In the news: Ben Elton - A flashback to the days of Bolshie Ben

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The Independent Online
WHEN Tony Blair rolled out an obedient line of pop stars and celebrities at the General Election and waxed lyrical about Cool Britannia, it was no surprise to find Ben Elton featured prominently among his supporters.

The "smug git in the shiny suit" was well-known as a trendy Labour luvvie and has never made any secret of his politics.

But now he has decided that cool has become uncool and in a flashback to his Bolshie Ben days, he has penned a stinging attack on the politicians who try to be cool.

"Leaders should never, ever try to look cool - that's for dictators," he said.

"Politicians have a tough job and I am sure they are doing their best, but they should not make life even more difficult for themselves by committing the terrible mistake of trying to look cool."

Elton himself has always denied that he was cool, despite his image. "I'm the least cool person I know," he has said.

"I never felt the need to show how groovy I was by buying the correct things. Cooly-wooly people make me sick. They judge a person's character by what they like or dislike. You can't judge a man by his vinyl collection or the width of his lapels.

Born in Catford, but brought up near Guildford - his father was a professor at Surrey University - Ben read drama at Manchester University. There he met Rik Mayall, two years his senior, and at 21 he became the BBC's youngest ever scriptwriter.

But in 1981 there was a six-month gap when he needed money, and he turned to doing stand-up at the Comedy Store. Suddenly the young man who had wanted to write for The Two Ronnies became the archetypal Eighties stand- up with his aggressively political act.

He also co-wrote The Young Ones, followed by Filthy, Rich and Catflap, and the second series onwards of Blackadder.

But it was his appearances on Saturday Night Live, where he regularly attacked Margaret Thatcher that earned him the nickname Bolshie Ben.

I did two minutes on Thatch and two hours on my knob, and all people would ever talk about was Thatch," he said.

Since then he has become more mainstream. He even stood in for Terry Wogan and has twice hosted the Brit Awards, where the pop-stars regularly take the opportunity to behave badly.

But surprisingly Elton was the best behaved of everyone.

Last year there was not a single gobby remark or any in-your-face language.

Elton, uncharacteristically subdued and restrained, said he did not want to intrude on what was an evening for the viewers at home. He said afterwards that he wished the BBC had run it live, there was so little that needed cutting.

In recent years, Elton has concentrated more on his writing. He has written four novels, three plays and a sitcom, The Thin Blue Line, which attracts audiences of more than 11 million but at first caused critics to say he had gone soft.

"There's nothing I can do about that. I'd had 10 years of being told I was a bigoted, loud-mouthed, left-wing yobbo. Suddenly, it was where's his claws, here's his teeth? You can't win, so frankly, fuck the lot of them," he said with a flash of the old mouthiness.

Has he perhaps decided that it is time he returned to his roots and started to give Tony Blair the same treatment that he meted out to "Thatch"?


A QUICK blast of George Michael's 1987 album Faith and Bolshie, Ben turns into a love-sick puppy. "That album reminds me of the year I fell in love with my wife, Sophie," he said.

His wife was the bass player and saxophonist in an Australian band called The Jam Tarts. They married in 1994 at Chelsea Register Office.


"AT A very early age I told my dad that I wanted to be in showbusiness and he and Mum never tried to discourage me. When Mum asked why I was always watching Morecambe and Wise I'd say: `I'm doing research'."


"MY UNCLE Geoffrey and aunt Sheila were fans of Margaret Thatcher - he was knighted by her for his services to historical study. That made for some interesting conversations whenever I had a pop at Thatch when she was in power. My aunt told me: `When you get to heaven, Benji, you will learn God is a Conservative'."


A KEEN student of comedy, Elton bows down at the altar of such shows as Dad's Army and Fawlty Towers.

He animatedly contends that "the work of Eddie Braben in the classic Morecambe and Wise years is as interesting in its use of time and nothingness as the work of Beckett. I get quite two-fisted about it."