Rory Bremner’s memories of Yorkshire stretch back to when he was a youngster in the early 70s
Saturday, 24th October 2020, 6:00 am
Rory Bremner’s memories of Yorkshire stretch back to when he was a youngster in the early 70s.
“I had an aunt who lived in Spofforth and I remember quite a few childhood holidays up there. They were those summer nights when you’re a child and you draw the curtains and it’s still light and I remember a fish and chip van parked in the middle of Spofforth. I could hear people talking and the smell of the fish and chips wafting through the open window,” he says.
The impressionist and comedian has returned to Yorkshire countless times since. “I did a Prince’s Trust show at the conference centre in Harrogate,” he recalls with a chuckle. “I remember Vera Lynn was doing it and the headline act was the pop group A-ha. Vera Lynn was talking to Anne Diamond beforehand and asked who was headlining and Anne said ‘A-ha’ and Vera Lynn said, ‘ooh, it’s a secret, is it?’”
Bremner would have been back in the spa town today for the Raworths Harrogate Literature Festival, but the pandemic has kiboshed that and instead his “in conversation” event, like the rest of this weekend’s festival, is taking place online.
When we speak it’s a couple of days before he recorded an episode of I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue, something tinged with sadness. “It’s the first one I’ve done since Tim Brooke-Taylor died,” he reveals. The veteran comedian died with coronavirus in April, just a few weeks after Bremner last saw him while recording I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue around the country.
“We toured the show in January and we had such a lovely time and he was in such great form – we’d have breakfast together or supper after a show. He’d just chat away and I found some extraordinary things about him.
“We were talking about the film Once Upon a Time in Hollywood and he talked about when he worked with Sharon Tate and Orson Welles, and I couldn’t believe it. But it shouldn’t have surprised me because he was so versatile, he was the go-to person for so many radio shows in the Sixties and Seventies. Then we went our separate ways in February and I got a phone call on Easter Sunday to say that he’d gone.”
Lives and livelihoods have been irrevocably changed over the past seven months and, like so many other people, Bremner has found his life on hold.
In a career spanning more than 30 years he has been a leading light in British political comedy, but even he is struggling to make sense of these tumultuous times. “We’re in a boxed set world where life is stranger than fiction and certainly more far-fetched,” he says. “The way Donald Trump handled his coronavirus case was straight out of the Kim Jong-un handbook. If I left hospital two days after I went in for coronavirus, jumped into a car and drove around my neighbourhood waving to fans… you’re sat there watching it on TV in disbelief.
“I was reading something the other day about George II’s oculist. He was a very vain character and I think Dr Johnson described him as ‘an outstanding example of how far impudence may carry ignorance’. In other words, he was stupid but because he was so shameless he’d get away with it. And I thought that absolutely chimes with Trump.”
Bremner’s talent for mimicry (no one does a better Richie Benaud or Bill McLaren impression) began at school before he honed his skills on the London cabaret circuit while studying French and German at King’s College. He cut his teeth on Jimmy Cricket’s TV show And There’s More 35 years ago, since when he has become a familiar household name.
From the Bafta award-winning Rory Bremner – Who Else? to the hugely popular Bremner, Bird and Fortune, he is recognised as one of Britain’s sharpest and best-known impressionists.
When I spoke to him back in 2011 he bemoaned the lack of interesting characters in politics, saying the likes of Philip Hammond and Danny Alexander were hardly an impressionist’s dream. How times have changed. “Now we’re back to the grotesques. We’ve got big beasts with Trump and Boris the biggest beasts of all,” he says.
As centre ground politics has lost its appeal, so the likes of Nigel Farage and Jacob Rees-Mogg, once on the political fringe, have grown in popularity. “It’s more polarised than I’ve ever known it with people living in silos and you do think ‘how are we ever going to bridge these divisions between us?’ I’m old-fashioned, I like the centre ground and to be able to discuss things. I find people’s vulnerabilities more attractive than their strengths. I like to know what we’ve got in common.”
One of the challenges facing comedians today is how to satirise outlandish political leaders. “We still haven’t found a way to do that. I did think we have to fight fire with facts but I’m not sure we can do that now,” he says. “I was thinking about it this morning and the reason we’re in the bind we’re in now is because we’re governed by columnists, not even journalists. Boris and Michael Gove are columnists and as a columnist you don’t have to do the hard graft of journalists. It’s just about what your opinions are.”
Bremner says it makes him look longingly to the past. “Donald Trump makes George W Bush look like Abraham Lincoln, and Boris Johnson makes John Major look like Clement Attlee…”
He cites the London 2012 Olympics as the last time he feels a wave of optimism washed over the country.
“That was the last time I felt really proud to be British and it was because of Danny Boyle’s vision of Britain in the opening ceremony. I remember thinking on the night that he reminded us of who we are by showing us who we were. And that was a Britain I could believe in.”
There’s a longing, too, to be back in front of an audience. “One of the great joys of comedy is to play in different theatres and see different parts of the country. I was driving through London last month in the West End and it was heartbreaking because all the posters outside the theatres were exactly as they had been seven months ago.
“It was like a clock had stopped and you think of all those evenings when people would have gone to the theatre, perhaps on a first date, or to get engaged, or to go and see Les Mis with a group of friends for the umpteenth time, all of that joy has just gone for the past seven months and who knows for how much longer…”
Rory Bremner’s interview is streaming online today on the Harrogate International Festivals website: harrogateinternationalfestivals.com.The event is free to enjoy, though any donations to the festival’s arts charity, in lieu of what you might normally have paid for a ticket, would be gratefully received.
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