HOW WE MET

GRIFF RHYS JONES AND RORY McGRATH
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The Independent Culture
Griff Rhys Jones, 43, was born in Cardiff. He read English at Cambridge, then found fame with the TV series Not the Nine O'Clock News and Alas Smith and Jones. He will soon be touring in Ben Travers's farce, Plunder. Married with two children, he lives in London.

Rory McGrath, 40, was born in Cornwall. He studied French, Spanish and Linguistics at Cambridge, then, after a spell in radio, helped create Who Dares Wins for Channel 4. He is now a regular on the sports quiz, They Think It's All Over. Divorced, with two children, he lives in Cornwall

GRIFF RHYS JONES: Rory's probably too embarrassed to remember how we really met so he'll pretend it was in much more exotic circumstances. The truth is that in his first year, I was in my fourth year - having stayed on to direct the Cambridge Footlights. Rory used to stalk me. I vividly remember him stalking around the cloisters in the back of Emmanuel College. In those days he had very big hair and wore a grey RAF greatcoat. He desperately wanted to write comedy, which is why he kept annoying me. When we did get to talk, I was very dismissive about the Footlights, but he was so funny and witty, our friendship just developed. Now, we often spend weekends together. We go sailing and play rather a lot of poker.

Not long after our first proper meeting, Rory and Jimmy Mulville, who's another very funny bloke, decided to drive, in the snow, to St Neots, to see one of Rory's girlfriends. They asked me to go with them. At the time, none of us had a car, so Nick Hytner let them borrow his. I hadn't realised that Rory's girlfriend was married, so, when we left, I was busy trying to eradicate all our footprints from outside the house. The journey home was a bit precarious, because Jimmy was an inattentive driver which isn't what you want in sleet and rain. Another ridiculous situation with Rory and Jimmy was when the three of us climbed back into college over the wall. As the gates were still open, it was quite unnecessary to go to such trouble, but someone had very conveniently left a moped against the wall, so we thought we'd use it to get a leg up. We had no idea the moped had been stolen. Just as we were in mid-climb, a police car appeared from the underground car-park. The police obviously thought we'd come back to retrieve the moped, and when the woman in the front said, "CID" we were shit scared. But Rory assumed she was asking directions and told her to go to the other side of college. We haven't had much to do with the police, but I was also once in London with Rory when he was arrested for kicking in a ventilator, and I remember a fight when he hit me in an Indian restaurant in the Finchley Road.

Although I've given up drinking, I seem to have spent a great deal of time pissing around with Rory, who's still a pub man. Going to see him in Cambridge means that you always end up in the pub and have to put up with a whole load of other people as well. Rory revels in company, especially in saloon bars. He always knows everybody else who's propping up the bar - including the bores you find in most pubs. Usually, I end up sitting on my own while he's performing to the crowd. It doesn't matter, because he's still very good company.

Few people can write comedy. There are about six, including Rory, who are doing it at any one time. Professionally, we've worked on quite a few things together - especially radio commercials - which is always a mixed blessing. When you're working with close friends you don't have to honour obligations in quite the same way as you do with everyone else. You can't exploit friends or order them about. Rory and I are much closer friends than we are colleagues. Basically, it's much easier to work with strangers.

Whatever work we do now isn't half as fraught as it was in the early days. Like a lot of witty, sharp, people, Rory is also fairly lazy. I used to do a show with Frankie Howerd for which Rory wrote the monologue. Each week, he'd deliver his stuff later and later, until we finally got into the habit of staying up all night so that it was ready to do in the studio the next day. One day he arrived at 5pm, and said all he could give me was an hour because he had a Greek lesson at 6pm.

Rory absolutely hates the theatre. If it was anyone else, I'd feel insulted, but because it's him I know he's not being judgemental. Theatre requires a certain level of commitment and concentration, which doesn't interest him.

The things which disgust me about him are the revolting green shorts he wears to the office. By my standards, he has strange taste in clothes, and he also wears anoraks.

After university, most people break the continuity of friendship by doing a job of one kind or another, but the two of us seem to have been getting away with things in radio and TV with the same group of 10 or 11 people ever since we left Cambridge. We're all in this snake- pit mafia which started about 24 years ago, but still feels like yesterday.

