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Ten years after he was sacked from Have I Got News For You over lurid sex and drugs allegation­s, Angus Deayton tells Jenny Johnston he’s finally found a way to move on


You’d think by now nothing that goes on in TV land could shock Angus Deayton. Yet he’s coming over all stunned and appalled about the day he discovered how ‘reality’ TV really works. He’d pitched up at the production offices of Hell’s Kitchen, which he’d already presented for one series, only to be confronted with hard evidence of how contestant­s are selected for such shows. ‘Obviously, you know it’s all engineered to a degree,’ he says. ‘There’s nothing interestin­g about everyone getting on, so there are all sorts of ways in which they create conflict. It’s a cynical approach. But I was shocked at just how cynical. They hadn’t even got round to casting yet, but there was a wall on which they’d put the names of possible contestant­s. There were all these different headings – Blonde, Intelligen­t, Has- Been, Sports Person. Some people were in more than one category.’

The idea of TV’s original Mr Cynical being shocked by this is laughable, surely? ‘Yes, but that was a different type of cynical,’ he says. ‘This is about engineerin­g things to be mean to people who were probably going into it unaware of how things were going to be. It just struck me as... well, the way these shows manage to create their conflict and drama has to be seen to be believed.’

He stops, aware that since he went on to sign up for another series he’s going to come across as a hypocrite. ‘Yes well, that’s not to say I didn’t go on to do a third series of it, and yes, I can’t pretend that as a presenter you aren’t part of the whole machine, but it was still a revelation. It’s why I would never go in for one of those reality shows, or at least not be on that side of the camera.’

Shame. To get Angus Deayton – presenter, comedian, actor, all-round media type – into the celebrity jungle with cockroache­s would be a coup. But what heading would he come under? Intelligen­t, for sure. Has-been? Possibly, if unfairly. He’s worked constantly since he was sacked from Have I Got News For You back in 2002 after all manner of sex ’n’ drugs allegation­s, but the idea of a fallen TV hero – one hoist by his own petard – sticks.

Whatever, he’d be a dream signing because whether he’s playing himself or a fictional character there really is no one who can do that acerbic, laconic raising-of-the- eyebrow thing so well. And one can quite imagine him ruffling feathers. He denies it, of course, but he seems to make a habit of rubbing colleagues up the wrong way. Old HIGNFY colleagues Paul Merton and Ian Hislop (deemed largely responsibl­e for his departure from the show) have made no secret of their dislike of him. He left Hell’s Kitchen after apparently one snidey comment too many about Marco Pierre White’s hair, fiery temperamen­t or name. (Although to be fair, Marco really did ask for it. When he got particular­ly irate with Angus he memorably told him, ‘The eyes you are looking at are the ones that watched my mother die.’ That would have anyone raising an eyebrow.)

His latest role seems at once surprising and not at all surprising. At the end of its last series, Angus joined the cast of Waterloo Road, playing a world-weary language teacher called George Windsor. He says dryly that when he got the role of a language teacher he thought it was apt, ‘because I’d studied French and German at Oxford’. Mr Windsor, though, is also supposed to teach Mandarin, which posed more of a challenge in the acting department. ‘I was handed a book and asked, “Can you learn this in a week?” Obviously, I couldn’t. So Mr Windsor is now a character who teaches Mandarin but isn’t very good at it – which adds to the comic element.’

Is playing a teacher in the not-very- cool school drama where we expected Angus Deayton to end up? Maybe it is ( he did cut his acting teeth on One Foot In The Grave and has since been in Nighty Night and Pramface). ‘Er, well, yes, you’re right. It’s not edgy. It’s not cutting- edge comedy, but I’ve been in plenty of those and no one watches,’ he says. ‘Yet, if anything, I’m finding this more heavyweigh­t than any of the acting I’ve done before. The schedule is quite heavy. Up at 6am, back to the flat at 8pm, a hamster-wheel existence for five days before you get the weekends off.

‘The role is different too. Although he’s a comic character it’s more of a straight drama than an out-and-out comedy. I’m finding it a steep learning curve because I’m surrounded by people who are genuinely good actors – who’ve had proper training. They’re not just stand-ups who decide they want to play a character rather than stand in front of a microphone.’

‘If they want someone supercilio­us, they call me’

To his credit, when you point out that he does tend to play the same type of characters, he agrees. ‘I do think actors tend to get asked to do roughly similar roles each time. Most of mine are cut from the same cloth. Casting agents will say, “Oh right, this character is snide, supercilio­us, superior, condescend­ing, blah, blah, blah – let’s get Angus”,’ he says. ‘Whereas if they’re reading about someone loveable, Cockney, salt of the earth, they’ll pick anyone but me.’

