HOW WE MET; RORY BREMNER AND TINA MAY

Tina's eyelashes would come into the room before she did; Rory has a talent to amuse without ever actually trying
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The Independent Culture
Rory Bremner, 34, whose shows include Rory Bremner... Who Else?, is one of Britain's most versatile impressionists. This year, he won a Bafta for Best Light Entertainer. Separated from his wife, he lives in west London. Tina May, 34, began jazz singing while at Cardiff University. She now sings with the Tina May Quartet and will record her fourth album this year. She lives in St Albans with her husband Clark Tracey and their son Ben, their six-year-old son.

.Rory Bremner, 34, whose shows include Rory Bremner... Who Else, is one of Britain's most versatile impressionists. This year, he won a Bafta for Best Light Entertainer. Separated from his wife, he lives in west London. Tina May, 34, began jazz singing while at Cardiff University. She now sings with the Tina May Quartet and will record her fourth album this year. She lives in St Albans with her husband Clark Tracey and their son. .

RORY BREMNER: The first time I met Tina, our eyes met across a crowded cafe and I thought: "One day that woman will sing in a revue in Edin-burgh..." It was in Paris, when we were students out there. I was at King's College in London doing French and German and I was doing my year out teaching English. It was a great year - a wonderful experience, being paid to be in Paris for a year. I can't remember precisely when we first met, it must have been 1982-83, but it was in this downstairs cafe at the British Institute where we were both doing a drama course.

The thing I remember about Tina is that she was so much larger than life. Even on the hottest summer days she was always clutching this very large and very aggressive umbrella, like a cross between Mary Poppins and a drum majorette. She had these colossal eyes, big, big blue eyes - her eyelashes would come into the room about three-and-a-half minutes before she did, followed by this brolly. She was incredible because she would catch the last metro home to this dodgy area where she lived and I'd say: "Are you sure you'll be all right?" and she'd say: "Oh, I've got me brolly." She was full of fun and character and energy and vitality - and she had very bright red lipstick.

She'd go around calling me "Rory, my old fruit-bat" - in fact, everyone was a fruit-bat. In a way she was playing a role - this very English one; she would stride through Paris using old-fashioned Eng-lish words like "jolly" and "fruit-bat" and "what ho" and "tally ho", very tongue in cheek. She was always glam. She looked like a star - she dressed like a star.

Tina was clearly theatrical, an interest we had in common. We wanted to succeed, but it was never naked ambition, it was just the joy of performing. If there wasn't an audience we'd perform to each other, pretending to be Edinburgh ladies having their tea in Jenner's, or American tourists or whatever.

There was a group of five of us who went round in a gang and enjoyed doing shows together, whether it was for the paying public or just to amuse ourselves. We'd have good evenings at jazz clubs like the Cafe de la Huchette, just off the Boulevard Saint Michel. It wasn't long before we decided we wanted to do a revue. There were various ideas for what we could call it - the Bateau Louche was one suggestion - but eventually we went for You Are Eiffel But I Like You. That defines the standard of the jokes. Still, we put it on for two or three nights at the British Institute.

I'd done an Edinburgh show before, in 1981, called the Importance of Being Varnished - I was in the pun trade at the time. Tina went through a punning phase too: we'd have whole conversations about novels like Tess of the Dormobiles. I didn't do a show in 1982, and I missed it, so I wanted to take one back to Edinburgh when I returned in 1983. I lived in Edinburgh, so accommodation wasn't a problem. We put ourselves together as a London University group even though only two of us were at the university - Tina was at Cardiff, somebody else wasn't at university at all, and another of us was a French jazz pianist. We took this revue to Edinburgh. By the time we got there the only venue left was at midnight, so we called it Midnight Excess.

After that, there was a gap of about 10 years before Tina got hold of me. I wasn't surprised to get her call because I'd never forgotten her - there was a kind of inevitability about it. It took a few false starts, but we eventually met up again. Tina was doing some singing and I started to notice her name appearing in the papers. We both were watching each other's careers from afar thinking "Ooh, yes, I know them." I was proud of her. The first of her shows I came to, at Pizza on the Park, was brilliant. I'd remembered her voice from the old days and she'd got even better, it was great.