Blokes tend to go out with each other for fun and to forget about things, whereas girls want to sit and talk about their problems. That's what the two of us do. I'm pretty close to Rory - possibly too close - but I can't really describe it. It's like someone asking you to tell them about your wife - I couldn't do it.

RORY McGRATH: Griff wouldn't want you to know how we met. He'd be much too embarrassed because he's so PC these days. When I went up to Cambridge it was completely male dominated so anyone who wanted to meet girls used to hang around the language schools, the nursing schools or the local prep schools. Undergraduate Cambridge girls were thin on the ground in those days. In desperation, I realised that the only way to meet them would be to go to one of the freshers' society parties, so I chose the Cambridge lesbian freshers party. Obviously, I had to shave off my beard and dress in dungarees and big boots in order to get in. When I arrived, the best-looking girl there was a blonde Welsh lesbian. We got drunk, went outside, and in the gale-force East Anglian wind which was blowing over Cambridge that night, our wigs blew off. The Welsh lesbian was Griff. Anyone could see why - in today's climate - he wouldn't want people to know that's what really happened. I think he was also quite scared of me. I was quite a weirdo, with wide hair.

When we got talking, I was only interested in Footlights, which he said was just a bunch of pretentious wankers who thought they were John Cleese, and why would I want to be involved in something like that? As it happened, he wasn't so wrong, because it was just about the time that comedians from redbrick universities - people like Ben Elton and Rick Mayall - were being discovered. For some time after that, Footlights weren't fashionable. Then Emma Thompson, Stephen Fry and all their friends came along, but, as far as I was concerned, I was very much one of the bleak generation of anti-Footlights.

Not long after the lesbian party, we discovered that in St Neots, about 18 miles away, on Thursdays, which was market day, you could drink in the pubs all day. That sort of thing was unheard of anywhere else in the country, so we persuaded Nick Hytner to let us have his car. He has no idea that none of us were insured, or that, on the way home, Jimmy Mulville, who was driving, actually plunged us all into a ditch. In St Neots, we called in on Nicola, one of my ex-girlfriends, who was living there. When she answered the door, he saw that she was married and pregnant. Griff was absolutely terrified. "She's having a baby!" he spluttered nervously. I'd obviously forgotten to tell him that Nicola was an ex-girlfriend rather than the girlfriend. When we were leaving, he got hold of branches and shrubs, furiously trying to wipe out our footprints in the snow. You see how PC he was even then.

Although I hate the theatre, I can appreciate that Griff has always been a brilliant over-the-top actor and a clever director. I know the reviews for Absolute Turkey (for which he won an Olivier award) were brilliant, but, even though Griff was so good in it, I thought it was a terrible play. I managed to see it all over a period of two weeks. I used to go to the theatre and watch it in 15-minute patches.

We've done a lot of radio ads for things like the Nationwide Building Society, Toshiba, Sanyo and Talking Pages. One of them, that Griff was directing, also used some quite smart actors and actresses. Griff told them, very politely, "Now, I want you to say it like this, with a nice inflection at the end." When it was my turn, he got quite bombastic and said, "Just do what you'd do anyway." He knows that I'm beyond directing, but I can still appreciate that he's very astute and has an extremely good ear and eye. What I can't understand is how he can bear to do a long run in a play. It baffles me. I'd do a Stephen Fry after the first rehearsal. I'd be bored silly just thinking about it. After the first two nights, I'd want to change the script to keep everyone on their toes.

The things I enjoy doing with Griff are sailing and playing poker. He's sailed all his life and is extremely hearty about it. I've no interest apart from sitting on deck with a gin-and-tonic. We did once get into a lot of trouble when the wind changed, but Griff heroically turned the boat around. I narrowly missing the fishing nets. He's very good in a crisis - possibly because he lives his whole life in a crisis. We mostly play poker with other actors, who tend to show off, but the two of us are very defensive players who keep our losses to a minimum.

We spend a lot of time together because we feel it's all the other buggers who are mad and we're the only two sane people around. I don't know what Griff's like on his own because when I see him it's always with me. We're very flippant, opinionated and knowledgeable, so we slag off other people and generally entertain each other. We are genuinely very good friends, but I suspect that if Griff had really turned out to have been a female at the lesbian freshers party, we'd have fallen out years ago.

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