HowWe Met

DAVID BADDIEL AND FRANK SKINNER
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The Independent Culture
David Baddiel, 30, was one of the creators of the radio and TV comedy series The Mary Whitehouse Experience. He lives in north London with Frank Skinner, with whom he co-presents the BBC show Fantasy Football League. He is currently working on a Hollywood film, and a sitcom for the BBC.

Frank Skinner, whose real name is Chris Collins, started doing stand- up comedy at the age of 30. In 1992 he won the Perrier Award for Comedy in Edinburgh; since then he has appeared in television's Gag Tag, Packet of Three and My Blue Heaven. Aged 37, he is a fan of West Bromwich Albion. .

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David Baddiel: Our first conversation was in Jongleurs [the London comedy club]. We were in the dressing room watching Ireland and Holland playing in the 1990 World Cup, and we had a kind of row, about me saying that I didn't like the way Ireland were playing because it went against my ideas of "flair football''.

Frank, being more of a football Luddite, wasn't keen on my ideas, and espoused this theory, which for me is absolute heresy, about how since the 1970 World Cup English footballers have tried to play like South Americans, even though it was a style of play that they were totally unsuited to. And I hate that attitude because I've always thought that the English game was all about eccentrically skilful individuals like Rodney Marsh, Tony Currie and Paul Gascoigne. So I got a bit hot under the collar, but in the end we realised that we had a common passion for the game.

Two years later, just before Frank went up to Edinburgh to do his show, I met him in London and said "Hello'', and he replied "Oh, all right Dave? Always a pleasure.'' I was chuffed by this little pleasantry, because at the time I was feeling a bit paranoid on the circuit. I felt that because I'd been to Cambridge there was a fair amount of inverted snobbery, and that comedians I didn't know would be rather unpleasant towards me. But Frank wasn't, he was just incredibly warm and open. Unlike a lot of people on the cabaret circuit who pretend to be working class, he is working class, and because of that he has no inverted snobbery. So much so that he can live in Hampstead entirely guilt-free.

Sharing the flat with him in Edinburgh was a revelation because I finally found someone more untidy than me. What also sticks in my mind is the night we were both sitting in the kitchen and we suddenly started having this incredible heart-to-heart chat - at the time we both had woman problems. From that moment on we became great friends.

Living with Frank is interesting because like a lot of comedians he's always "on''. Usually I find that irri- tating, but with Frank it's different because he's not self-conscious at all. We've got this joke that he's suffering from this form of Tourette's syndrome where he starts twitching and cannot stop himself from saying whatever's going on in his head. He does it all the time and he's always bursting into song. This might sound like hell, but because he can't help it, it actually becomes rather charming. Most of our arguments are about untidiness - Frank has got a very annoying habit of leaving tea-bags in the sink. This apparently comes from this strange Black Country wisdom that says you don't put tea-bags straight in the bin because they'll make it wet. Why that's a problem I don't know.

Whenever we have these sorts of rows Frank tends to make me into the wife of the situation and takes on this sort of you're-nagging-me-and- I'm-just-sitting-here-in-my-vest Andy Capp persona. He always says, "Well, you leave the bread undone,'' which I don't think I do, and apparently that makes it all right for him to be as slobby as he likes.

Frank is one of the most intelligent people I've ever met, and he confounds me in a way that I like. He's a Catholic, and I'd usually be prejudiced against someone who was devoutly religious, but in Frank I find that incredibly interesting. He's much more Catholic than I am Jewish. He's also this incredible lad who's incredibly educated. He's as much at home talking about football as he is about Samuel Johnson. We also share a common bond of not tolerating any nonsense. In fact, he's more no-nonsense than I am. We both come across a lot of bullshit, but we're able to make sure that neither of us ends up being blinded by it.

Frank Skinner: The first time I remember speaking to Dave was in 1990 when we were watching Ireland in the World Cup, and Dave started going on about how tedious and unstylish the Irish long ball game was. That prompted me to give the opposite view: that football, especially British football, wasn't about prancing about and taking half an hour getting through midfield with a lot of lazy passes, it was about getting the ball upfield as quickly as possible. Even though we disagreed violently, I think we both came away with a sort of grudging respect for each other.

Some time later I was signed up by Dave's management company, and they offered to promote my show in Edinburgh. So I went up there and shared a flat with Dave for a week. It was in that period that we became really good buddies. When I first saw Dave on stage I thought he was a bit of an arrogant git, which I think is how a lot of people feel, but when you get about half an inch through that tough exterior you realise he's completely the opposite. He's a big-hearted bloke: warm and very funny.

Shortly after we stayed together in Edinburgh, Dave split up with a girl he'd been going out with for 11 years and decided to take a lodger. Around the same time I had an argument with the woman I'd been living with and she threw me out. Not having anywhere else to go, I rang Dave and asked if I could sleep on his settee for a couple of nights. Luckily, his lodger had left a couple of nights earlier, so he said that I could take over the spare room. It was the smallest, most horrible room you've ever seen in your life.

Three or four months later, he took a flat in Hampstead, and as there was a spare room he asked me if I wanted to go along. It's a very nice flat but it is in a terrible state. We used to have a woman who came in to "do'', as they say, but she had some trouble with immigration and couldn't come any more. We're both chronically untidy. Dave's idea of cleaning is to gather up all my stuff from around the flat and pile it up on my bed. But he is unpleasantly untidy, even to the point where his untidiness depresses me - and my untidiness depression threshold is pretty high. One of the things that really annoys me about him is that whenever he uses a slice of bread he leaves the wrapper open and then the loaf goes stale. He's also very careful with his cash, and while his tight-fistedness has become a bit of a joke, he can get touchy about it.

It's rare that we argue, but we did have one real humdinger about Trivial Pursuit. The question was "Which film lost the most money?", and he said Antony and Cleopatra, and I said Cleopatra, and it ended up with him storming off and me throwing the board up in the air. Just for the record, it did say Cleopatra on the card

People say "Oh you must be laughing all the time because you're two comedians,'' and that's what it's like, because we do sit around a lot just watching TV and cracking up. Fantasy Football League was born out of sitting around in the flat, larking around and talking about football, watching the games and then just moving that general sort of feel on to television. I mean, it might sound a bit crap, but he's become like a brother to me. !

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