How We Met: Christopher Luscombe & Griff Rhys Jones

'We tried to write a sitcom together – I was hopeless, but we had the jolliest of times'

Christopher Luscombe, 48

Luscombe began his theatre career as an actor, first in Cambridge University drama club Footlights and later in rep, at the National Theatre and in the RSC. As a director, his credits include successful productions of Alan Bennett's 'Enjoy' for the 2008 Peter Hall Season, 'The History Boys' and 'The Merry Wives of Windsor' at London's Globe, and the 'Spamalot' UK tour. He lives in London.

I was doing a weekly slot on local radio in 1984 and, as I was playing the dame in the annual Footlights pantomime that year, I asked if I could do something about the club's drag tradition. So I went all over the country interviewing famous people who had played in drag in the revue. Griff was an obvious candidate as he'd done the dame 10 years earlier and was then at the height of his fame, after Not the Nine O'Clock News.

He invited me to meet him backstage at the Phoenix Theatre in the West End, where he was starring in a Dario Fo play, and was fantastically helpful. He was such a big star and there we were in his dressing-room. I was passionate about acting and it all seemed very glamorous.

Griff told me to keep in touch, so I sent him the odd postcard. Then, a few years later, I auditioned for the RSC. Griff was directing Twelfth Night and offered me a small part. It was famously unsuccessful – a box-office hit but savaged by the critics – and agony for Griff, I think. When the reviews came out, he quite seriously suggested to his assistant director that they should buy up all the copies of the papers in Stratford so the cast wouldn't see them. He took it on the chin and was wonderfully supportive of the company.

We played it for a year in Stratford and that's when we really became friends. I'd spend weekends at Griff's house in the country. He and his wife are very generous at inviting people down for parties. He's a very social animal and a great foodie. And though he doesn't drink, he has a huge wine cellar for the benefit of his friends.

There is a sort of club of people who gravitate around Griff; he's a major figure in all our lives because he's an incredible personality. He has such energy and drive and is maddeningly multi-talented, but unlike many comedians he's also a very good audience. He's always ready to laugh at your jokes.

Griff Rhys Jones, 58

A comedian, writer, actor and presenter, Jones found fame in the early 1980s on 'Not the Nine O'Clock News' and 'Alas Smith and Jones'. On stage, meanwhile, he earnt two Olivier Awards. More recently, his TV work has focused on his passion for conservation and architecture. He lives in London and Suffolk.

I'm shameless about my love of Footlights and the brotherhood it produces. Many of my close friends went through similar experiences to the one I had at Cambridge. I still think of them as being boys, partly because they've all come up to me at some early stage in their career and said, "You were in Footlights" – and they're now people like Tom Hollander, Hugh Bonneville, Sam Mendes and, of course, Chris. What's similar about all of them is their affability.

Chris has always been a charming companion and the world's best theatre gossip. I've no doubt he regales people with stories about me. When we get together, we eat, drink, take walks in the cold, watch a film. But I'll also sit him down and gobble up his stories. His descriptions of the shenanigans between two leading players in an RSC production of The Merry Wives of Windsor were particularly hilarious.

Chris would never get involved in that kind of thing himself: he's not passionate in that sense. He always takes the role of disinterested onlooker. He's not a luvvie, but he delights in actors and is an astute observer of the theatrical condition. I think that's probably what has made him such a fantastic theatre director.

Just for the pleasure of their company I once locked Chris and Hugh Bonneville in a room with me, back in the days when they were less employed, to try to write a sitcom. They were very good but I was hopeless, so it all came to nothing, but we had the jolliest of times. We would stop and break while Chris gave us two-and-a-half hours on female actresses between the ages of 40 and 45.

Chris is not the egotistical, control-freak director figure – that was me. I remember on Twelfth Night – a worrying time, during which he was a great solace to me – I was trying to run through something with the cast and I had a large stick of some sort in my hand. Chris came in, looked at the stick for quite a longtime and then whispered to me, "You're directing with a stick!" His own style is to get to know people and be sympathetic to all their concerns and neuroses. You find yourself confiding in him and, no doubt, supplying him with lots more gossip.

Christopher Luscombe directs 'The Madness of George III' at the Apollo Theatre, London W1 (tel: 0844 412 4658,, from 19 January

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Ashdown Group: HR Assistant (Events business) - Central Manchester - £20K

£18000 - £20000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Assistant (Events busi...

Recruitment Genius: Project Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This privately-owned company designs and manuf...

Recruitment Genius: Human Resources Officer

£22000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity has arisen at th...

Ashdown Group: HR Manager - London - £40,000 + Bonus

£36000 - £40000 per annum + Bonus: Ashdown Group: HR Manager (Generalist) -Old...

Day In a Page

Where the spooks get their coffee fix: The busiest Starbucks in the US is also the most secretive

The secret CIA Starbucks

The coffee shop is deep inside the agency's forested Virginia compound
Revealed: How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Loch Ness Monster 'sighting'

How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Nessie 'sighting'

The Natural History Museum's chief scientist was dismissed for declaring he had found the monster
One million Britons using food banks, according to Trussell Trust

One million Britons using food banks

Huge surge in number of families dependent on emergency food aid
Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths 2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths trove
The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey, 25 years on

The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey 25 years on

The space telescope was seen as a costly flop on its first release
Did Conservative peer Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

Did Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

A document seen by The Independent shows that a week after he resigned from the Lords he sold 350,000 shares in an American company - netting him $11.2m
Apple's ethnic emojis are being used to make racist comments on social media

Ethnic emojis used in racist comments

They were intended to promote harmony, but have achieved the opposite
Sir Kenneth Branagh interview: 'My bones are in the theatre'

Sir Kenneth Branagh: 'My bones are in the theatre'

The actor-turned-director’s new company will stage five plays from October – including works by Shakespeare and John Osborne
The sloth is now the face (and furry body) of three big advertising campaigns

The sloth is the face of three ad campaigns

Priya Elan discovers why slow and sleepy wins the race for brands in need of a new image
How to run a restaurant: As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food

How to run a restaurant

As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food
Record Store Day: Remembering an era when buying and selling discs were labours of love

Record Store Day: The vinyl countdown

For Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Usher, Mary J Blige and to give free concert as part of the Global Poverty Project

Mary J Blige and to give free concert

The concert in Washington is part of the Global Citizen project, which aims to encourage young people to donate to charity
10 best tote bags

Accessorise with a stylish shopper this spring: 10 best tote bags

We find carriers with room for all your essentials (and a bit more)
Paul Scholes column: I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England

Paul Scholes column

I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England
Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

The heptathlete has gone from the toast of the nation to being a sleep-deprived mum - but she’s ready to compete again. She just doesn't know how well she'll do...