Still Active on stage
COMEDY TEAM RADIO ACTIVE IS BACK TO CELEBRATE ITS 40TH ANNIVERSARY. HELEN ATKINSON WOOD TELLS MARION McMULLEN WHY CLASSIC PUNCHLINES ARE THE PERFECT LAUGHTER FIX
What’s it like performing again with fellow Radio Active regulars Angus Deayton, Philip Pope and Michael Fenton Stevens?
RADIO Active is always on BBC Radio 4 in one way or another. We went to Edinburgh in 2016 and again last year and had such a brilliant time. We absolutely stormed it. Then we went off on tour and did Glastonbury as well.
It’s now the 40th anniversary of the show first being performed live on stage.
What’s the secret of your success?
WE all love each other. It’s just very nice being together and doing the show. We’re a very close group. We all go on holiday together and spend Christmas together.
We know each other’s good points and we are just a close knit group of friends. It’s a really cheery thing when we go out on tour.
We sadly lost our beloved Geoffrey Perkins, one of the original writers and performers, and he was simply one of the finest writers around. He produced shows like Father Ted and his shadow still lights our path.
You originally went to Oxford to study fine art. How did the performing side come about?
I HAD it in my mind to do some acting when I went to Oxford. I loved it when I was a teenager and I thought ‘there’s a chance to do some plays here’. Then this red-haired boy came up and asked if I would like to do a review with him and his friend Howard Goodall.
And the red-haired boy was Richard Curtis. He’s played a huge part in my career in general and I started to do comedy shows with him. Then Radio Active began.
All our lives were just converging. I also cut my teeth at the Belgrade Theatre In Education company in Coventry. You really had to get stuck in. It would be 9am and the schoolkids would be wanting to go to the toilet all the time when you were doing a drama about the plight of the Indians. Fabulous.
Radio Active revolves around a spoof local radio station and it transformed into KYTV on BBC2 in 1989. Has the humour stood the test of time?
IT remains very fresh with the songs and sketches. We were surprised by how tremendously it’s been received and that’s made us say ‘let’s do it’.
We did the London Palladium recently for the 100 Hearts charity fundraiser and Radio Active raised the roof. Performing live on stage was where we all met and now we are performing the shows again with scripts in hand as we did the first time around along with lots of music, jingles and sound effects.
Are the spoof jingles back too?
YES, we do all those. They are just hilarious, if I say so myself. It’s a very daft show.
So much comedy on TV now is in a much darker place. There is a lot of clever comedy around that is very accomplished, but it’s not funny.
Radio Active is a very light, ironic and effusively sunny sort of show. I’m not one of the writers so I can say it’s a privilege to perform it.
The good quality writing in terms of jokes is now reaching a completely new audience.
Like Blackadder, it is always being shown in some part of the world. All the elements are in place in Radio Active and the scripts are surefire winners. You just have to sit back and enjoy.
Was it difficult to slip back into playing characters such as the food-obsessed TV presenter Anna Daptor?
(LAUGHS) I’ve never really left her. I do quite a lot of presenting as well – in among the others things I do – a polymath. Very funny things always happen to Anna that don’t necessarily happen when you are presenting television and radio shows yourself.
Do you have fond memories of playing pie shop owner Mrs Miggins in Blackadder The Third?
MRS MIGGINS was written by Richard Curtis with me in mind. It’s always nervous when you are doing something new, but that felt like it was going to be fun from the start.
I always forget about the pies, but when we all get together for autographs events in places like Olympia there are lots of people around who have brought pies or brought oddly-shaped sausages to be signed. (Laughs)
It’s quite fantastic... and there are a lot of pie jokes.
What do you always take with you on tour?
(LAUGHS) Other than Angus, Philip and Michael? Not much really. I don’t do knitting or anything like that backstage, there’s never any time. We are all on stage all the time.
The business of acting requires a certain amount of stamina, but when you’ve done it all your life you’re used to the marathon.
What’s your perfect way to relax?
WHEN I’m not working I like to swim in the North Sea – I’m very keen on the sea – and do yoga. I have a horse and I like to ride through the Suffolk countryside. I know they are all very active things, but I like to keep very fit.
I do lots of different other sorts of work – presenting and voiceovers and things. I still paint and I’m patron of an arts festival in East Anglia called The INK Festival and I’ve always been involved with Comic Relief.
I think when you do a lot it can be very energising. (Laughs) I sleep really well but I hit the ground running every day. ■ The Radio Active national tour begins on April 24. Go to socomedy. co.uk for ticket details.
Helen Atkinson-Wood in Radio Active at the London Palladium with Angus Deayton
Helen with the KYTV cast and, right, as Mrs Miggins in Black Adder The Third with Rowan Atkinson and Tony Robinson