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Interview: Ian Dury: The Dury's out

`There ain't 'alf been been some clever bastards,' sang Ian Dury. And he's one of them, says Janie Lawrence
It's all come flooding back. By the time Ian Dury opens the door I have successfully warbled my way through "Billericay Dickie" and am reaching a fortissimo with the final chorus of "Hit me with your rhythm stick, two fat ..."

"I can remember all the words," I announce brightly to the man who was a seminal influence on my adolescence. "I wish I could," he counters wryly.

Bill and Vicky. Those antics in a Cortina. In 1978 outraged radio stations banned Dury's records, and provincial shops tutted over the use of four- letter words on the album.

"I wrote that song 'cause I thought sex and drugs and rock'n'roll ain't that important. To say, `Think about other things in life'," he recalls. Of course, the exact opposite happened, and it became a celebratory anthem of its times.

"If you're sitting at a desk and you write a decent song it gets off the table, walks across the floor, goes out, gets a taxi and makes you a few quid."

The voice that epitomised Seventies Essex is now 55. Hearing him talk is like listening to an old-style cabbie.

He and the Blockheads sometimes pop over to Europe for a short tour, and play the odd Christmas revival gig, but since those heady days when he was recognised everywhere, Dury has acquired two children and has pursued a solo career in theatre and movies. This week he opens in the film, Middleton's Changeling. For the most part he has followed the path of anonymity. This is his first newspaper interview in 10 years. "Nah, I don't think of myself as an actor," he snorts. "I don't think I've been in a good film.

"Have you seen Polanski's Pirates? he asks. No. "Well, if you see it on television, you only see my shoulder cause it's Cinemascope. Eleven weeks' work to see my shoulderblade," he chortles.

He's a little more optimistic about his forthcoming role. In Changeling we see - and hear - a lot of Dury. The play is based on the 17th-century Jacobean drama, and he plays the lead character of De Flores, a facially scarred opportunist who schemes his way into the heroine's bed. "I was spiritually blackmailed into doing this film. If you like the director you do it for nish, so Marcus Thompson got us all to do it for nothing. I kept saying, `Get Bob Hoskins, then you'll get some funding.'" By all accounts Dury stayed on board when he discovered that Thompson had not only remortgaged his house, but had persuaded friends and members of his family to do likewise. "The geezer's obsessed," he says.

Dury, who stands just over 5ft tall, contracted polio when he was seven, probably from Southend swimming-baths. He's always worn a calliper on his left leg and still walks with a dragging, Long-John-Silver-style limp. The theory that this gives him a special insight into De Flores is put paid to immediately. "I've never felt left out because I've been disabled. I suppose I've been spoilt and well loved, but I've always felt extremely glamorous and very beautiful."

And while we're at it, he is heartily sick of people referring to his left hand as "withered". "Withered means post-nuclear, and it's not," he says, holding it up for me to get a good look. In fact it reminds me of a limb after six weeks in a plaster cast. "I look at it and think it's a beautiful, pink little hand," he adds. I'm not sure whether he's taking the mickey, but we agree I'll bypass the "withered".

Certainly I believe him when he says that he rarely thinks about his polio. "Sometimes I've been a bit angry with the calliper and flung it across the room, but not often. I'm slightly fragile in crowds, and I fall over quite easily. I don't like floundering, because I get embarrassed. My mother heard me swearing across six lanes of traffic once." Another thing. He can't be doing with anything approaching psychobabble. Has he never experienced any lingering feelings of inadequacy? "I was adequate so why should I feel inadequate?" he fires back. "You hear people say, `I'd sooner be dead than lose a leg.' They wouldn't really. If they lost one they'd get up and get on with it."

Sent as a youngster to a school for disabled children, he remembers being surrounded by children worse off than himself. After passing his 11-plus he went on to a mainstream boarding school. "I was a bit of an outlaw. I didn't correspond to their mores." Anyone who attempted to give him a hard time got short shrift. "They tried, but I wouldn't accept it."

He studied fine art at the RCA - "I got good enough to know that I wasn't going to be that good" - then spent five years in a van toiling up and down the motorway with Kilburn and the High Roads before the Blockheads were signed up by Stiff Records. "Before that every major record company had all said, `No thank you'."

It's been a bit slow in coming, but after 18 years, he and "the boys" have recorded a follow-up album which they plan to release later this year. What's it called? "Mr Love Pants." Is that one word or two? "Two - one for each leg". A right smart geezer is Ian Dury, make no mistake.

`Middleton's Changeling' (18) opens on Friday 6 March at the Prince Charles

Cinema, London (0171-494 4687)