I first met Dom Joly more than a decade ago, when I was interviewing him over lunch for a men's magazine. At the time, Trigger Happy TV - a hidden camera show and a distant cousin of Candid Camera - was extremely popular. In Trigger Happy, Joly would dress up as, say, a giant squirrel and terrorise people in London parks. Once, in a snail costume, he got the traffic to stop at the famous zebra crossing in Abbey Road, and then took ages to slide across the road. Hilarious.
Years later, as we became friends and his TV career went into reverse (I don't think there was a connection between the two), we were at the races together and there was a man dressed up as a banana handing out leaflets. “That'll be me in a few years time,” said Dom, sourly yet poignantly.
It's safe to say that Dom is not everybody's cup of tea, but I think one of his greatest qualities - rare these days - is that he doesn't seek approval from all and sundry. I invited him as my guest to an awards evening once. I use the term “once” advisedly. Dom chose the occasion to heckle at full volume every celebrity who went up to receive an award. His behaviour may have been boorish, but his barbs were unbelievably funny. Unsurprisingly, the organisers had something of a sense of humour failure. Dom was banned for life from the event.
Anyway, Dom is now back in favour with TV bosses, and this Saturday evening the second series of his new show, Fool Britannia, a not-so-distant cousin of Trigger Happy, begins on ITV. You will see some trademark Joly stunts, like the country vicar who abuses passers-by, but it would be wrong to assume Dom is merely a loudmouth who likes dressing up and embarrassing people in public.
He is all that, for sure, but he's also got an interesting hinterland. Born in Lebanon, his childhood was played out to the distant sound of gunfire, and this has given him a deep interest in the geopolitics of the Middle East. He was invited on Question Time last year, although the programme was something of a car crash. Not Dom's fault, but he was part of Question Time's misguided drive for inclusivity. (Appearing on the panel next week: Dizzee Rascal, Stan Collymore, Chris Tarrant and Poppy Delevigne.)
As part of the pre-publicity for Saturday's show, Dom has being doing media interviews, and it was a shock to see his thoughts emblazoned over the front page of Metro. Is he really that big again? Yes would seem to be the answer. It was good to discover, on reading the piece inside, that his second shot at popularity hasn't diminished his appetite for saying something punchy. Unlike other TV personalities, Dom doesn't sugar coat his memories. He hated being sent to school “to talk about pony clubs with people who are now in the Tory cabinet”. “People who send their kids to boarding school have too much money and have given up on being parents,” he said. Honest and forthright, Dom Joly doesn't need to hide in a squirrel suit to say what he means.