How We Met: John Lloyd & Griff Rhys Jones
Sunday 21 December 2008
Griff Rhys Jones, 55, is a writer, comedian and television presenter, who came to prominence through his performances in Not the Nine O'Clock News. His latest series, Greatest Cities of the World, aired earlier this year. He will be appearing in a new edition of Three Men in a Boat over Christmas. He lives in London with his wife
I met John at Cambridge in the late-1960s. He was a senior boy and I was an innocent undergraduate. I'd come up to university with no intention of acting – I thought of myself as an unsuccessful schoolboy actor – but I got involved in a play called AC/DC and when we performed it, one of the Footlights committee was in the audience. After that, my friend Douglas Adams, who was in Footlights with John, asked me if I wanted to come along to one of their meetings and I went to what I think was John's room. John was sitting in a corner in a stripy shirt and started doing this free-association comedy routine about voles and small mammals. I thought it was so funny that I snorted coffee through my nostrils and choked, managing to ruin what was probably some kind of paisley Indian throw over the bed.
There was a lot of po-facedness around at that time, and whole-hearted laughter was unfashionable, so our first meeting was one of embarrassment on my part, as I actually laughed at what he had said. John was like one of those senior boys you might share time with on the bus; the kind who make in-jokes which you think sound so incredibly sophisticated. And that has continued over the 35 years of our friendship: he always seems slightly like a senior prefect to me. If John Cleese is the Pope of comedy, John is the Cardinal. He is the king-maker because he is this unbelievable source of comic wisdom.
In my first year I ended up appearing in the main comedy review. That was unprecedented. Normally people would spend three years slogging away; there was huge competition to see who would appear in the review and then go on tour with it. I was honoured, but I pissed off a lot of people at the same time.
Nowadays, like any old friends, we see each other at funerals, people's third weddings and each others' parties. We occasionally meet professionally. He has invited me to be on QI, which John created and produces, but I haven't managed it yet.
John is a tremendous giver in comedy and finds the world's foibles funny. His most extraordinary quality is his judgment. He has an obsessive comedy touch. He writes funny material and edits it very well.
John Lloyd, 57, is a British comedy writer and TV producer, who has worked on shows including To the Manor Born, Not the Nine O'Clock News and Spitting Image, and produced all four series of Blackadder. He created and now produces the Stephen Fry-fronted quiz show QI. He lives in Oxford with his wife and children
I remember seeing Griff before I met him. He was the student of his generation in drama and I saw him in a production where he had this great wig of hair, like an enormous bush. I remember these piercing eyes. And this massive chin. People were talking about this extraordinary young actor who was good at straight stuff.
I then remember catching him in rehearsal and seeing how funny he was. I often say that he was the reason I became a producer; I realised that he was 20 times the performer I would ever be. My other friend was Douglas [Adams], who was a writer, so I thought I would do the job nobody wants: producing.
When Griff did do comedy, he took to it like a cliché to water. I remember weeping with laughter at the things he would do. He is a funny physical comedian – a bit like Tommy Cooper: when he walks on stage you start laughing and you don't know why.
I remember this very funny sketch he did at university where he would have a bunch of people trying to get into a restaurant. Two scruffy people would not be allowed in by a waiter for not wearing a tie, then a smartly dressed man is thrown out for not wearing a tie. Then from the wings comes Griff completely naked but wearing a long tie. Sometimes it took 20 minutes for him to get to the waiter. The audience was screaming with laughter, and he would have this tie gripped to his nether regions.
I wanted him to appear in Not the Nine O'Clock News for years. He was terribly anxious that this untried series would not work. But soon he would become unbelievably famous. Mel [Smith], Griff and I would be the naughty boys and goto the pub at lunchtime during filming, and by the second series I could have gone into the pub naked and not been noticed: they were the most famous people in there. I don't think Griff has yet fulfilled his potential. In his twilight years you will see him pull something out of the bag.
Griff's thing, famously, is rage – he is famously enraged at work, though amazingly I have never seen him angry. There must be something about the relationship between us. He and I make each other laugh. At the end of the day, laughter and love of friends are the only two things that matter. It has been a privilege to know him.
The collected back catalogue of 'Alas Smith and Jones' is out next year; a DVD set of previous 'Three Men in a Boat' specials is available now (£19.99). 'QI: Advanced Banter', co-authored by John Lloyd, is published by Faber at £14.99
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