Les Dennis: You Ask The Questions

So, Les Dennis, what is the silliest thing that's ever been written about you? And, the Windsors versus the Osbournes on Family Fortunes ­ who would win?
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Les Dennis, 49, was born and brought up in Liverpool. After leaving school, he went straight into comedy. His early TV series included Russ Abbot's Madhouse and The Les Dennis Laughter Show. He hosted Family Fortunes for 15 years until 2002. That same year, he came second in Celebrity Big Brother and he split from his second wife, the actress Amanda Holden, soon afterwards. In 2003, his solo stand-up tour was ridiculed in the press. He has just finished touring in the play Art and, next week, appears in the Radio 4 play Talking to Ted. He lives in London.

Fame. Would you recommend it?
Ben Haley, Chichester

It's very difficult to say whether I'd recommend it or not: it's just the position that I'm in at the moment. I think Steve Martin got it perfectly: he said that the best thing about fame was getting the best table in a restaurant and the worst was being filmed while you're eating. However, I'm really bad at using my status to get a good restaurant table. I remember I tried it once at Quaglino's. I phoned up and said, "Hello, it's Les Dennis." And they said, "So?"

As a veteran of the Big Brother house, what advice would you give to its current residents?
Jo Whaley, London

I never watch it. When I came out of the Big Brother house ­ from that day onwards ­ I stopped reading the newspapers. I certainly haven't watched any of the footage of my time in the house. All I know is that I had a ball in there. My advice to the current residents is simply to use it as a time of reflection. I would say 10 days in the house is about as much as anyone can manage. It does become like Lord of the Flies.

With which character that you've played have you felt the closest affinity?
Sheila Tomlinson, by e-mail

Probably Ivan in Art. When I first saw the play, I thought, "He's like me." He's the placator. He's anxious and trying to please. I do run round after people, but then I have people who run round and help me. You get it back.

What is your favourite painting, novel and poem?
Karen Braithwaite, London

I'm a big lover of Vermeer. His paintings are almost cinematic. I particularly like The Milkmaid ­ his use of light is fantastic. I'm torn between two novels: Sons and Lovers by DH Lawrence and John Irving's A Prayer for Owen Meany. I really identified with Sons and Lovers when I read it for A-level. I had a very strong mother. In the book, the father is almost weak. Mine wasn't, but he would acquiesce to my mum. So I think I identified with Paul Morel's struggle as a young man. I don't read poetry as much as I should, but I really like DH Lawrence's "Snake" and "Kissing and Horrid Strife".

If the Osbournes were to face the Windsors on Family Fortunes, who do you think would triumph?
Christine Gilpin, by e-mail

The Osbournes. From my experience on Family Fortunes, the posher the family, the worse they did. It was probably because they were out of touch with the man in the street ­ they couldn't guess what the survey would say. I remember one man was asked "Name the smallest room in the house", and he said, "the sauna". I can imagine Prince Charles being asked, "Name something you eat for breakfast", and replying "kedgeree" or "gulls' eggs". But then again, Ozzy isn't that in touch with reality either.

What's harder: light entertainment or serious drama?
Sharon Farrell, Birmingham

Comedy is the hardest thing in the world. When I was working in clubs, I always used to think it was easier for the singers because at the end of their performance, the audience would always clap politely. But you can't laugh politely.

What is the most ridiculous thing that's been written about you overthe years?
Oliver Smith, Bolton

Well, there've been a few, but there was one instance that was particularly ridiculous. When everything was going a bit crazy a few years ago, a friend of mine, Jane Wall, was visiting my house. She's an actress who's been in The Bill, among other things. When she left, these two journalists chased her down the street in a car. The next day, the headline said that I was being comforted by pop diva Diana Ross.

If you were to edit a red-top newspaper for a day, what would your first action be?
Harry Orr, by e-mail

I might get my news hounds to check out the opposing editors' lives; find out what skeletons are hiding in their cupboards. Or I might make the paper go bankrupt by only printing positive stories. But, probably, I think my first action would be to resign.

I understand that you gave your first performance when you were 11. Why did you start so young? How did that first performance go?
Jamie Gibson, Dumfries

I can vividly remember being at Butlins, in Pwllheli, when I was 10. They were auditioning for the talent competition and my mum convinced me to get up and do some impressions. She didn't push me; she just knew I liked to do it at home. I didn't get through and I walked out of the theatre sobbing my heart out. The next year I came back, got through, and came third in the competition. That was my beginning, and I used to go back for the talent competitions until I was 19 or 20. I still have the cup I won. Once you were 14, you could enter the adult competition and the prize was a week's holiday in Butlins at the end of the season on your own. I didn't even have to go with my parents. It was such an adventure.

What has been your worst encounter with stage fright?
Amy O'Gorman, by e-mail

I did a tour last year and, because of what had been in the papers before, I was followed everywhere by the red-tops. They came to bury me, not to praise me. Before I went on stage, knowing those reporters were out there, I was probably the most frightened I've ever been. But I kept on tilting at windmills. I was the Don Quixote of comedy. I was very pleased that I didn't quit on that tour.

How light-hearted are you in real life?
Anwar Ali, by e-mail

I'm a mixture. DH Lawrence's poem "Kissing and Horrid Strife" sums it up: "Life is for kissing and for horrid strife/ Life is for the angels and the Sunderers." Life isn't all rosy, but I'm much more light-hearted than people have tried to suggest I am in the past year. I'm not "Miserable Les". I may not walk down the street with a smile on my face, but then, who does? I can smile and I'm a good laugh.

Do you believe in the curse of Hello! magazine?
Pippa Rolfe, Barking

No. One in three marriages crashes ­ it has nothing to do with a magazine's curse. Amanda and my wedding photos were in Hello! and, while it's certainly not something I would do now, there's no point in looking back with regret. At the time, I was happy to shout from the rooftops about how I felt.

Do light-entertainers retire? Or do they just fade away?
Mylene Halliday, Nuneaton

Neither. They become serious actors.

'Talking to Ted' will be broadcast on Radio 4 on 7 July at 2.15pm

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