It’s been a joy. Four im­pres­sion­ists, but 600 voices to choose from

Alexan­der Arm­strong, 48, is back in the hot seat as host of new high-oc­tane panel show The Im­i­ta­tion Game, which will fea­ture top im­pres­sion­ists go­ing head to head in a range of chal­lenges. GEMMA DUNN finds out more

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How did you find host­ing The Im­i­ta­tion Game?

I HUGELY en­joyed it. It’s got such charm. It’s a fun, slightly smutty, in­cur­ably child­ish parlour game.

What is es­pe­cially in­ge­nious is that no one has come up with this idea be­fore. It is the per­fect ve­hi­cle for im­pres­sion­ists; you get 30 im­pres­sions an episode, so in a one-minute burst, you can have Theresa May, Don­ald Trump, Mary Berry, Andy Mur­ray and Stor­mzy.

And no one has had to spend three hours in make-up. It’s dish after dish of treats.

How would you de­scribe the at­mos­phere on set?

SATIRE is part of its real charm, be­cause it’s not try­ing to be cool.

It’s [also] got a re­ally nice team feel to it. So of­ten, panel shows are about in­di­vid­u­als with sharp el­bows, rac­ing to get to the line first and tread on ev­ery­one else’s toes.

This show is dif­fer­ent; it makes huge space for ev­ery­one and en­cour­ages all the con­trib­u­tors to go for it.

Is the satire in The Im­i­ta­tion Game ripped from the morn­ing’s head­lines?

NO. It is not a top­i­cal show, which is very much in its favour. It means we have to go for time­less and clas­sic jokes, rather than bang-up-to-the minute gags about, say, Net­work Rail.

What has it been like work­ing with some of the UK’s favourite mim­ics and co­me­di­ans?

IT’S been such a joy. When I’m sit­ting in the host’s seat, there are only four im­pres­sion­ists with me, but I’ve got 600 voices to choose from.

You can hurl voices at them with­out warn­ing, and they can do them on a six­pence.

In the first episode, our guest im­pres­sion­ist, Luke Kemp­ner, is more Big­gins than Big­gins him­self.

Watch­ing team cap­tains Rory Brem­ner and De­bra Stephenson must be quite some­thing too?

AB­SO­LUTELY. Watch Rory as he lim­bers up to do Trump. A quick in­take of breath, and sud­denly the US Pres­i­dent is right there in front of you!

It’s the same with De­bra’s Tina Turner. It’s her dance. De­bra has got it so com­pletely right. That on its own makes the show worth watch­ing.

Are you a good im­pres­sion­ist?

NO. I’m a poor im­pres­sion­ist, but I’ve al­ways loved do­ing them. I worked on Spit­ting Im­age dur­ing its fad­ing days. I did catch-all, walk-on voices as ju­nior min­is­ters and lawyers.

I was a ‘rent an Es­tab­lish­ment’ fig­ure. But it takes an im­pres­sion­ist to have a par­tic­u­lar love of other im­pres­sion­ists.

As a sort of part-time dab­bler in im­pres­sions, I just obsess about how other peo­ple do them.

Can you re­call when you started do­ing im­pres­sions?

YES. My first show­biz ex­pe­ri­ence was when I dis­cov­ered I could do the maths teacher at school. When I found out that I could also do the pot­tery teacher, I was sud­denly a star and started build­ing up my reper­toire.

As soon as your fea­tures as­sume a par­tic­u­lar face, that helps you cre­ate a fa­mil­iar voice.

Some­times char­ac­ters come alive for writ­ers and start speak­ing to them. It’s the same with im­pres­sions. They take on a life of their own and won­der­ful, tan­gen­tial flights of fan­tasies can emerge.

Why do au­di­ences love im­pres­sions so much?

WE take such de­light in watch­ing them be­cause a very good im­pres­sion is re­ally ad­dic­tive. You sit on the edge of your seat and laugh like an id­iot child as some­one brings a celebrity to life right in front of you.

With­out be­ing mean, there’s some­thing con­spir­a­to­rial about it. Im­pres­sions trig­ger a chem­i­cal re­ac­tion and re­lease en­dor­phins in your brain. That’s why im­pres­sions give you such plea­sure.

Will you be able to sit back and en­joy the show with your fam­ily?

I WATCHED it with my wife, who’s nor­mally so harsh that if I watch any­thing with her I’m of­ten slightly on edge. But she loved it and said, ‘Can we watch the next?’

So we watched two on the trot, which is just un­heard of. And she roared with laugh­ter.

Do you have a favourite moment from the se­ries?

I AB­SO­LUTELY loved De­bra do­ing Miss Piggy. That was a proper moment of clas­sic TV. It’s five min­utes of solid vi­ral gold – if that doesn’t sound too much like some­thing you buy over the counter at Boots! The Im­i­ta­tion Game starts on ITV, to­mor­row at 10.05pm.

Mak­ing a strong im­pres­sion: Rory Brem­ner, Alexan­der Arm­strong and De­bra Stephenson

Rory and Jess Robin­son

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