Comedian, actor, writer, DJ and TV presenter Frank Skinner plays Preston Guild Hall for two nights this weekend. MALCOLM WYATT spoke to him about Sir Tom Finney, our World Cup chances, alcoholism, fatherhood, retirement, and much, much more...
Frank Skinner’s Man in a Suit show marks his first nationwide itinerary since a sell-out tour seven years ago.
I can’t imagine this 57-year-old getting nervous, but he reckons he can be.
“When you first start putting together a show, trying out new stuff, it would be very odd not to be nervous trying out something that’s only been in the notebook before, sharing it.
“In the old days doing the clubs, I’d do 10-minute sets, but this time I did an hour of new material.
“If none of it had worked, that would have been a difficult moment.
“No matter how long you’ve been doing comedy, you never know what people are going to laugh at until they’ve laughed at it.”
Frank, who comes over as laid-back and personable but razor-sharp – just like on the radio and TV – has been ‘doing comedy’ since 1987.
Has he particular memories of past Preston visits?
“I always remember Preston being a good gig.
“I think I did five minutes about Tom Finney last time, which I won’t be doing this time.
“Sir Tom was a bloke my Dad used to talk about with a far-away look in his eye, so when that was on the news, I felt genuinely sad.
“Partly because it made me feel about my Dad, but partly it was like old football had died a bit.”
I mentioned how thousands of supporters would apparently walk off Deepdale on matchdays if they found out Sir Tom wasn’t playing.
“I don’t think there’s any player who could inspire that today. And certainly not at £70 a ticket.”
Frank is well known for his love of football, his stint alongside David Baddiel on BBC2’s Fantasy Football League even leading to a No.1 with Ian Broudie of the Lightning Seeds, during Euro ’96.
He’s a fervent West Bromwich Albion supporter, his dad having played for North East side Spennymoor United before a pre-war FA Cup match at West Brom led to him meeting a local girl and re-settling.
Frank was born Christopher Graham Collins, his parents using his middle name while his mates called him Chris.
His stage name was ‘borrowed’ from one of his dad’s dominoes team-mates.
Have the real Frank’s family ever approached him?
“Interestingly, they sent a photo of his grave, which I had on my cork-board in my kitchen.
“In the end, my girlfriend asked me to take it down. A bit unnerving really!
“But I must get that sorted out and made into a T-shirt.”
Before switching careers, Frank was an English lecturer. If he’d stuck with that, he might have been retired by now.
“My plan now is to go on now for ever and ever.
“Comedians can be old and people think it’s alright, in a way they don’t when musicians are old.
“The idea is that with age comes wisdom, and maybe that makes you funnier.
“With music, you just think, ‘oh, stop it now’.
“If I was still an English lecturer I might have been thinking early retirement.
“But I’m thinking late retirement now.”
Frank has also been ‘on the wagon’ for quarter of a century, as a recovering alcoholic. Does he think he could still fall back into those old ways after a couple of swift ones?
“Definitely. I’ve always got that to fall back on!
“For years, I’d always keep drink in the house, just in case I suddenly woke at three in the morning and thought, ‘do you know what …’
“But now in this era of the 24-hour supermarket, there’s no need for that.
“I know I could get somewhere quick.
“I’ve been drinking non-alcoholic wine, lately, a bit of a dangerous road if you start to like the feel of a glass in your hand.
“But I can’t really remember what real wine tastes like now.
“What’s nice is that it doesn’t taste like sweet, fizzy pop – which I’ve drunk a lot of over the last 25 years.
“That’s one of the problems – most soft drinks are designed for seven-year-olds.”
Music has always been a big love for Frank, an Absolute Radio presenter on Saturday mornings these days. So is he still crazy about Elvis Presley?
“He’ll always have a place in my heart, and I have a 22-month-old son who can say ‘Elvis’.
“We’ve a set of mugs with him on. He points at them and says ‘Elvis’.
Could it just be his way of saying ‘drink’?
Frank’s appearance on Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs suggested – like John Peel – a slight obsession for Manchester indie originals The Fall.
“I think they still sound – even when they sound bad – more interesting than most bands.
“On my radio show I play a lot of what I’d call ‘popular music’.
“It’s nice to hear something that sounds different, not just the old formula being banged out.”
Is he enjoying watching West Brom this season?
“These have been fantastic times.
“This season bears no relation to the last couple.
“Roy Hodgson – whatever you might think of him as an England manager – was fantastic for us.
“It’s been an absolute blast. It’s just that something’s gone a bit wrong at the moment.
“I’ve been to the least amount of matches since I started going, mainly because of having my little boy and working a lot.
“Besides, when I go to a match, I leave at midday and get back at eight.”
Has his son, Buzz Cody, had his first match yet?
“He hasn’t had his industrial era-plugs fitted yet, so I haven’t been able to take him.”
What does Frank think of England’s chances in Brazil at this summer’s World Cup?
“I would say very close to zero.
“If we could get to the quarter-finals – and according to FIFA ratings we’re something like 12th – that would be a fantastic achievement. I’d settle for that.
“One plus is that the worse we play in World Cups is when we play not very good teams – so at least we’re in a strong group and get to play some proper teams.”
Will he be doing a special World Cup Fantasy Football League show with David Baddiel?
“I’m not sure. I’m starting to think it might be nice to just sit around and watch it on the telly, like in my youth.”
While Room 101 and his radio show have kept Frank on the air, he’s currently planning a Radio 4 comedy discussion show, The Rest Is History.
“I really like history, but don’t know much about it.
“It’s a show in which I learn about history by asking a lot of odd questions, alongside a proper historian and a couple of guests.”
Is this the man who in his autobiography said Radio 4 was something he equated with death?
“That is true. I also mentioned that if I ever said I was passionate about radio you’d know my career was through. Read into that what you will.”
Frank was involved in the Dr Who 50th anniversary celebrations. Does he hold out hope of getting that gig - maybe after Peter Capaldi?
“I said I’d quite happily play a lunar rock, and haven’t even had that phone call. I did do one of the audio adventures for the ‘eighth Doctor’, so I am officially part of that world.”
Will Frank talk about parenthood in his live set?
“I don’t talk about fatherhood. That said, I might by the time I get to Preston. I’ve always been wary of comedians talking about nappies and all that. But who knows, I’m constantly tweaking.”
So what’s being a dad like after all these years? Has it changed his routine?
“It’s fair to say it has.
“It’s hard work, but much funnier than I thought it would be.
“The other day he did an impression of me doing an impression of Louis Armstrong. I’ve never felt so proud.
“I’m absolutely convinced he’s going to be a stand-up comedian.
“I can’t even consider anything else.”
Has Frank’s long-term relationship with his girlfriend, Cath, changed him?
“It’s made life easier. I like being able to meet an attractive woman now and not have to think, ‘right, how am I going to make this work?’ It’s much more relaxing, and I like being spoken for.
“It’s great going round and chasing … you know, various sexual activities, but it’s quite hard work.
“And I don’t think I have the knees for it now.”
Actor, stand-up, TV and radio presenter, writer - what’s his greatest accolade of all that lot?
“The first time I saw my name in Time Out, a listings magazine in London, it said, ‘Frank Skinner, comedian’. I was very proud of that. That’s still my best-ever accolade.”
Finally, with Frank now just three years off 60, what does he reckon he’ll be doing by then?
“Probably talking to you about my next tour.”
Frank’s Man in a Suit tour calls at Preston Guild Hall this Friday, April 4, and Saturday, April 5, with ticket details available from 0844 844 7710 or via http://www.prestonguildhall.com/