How We Met: Simon Greenall & Matthew Kelly - "The producer said, "You'd better not be drunk". Then he fell down the stairs"

 

Matthew Kelly, 64

Trained as a theatre actor, Kelly (right in picture) was a regular performer at Liverpool's Everyman Theatre in the 1970s before gaining prominence presenting TV shows such as 'You Bet!' and 'Stars in their Eyes'. Since his return to acting, he has earnt an Olivier, for his Lenny in 'Of Mice and Men', in 2004. He lives in London

I was 19, Simon was 11, and we were in Macbeth together in Edinburgh. It was 1969. I barely saw him, though. We didn't meet properly until You Bet! more than 20 years later. He was one of the main writers for LWT – he'd write the openings of the show for me, and I don't think I ever rejected a script. We spent five years on the show together, and we were really badly behaved: people would come on and we'd laugh a lot. My favourite was a boy who came on who said he could tell the nationality of a stamp by licking it. Family shows were more innocent then.

It was a great community and for me, the whole point of every series was the wrap party: I used to get shockingly drunk, have seven tequilas at the end, and there was lots of dancing. The great thing about Simon was that he never passed judgement.

I'm more upbeat than Simon; he can be a bit dour. But what's great about him is that he while he doesn't think everything is funny, he can find something funny in everything.

He was actually offered his own chat show; for the pilot I had to go on as one of his guests, along with Bradley Walsh and Basil Brush. It didn't work out; he was a bit Alan Partridge.

For me, it's always been about playing in the dressing-up box, but for Simon, it's always been about the money. I remember when we did the opening of Eurodisney together [Kelly presenting and Greenall scripting]. There was a lot of pressure on and he told me later that he'd seen the American TV voiceover man [for US audiences] replaced by the British voiceover man, and just like that this [British] guy got thousands [for doing the voiceover for both audiences]. Simon went, "Oh yes, that career's for me!"

I hardly saw him after You Bet!. One day, I got on the Tube, and this bloke who was sat next to me leaned in and with a scary accent went, "I'd like to say that You Bet! was a marvellous show – any chance of it coming back?" I was thinking, "Oh no…" But I turned to him and realised it was just Simon, the new king of voiceovers, putting a voice on; now he does the meerkats' voices in those ads.

He is fantastically loyal as a friend; he comes to the [stage] shows I'm in and often I don't even see him after. He just sends a text saying, "Ooh, that was marvellous." Until the show we're working on together now, he's not been on stage for 20 years, and spookily it's the first time we've shared a stage for 45 years! But after this I hope he takes it as his cue to go back; he's got a warm on-stage presence and he's a magnificent actor.

Simon Greenall, 56

After starting his career as a scriptwriter for ITV shows such as 'You Bet!' and 'Hale & Pace', Greenall appeared in a number of TV series, most notably as Geordie handyman Michael in 'I'm Alan Partridge'. Greenall is also a voiceover artist and the voice of the Compare the Markat characters. He lives in London

We were both at the Edinburgh Festival in 1969 for a Manchester Polytechnic production of Macbeth; my sister made the costumes and they needed a child actor, and I was 11. Some others on the cast were not so friendly, but Matthew was very nice.

I then grew up watching him on TV, on shows such as Game for a Laugh. When I was working for LWT in the late 1980s, they asked me if I wanted to write for You Bet! and we met again, though Matthew didn't remember me at all. We worked together for five years on this big spectacular show and I liked how, with Matthew, you've got one of the most honest people, and if you were the same in return, you'd be his best friend.

We had some disastrous challenges on the show, when people couldn't do the things they said and we would get the giggles. Some professor of linguistics had said that he could tell you anybody's accent just by hearing them say an English phrase. But during filming he got everything wrong. While Matthew had to commiserate with him, I was falling about laughing in the wings.

In those days we had some great end-of-show parties, and Matthew was definitely a friend of the bar: those events were always a car crash; with a lot of drink taken, it would just get sillier and sillier. I remember once there was an incident in a hotel in Dublin; Matt was at the top of the stairs and the producer at the bottom was saying to him, "You'd better not be drunk," and he said, "Of course I'm not," before falling down the stairs and landing at her feet.

LWT and ITV had crafted a role for him as Mr Silly Pants, but after Stars in their Eyes, entertainment TV evolved in a way that didn't suit him at all. It got nasty – I think the execs felt the general public wanted to see people crash and burn and it became a bit medieval.

But what's fantastic is that Matthew always had another string to his bow as a stage actor. He's played some very scary characters, serial killers. I think he can do the dark side as, like all good actors, he can use the bad things that have happened and then store it away to use.

I do voice acting – radio, cartoons – so I'm always on my own in a booth talking to myself. I could just sit back and do the meerkats, but working with Matthew in this new play was a chance to do some full-on face-to-face acting, and it's frightening. But working with him has made it easier; he's never down, and we laugh a lot, which makes it a lot of fun.

'Toast', starring Kelly and Greenall runs from 27 August to 21 September at Park Theatre, (parktheatre.co.uk), London N4

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