We see each other about once a month. There'll be a show or a birthday party or Tina'll be in town for lunch. She's a pal. The word Tina would use is chums. She'd say "It's good to see your chums, what ho!" She's very witty and always smiling, always up for a joke. That was one of the things that drew us together in the first place.

TINA MAY: We met in the downstairs caff of the British Institute in Paris. We were doing a 10-day theatre seminar course. It was the academic year 1982-83; I was studying French at Cardiff. Unlike many of my fellow students, who didn't want to go anywhere where they might speak English, I wanted to go where the arts and culture were, and that meant Paris. I didn't know anyone there, so I really was an outsider - I think that accounts for my power-dressing and my brightness of lipstick and my brolly.

My first vision of Rory was that he was wearing a blazer, surrounded by an entourage of lovely-looking girls who were all laughing. That's a general motif really, because he has a complete talent to amuse without ever actually trying, he just does it - you just close your eyes and he becomes the person he's impersonating, but saying much wittier things than the person would ever say, just freakishly effortlessly. He obviously had an incredibly musical ear - that's one thing that we really have in common, love of music.

I didn't actually think straight away "Oh, we'll be friends"; I don't think you actually think about it like that. It's just that like-minded people tend to be drawn to each other. I know he had me in stitches in minutes. He used to imitate this guy who was teaching at the institute, it was hilarious - you'd close your eyes and really think it was him.

There was this group of us, and if we hadn't all clicked, we couldn't have done it because we were teaching all over Paris. We were all trying to get everything out of every moment - Rory's always been like that, obviously an achiever. His mind is so alert. It's great to work with people like that because you bounce off each other. We'd come up with lots of ideas and Rory would go away and refine it, chuck out the awful ideas, and suddenly it would make sense.

We used to brainstorm together for hours in coffee bars, laughing and OD-ing on caffeine. Rory was just so clever at writing. We did a rip-off of the Andrews Sisters - you know that song: "I've got a girl in Kalamazoo"? It goes: "A B C D E F G H I've got a girl in Kalamazoo", and that became: "B E A U B O U R Gee what a place/They've built near Les Halles/Looks like a Hoover/But sure beats the Louvre/It's the Centre Pompidou, dou, dou, dou, dou, dou..." We went to Edinburgh with it, called ourselves Midnight Excess, and did very well. After that, we lost touch, because I was doing touring theatre. We kept in touch with postcards for a while, and we spoke on the phone. The problem was that I was covering a lot of ground, and when you got a week off you'd catch up with your laundry, then off to do another show. My contract got me to London, and at the end of the year I didn't renew it. I decided to see if I could sing for a while. That's what I've been doing ever since.

I had lost an address book with Rory's address in it. He got married just before me, and I remember sending an invitation to my wedding to his mum's address. She'd moved. Eventually I got his most recent address through his agent.

In a way, meeting after a bit of a break, it's almost as if someone had pressed the pause button. I don't feel anything's changed. Well, circumstances have changed: he's probably mellowed, and maybe we don't dash around quite so maniacally. But I don't think we've changed in essence, because otherwise we wouldn't have the enthusiasm for what we have. In a way it's allowed in what we do. There's a part of us that can maybe not grow up; in a funny sort of way we have to hang on to that.

I suspect our personalities are quite similar, though it's easier for someone else to spot. But there are so many things that we both enjoy, so many experiences which have happened to us. I think it's nice because there was never the remotest idea of romance so the friendship's been very strong.

Rory is a very giving, warm, enthusiastic person, a very real person. He's just a sweetie-pie - a genuine gent. I can't imagine us ever falling out. I've been following his career with a lot of pleasure from way back. I remember having a flush of pride and thinking, "Yeah, Rory, go for it!" He's never looked back and I'm sure he won't, because he's too creative a person to stand still. !

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