Hugh Dennis: The 'Outnumbered' star on life as a school swot, being mistaken for a flasher, and parenting lessons from his fictional family

 

What are you up to at the moment?

Right now I'm rehearsing a sitcom, but I don't know if I'm allowed to talk about it. I'm about to start Mock the Week, and I'm in the middle of a new series of The Now Show. I'm also supporting the Dementia Friends campaign. I got involved through Outnumbered, as one of the plot-lines was that my pretend father-in-law had dementia and we had to decide what would happen and how we would deal with it.

Outnumbered is now a distant memory. Have your tears dried yet?

We didn't know it was the final episode as we were recording. You sort of thought "That sounds like a bit of a sign-off line" as we're saying it but nobody had said "This is the last series", and they still haven't. I'm sure we'll be back. The thing I always found quite amusing is if it started now no one would believe those three children could possibly have been the biological children of me or Claire [Skinner]. No one in the show looks remotely like anyone else. That's the great thing about sitcoms, if you set it up early enough no one says "Hang on a second...".

How did the show compare to your real-life family set-up?

I've got two kids. My son is a year younger than Tyger [Drew-Honey, who plays Jake] and my daughter is a year younger than Dan [Roche] who plays Ben. As we were filming we were dealing with these issues: the first girlfriend, getting their ears pierced, wanting a tattoo. Each time I thought, "Hmm, so I have about a year until that happens," and it was. It showed me the future.

What was your own childhood like?

My dad was a vicar on the Isle of Dogs so I grew up in the Docklands in an incredibly dilapidated vicarage where everything was falling down, and as a result my parents were very relaxed. If you drew on the wall it improved the wall slightly. My parents seemed to inherently know what was required, as if they'd read all the parenting books that hadn't been written yet. I was pretty much allowed to do what I wanted.

You were head boy at secondary school. Were you a swot?

I think I probably was. I was also captain of the rugby and football teams. The thing about UCS [University College School] is that if you were a prefect you didn't have any power at all. It was a very liberal Benthamite establishment so you weren't allowed to give people detention; in the little handbook they gave you as head boy, I was told I had to convince people by means of reasonable argument why what they were doing was wrong.

Your CV includes bit-parts in Brass Eye and six years in marketing at Unilever. What's been your best job?

I was the assistant to the assistant caretaker of a North Yorkshire comprehensive just before I went to university. I did a split shift and had to do things like removing chewing gum from desks. I wasn't needed between 11am and 3pm so I used to go and sleep in my mum's car in a country lane. Unfortunately my employment coincided with complaints at school of a flasher, and I was woken up one day from my slumber by a policeman knocking on my window. It was a great job, I learnt how to mend a sash window which I thought was pointless but is useful now that I've become a Waitrose-shopping, middle-class north Londoner.

What's the best thing that could happen to you?

The words are taken from a Rob Ryan mug: "Dear God, please give me enough work to last me the rest of my life".

Biography

The comedian and actor Hugh Dennis, aged 52, is best known as a panellist on ‘Mock the Week’ and the dad on BBC1 sitcom ‘Outnumbered’. He is currently supporting the Dementia Friends campaign to create a more dementia-friendlysociety; dementiafriends.org.uk

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