If he’s frustrated about this state of affairs – and we do know how these actor-types hate to be typecast – he hides it well. ‘But would I like to do something completely different? Probably not. I’ve never really thought, “I wish I could play a trapeze artist or a Hungarian folk dancer.” Some actors have this burning desire to surprise – to do some stage work if they’ve always done

TV, that sort of thing. I don’t. The thought of doing theatre terrifies me.’

The interestin­g thing about Angus is how even he can’t tell where he ends and his characters begin. He agrees that his ‘weird’ way of getting into the business – he started out in sketch shows after meeting film director Richard Curtis at Oxford – kind of ‘ blur red forever’ the distinctio­n between Angus the man and Angus the performer. ‘The thing about me is that I started out doing parody presenting, and that led to the job on Have I Got News For You, where I was genuinely presenting. Was that the real me? I don’t know, because there was a level of parody there too – we were a quiz show parodying quiz shows. Then again, the characters in the very first sketch shows would have been based a little bit on me too. So, yes, it’s difficult to know what the genuine me is.’

He would like to think the real Angus Deayton isn’t quite as sneery and cynical as we think he must be. ‘I’m probably slightly kinder, slightly less acerbic,’ he says, but not entirely convincing­ly. He’s certainly making an effort to be kind when conversati­on turns, as it inevitably does, to the events of 2002 – or ‘all that s**t’ as he describes the saga that started with some lurid newspaper headlines and ended with him being supposedly cast into the entertainm­ent wilderness by people he considered friends.

It began when it was alleged he’d had a cocaine-fuelled fling with a woman who turned out to be a prostitute (although he reportedly did not know this at the time). There was no question of his job being in doubt to begin with and he kicked off his first TV appearance after the scandal telling viewers not to adjust their set ‘my face really is this red’, and getting quite a ribbing from his team leaders. The mood changed however following further revelation­s that he’d had a long- term affair, which allegedly included trysts while his partner was pregnant. These revelation­s proved too much for his colleagues and bosses, and he was out of a job, amid claims his position was ‘untenable’.

Yet was it? Or was he – as many

suspect – the victim of a more complex piece of manoeuvrin­g? He starts off by saying he’s not (too) bitter, and that bygones are bygones, and mostly he has forgiven, if not forgotten. ‘There are a few people who were involved in that period, and other periods, that I do bear grudges against, but not many. Unless you want to keep something up for the rest of your life you have to move on.’

He says he doesn’t blame Merton and Hislop for his sacking and bears no animosity there. Eh? But Merton has openly said he couldn’t stand Angus, and talked of stabbing him not in the back but in the front. Angus says Merton was misinforme­d. ‘It wasn’t anything to do with the presenters. It wasn’t even the BBC – I was working for them again right after. It was down to the executives. Executives are not pleasant in any walk of life.’ So is he in touch with Paul Merton? ‘Er, no.’ Hislop? ‘No.’ Is there a sadness about that? ‘No, it’s just a logical consequenc­e.’ Was he hurt? ‘Yes, probably, I would say so.’ He’s held his hands up to an affair in the past but, curiously, has never sought to amend the version of his ‘drugs and hooker hell’ that remains on record.

Perhaps the reason he’s not spoken out is more to do with the fact that he has a 12year-old son, Isaac. He and his partner Lise, a scriptwrit­er who helped create The Young Ones, are still together and he says the fallout actually brought them closer together. ‘We were being attacked from all sides. When that’s the case, you batten down the hatches. There is nothing that unifies you more than being under assault.’

He says it was a terrible, confusing time – but at no point does he ever suggest any of it was his own fault, which is frankly bizarre. There’s an element of seeing himself as the victim here. Has he rewritten history, even in his own head? ‘I remember a friend of mine saying that I should keep a diary – who said what, what I replied, that sort of thing – and I thought she was mad, but she was quite right. But it’s a long time ago now.’ In his version of events, he got nothing but support from the British public. ‘When I was going through all that I was still working. I remember speaking at events and I used to get standing ovations before I even opened my mouth. Maybe it’s a British thing about supporting the underdog – they feel if someone is being victimised they rally to their defence. Whatever it is, I’ve always been very grateful for that.’

He knows full well that every interview he ever does, and every article that is ever written about him, will return to the subject of his ‘disgrace’. He jokes about how even the Waterloo Road part has been reported as an example of his ‘rehabilita­tion’. Still, it could prove to be a shrewd career move. He looks genuinely chuffed when he talks of an eight-year-old approachin­g him to ask for an autograph. ‘I thought, “How on earth do you possibly know who I am?”, and she said, “You’re the new teacher on Waterloo Road.” So I’ve got this new fan base who don’t have any idea of what else I’ve done.’

He’s talking about TV roles, presumably, but in the wider sense it’s also true.

Waterloo Road, Thursdays, 8pm, BBC1.

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 ??  ?? Angus and (above) with Ian Hislop
and Paul Merton on Have I Got News For You
Angus and (above) with Ian Hislop and Paul Merton on Have I Got News For You

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