of ageing. It’s a broad, often blank canvas.”

While not touring or cutting out newspaper stories, Dave works on various writing projects. As we speak at 9am I ask if he’s an early-morning writer. What’s his next deadline?

“It’s quite exciting really. I’ve a script commission I’m writing with Jim Cartwright. That’s a big thrill – he’s one of my top writing heroes.

“I had this idea for a comedy-drama, pitched to the BBC, but they wanted someone else involved with experience in that field, so I mentioned Jim, known for Little Voice, Road, and so on.

“He lives quite close and we met for a drink, getting on well. I sent him the project, he loved it, and we’ve been writing it ever since.

“I’ve had a couple of near-misses these last couple of years. That’s so frustrating and disappointing.

“I wrote one with Neil Fitzmaurice (who wrote Phoenix Nights with Kay and Spikey and played Ray-Von) set in a Blackpool hotel, tuning in on this ballroom dancing fever.

“We wondered if we’d find the same sort of rivalry, elitism and snobbery at that grass-roots level. We got as far as casting, and everyone loved it, getting Alison Steadman to read the lead as the dance teacher and also Keith Barron and Jill Halfpenny, who’d just done Strictly.

“It couldn’t have gone better. We were just sort of metaphorically high-fiving each other when they just pulled the plug, for no reason really.”

Do you find you work better with others, as with Neil Fitzmaurice and previously with Peter Kay, bouncing ideas off each other.

“If you find yourself on the same wavelength, it’s brilliant. I’ve only had half a dozen sessions with Jim, but we were tossing ideas around, acting out scenes, laughing then getting serious, with a little poignancy in there.

“I love writing on my own, but if you do you’ve got to not be so precious about your work and employ a really good – ruthless - script editor.

“You argue your corner, and you’ll win some and lose some, but in the end they’ve got the experience. It’s an interesting process.”

Dave tells me about other ‘near-misses’ turned down at late stages, one based on his own experiences leaving the rat race for the country.

But he adds: “You just crack on, rather than sit there in front of the telly and wonder how some pile of pap has got on there.”

What does Dave make of Cradle to Grave, the BBC dramatisation of Danny Baker’s autobiography, with Peter Kay as Danny’s father, cockney wideboy Spud.

“It’s good, isn’t it. And he’s 90 per cent there… although now and again he’ll go a bit Dick Van Dyke! But what a comedy character-actor he is.

“I can’t think of anyone up there with him. People say Steve Coogan, but he’s not got the range. Maybe Paul Whitehouse.”

So how’s the Punchlines tour going so far?

“I’m in a fortunate position where I attract my own audiences. They’ve grown with me as I’ve matured. I’m lucky and they’re so enthusiastic.

“At Wakefield the other night, as punchlines were projected on to a screen, along with shop signs and newspaper headlines, I could hear the audience laughing, even before I got on!”

How about the phenomenal success of the sell-out Phoenix Nights live tour earlier this year, with Dave reprising his turn asJerry St Clair?

“I’m not exaggerating, but I get goose-bumps as soon as I start thinking about it. It was such a wonderful, wonderful thing.

“There was that tragic first night when Ted (Robbins) collapsed, but once we got into the swing of things… I wasn’t on until the second half, but the atmosphere was electric, with 15,000 people a night for 15 nights for a show from that many years ago.

“And tickets weren’t cheap, because it was for Comic Relief. Waiting to go on, dressed with Jerry’s white jacket and dickie-bow, doing my bit offstage, the compere without compare…

“The standing up and cheering… unbelievable. The love for that haracter and that show. Then you’ve got it backstage, the whole gang back together – emotional.”

I had a similar response recently from Phoenix Nights’ Young Kenny - Justin Moorhouse.

“In my dressing room, it was Neil, Justin and me. Then Paddy (McGunness) would drift in, Steve Edge, Archie Kelly… we just picked up where we left off.

“To be working as a team was really something. We had very little time for rehearsal but were helping each other out and coming up with suggestions. It was the best time.

“You get to a certain age where you become aware of your own mortality, but I’ll always have that memory now.”

I’m duty-bound to ask – will there be another reunion in five or so years?

“I doubt it. That was drawing the line under it. Mind you, we thought the line had been drawn a long time ago.

“It was never mentioned. We threw ourselves into it as if it was going to be the last.”

How’s Dead Man Weds’ Gordon Garden these days? Does he keep in touch?

“I don’t know where he is. He’s probably retired. He’s probably doing what you’re doing. I don’t think he’ll be out in Syria under cover, or anything like that.”

Thinking of the Spikey and Sykey show with Rick Sykes that got you started on the circuit, have you still got the VHS tapes from your New Faces appearance?

“Probably, but I would never watch them. I hate watching myself anyway.”

What’s Sykey up to now?

“He’s done very well in the teaching profession. We’re in touch. He must be coming up for retirement soon.”

Do you think you’re his favourite anecdote – that ‘what-might-have-been’ moment?

“Maybe, but the reason I went solo – although it probably would have happened at some stage – was because he wouldn’t go over to Scarborough to do a talent contest.”

Dave’s children are now long since grown up. Is he a Grandad these days?

“No, none of them show any inclination of settling down. My son’s a musician, playing in Blackpool at the moment in a Legends show.

“My daughter’s a deputy-head. She’s in Blackrod, and has just got funding to open a special needs unit at her school. And Kay’s daughter is head of cardiology at Wigan.”

Finally, when was the last time you were asked where the black bin bags were in Asda?

“Every week! Any time I’m in any supermarket, people will come over and ask me. ‘Oh, you are so funny!’”

Dave Spikey plays Kendal Brewery Arts Centre tonight (October 22, www.breweryarts.co.uk 01539 725133), Preston Charter Theatre tomorrow (October 23, www.prestonguildhall.com01772 804444), and later Manchester Comedy Store (November 4, www.thecomedystore.co.uk/manchester 0161 839 9595) and Burnley Mechanics (November 6, www.burnleymechanics.co.uk 01282 664400).

For more details head to www.davespikey.co.uk