Things that make him unhappy: paradise islands, misrepresentation. Things that make him happy: suits
Jasper Rees talks to Angus Deayton
Friday 27 October 1995
The nation is being afforded ample scope to examine just how serious the habit has become. Have I Got Old News For You trawled back through the wardrobe during the summer. Have I Got Unbroadcastable News For You, the forthcoming video of out-takes, will offer yet more evidence of a long-term addiction to finely cut cloth. And tonight Have I Got News For You returns: eight more programmes; eight more suits. This is the 10th series of the programme that launched 1,000 indifferent puns. The theory is that it could go on for ever. Its radio parent, The News Quiz, is shambling happily into its dotage under the stewardship of Barry Took. Took's predecessor, Deayton recalls - and you can hear the raised eyebrows in his voice - was Barry Norman. On the assumption that Deayton will eventually hand over the reins, precedent dictates that it will be to an older man with the same name. Er, Angus Boxburgh, anyone?
It's well known that Deayton took a long time to win a Best Newcomer award. In the early Eighties, The Young Ones years, when "you know what I really hate?" stand-up was all the rage, being articulate and mild-mannered gated you on Radio 4. The irony is not lost on him that he's now being monogamous with Lise Mayer, a Young Ones scriptwriter. Their co-authorship of the In Search of Happiness tie-in (a very satisfying loo read, incidentally) looks like a symbolic burial of the old distinction. Why, some of his best friends used to be alternative comedians.
The question most people want to ask him, so long as they're not female, concerns his ubiquity. Isn't he putting it about too much? "It is something that you need to be cautious about," he says, cautiously. "You're never really aware of how many people see the various things that you do. You can meet someone at a party who knows your life history. You then turn to the next person and they say, 'What do you do for a living?' Your public profile is something that doesn't really exist. It's a mean average that you have to try to evaluate from your position."
To be fair to Deayton, ubiquity is not something that he has achieved, in the manner of Tony Slattery. It has been thrust upon him, what with the repeats of One Foot in the Grave, the forthcoming Christmas episode currently in production, a New Year's Eve show in place of Clive James (who "has passed on to the other side"), HIGUnbroadcastableNFY, HIGOldNFY and above all the BBC's careful scheduling of In Search of Happiness, completed in March, at the same time as HIGNFY10. As well as this BBC congestion, it coincides with Pete McCarthy's Desperately Seeking Something, another programme on a holy-grail / mid-life crisis theme with a personality presenter.
The move from BBC2 to BBC1, with his own name in the title, would suggest that the corporation is confident of his pulling power. "I'm not overconcerned as to whether the things I do go on BBC1 or BBC2 provided the show's good. I'm aware that if you're doing things for BBC1 they have to be tailored differently. It can be a bit of a headache actually. You can't be too esoteric. You can't, for example, have subtitles."
The search for happiness therefore excluded whole parts of the planet where happiness may well be practised but only in a foreign language, and restricted itself to those pockets where English is spoken: the Home Counties, America, Australia "and Bolton". With a swipe of the editing knife the programme transplanted its presenter, together with his very British baggage of scepticism and embarrassment, to another part of the planet. Conventionally, only Sir David Attenborough enjoys the mirage of painless travel. Deayton would have much preferred to do the whole thing within drilling distance of the TalkBack offices off Tottenham Court Road in London, where there's no fuss about "making sure the sand doesn't get into the camera".
One sequence took a doubting Deayton to meet a man who for 30 years has lived the escapist cliche on a desert island off Australia. In two days, he ate a great deal of goat and encountered, in the book's memorable phrase, "a spider the size of an antelope". Would it be fair to say that it was the least enjoyable experience of the entire series? "It would be fair to say that it was the least enjoyable experience of my entire career."
So now we know what makes Deayton unhappy. Paradise islands. Hearing his name mispronounced by BBC continuity announcers (rhymes with Eton). His private life ornamenting the tabloids. This is the first interview without copy approval he has done since the spilling of those beans by his ex. "So much of what I've said has been misquoted, or more often I've spent 90 minutes with a journalist and 85 of them have been spent talking as we have and five minutes talking about my personal life and that's the only bit that is ever written about." And his own silence is sacrosanct? "Yes. I'd be being hypocritical if I started selling stories to the newspapers."
It would be irresponsible not to ask if he himself is happy, suit or no suit. "Basically, yes." And while we're on plainly absurd questions, would he like to sum up the world view of his comedy? "The Weltanschauung?" (Deayton read German at Oxford.) "I'm not sure I've got one really. You mean some adjectives to describe it? Hopefully, funny. With emphasis on the hopefully."
A tangential thought: to deal with the problem of overexposure, Deayton could merge his two current shows into Have I Got Happy News For You. He could then reduce his role even further by letting Martyn Lewis present it. But let's stick with overexposure: Angus Deayton is good news.
n 'In Search of Happiness' is currently showing on BBC1, Sundays 10.10pm
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