A lady of many hats, Sandi Toksvig has been coaxed out for her first tour in years to celebrate her new novel. She chats with Victoria Nangle about gender, comic legacy and fun
Comedian, author, radio host, TV presenter, sometimes political activist… Sandi Toksvig is best known in recent years as the regular chair on Radio 4’s News Quiz. She could also be seen frequently on BBC2’s QI and heard on Radio 4’s Excess Baggage. Now returning with new stories, stand-up and fascinating facts with a completely new and much anticipated show, Ms Toksvig took time out to share the details.
How are you today?
“I am chipper. It is my default position to be as happy as possible. Being miserable takes so much more effort.”
Is The News Quiz [Sandi has chaired the Radio 4 flagship topical comedy show since 2006] really as much fun as it sounds?
“I think it is more fun. I always recommend to anyone who can that they come to a recording. We actually record about three times as much as we need because we are usually laughing so much or being hideously libellous.”
It seems to be the most balanced gender-wise of any comedy panel show. Is that deliberate or do you just think its format lends itself more to both genders?
“It is absolutely a policy of the programme to try and achieve a good gender balance. The shows that complain that there aren’t enough ‘funny’ women are simply not trying hard enough. Men and women have a different view of the world and it is a delight to bring them both into the mix.”
What do you remember most about filming No. 73 – that bastion of ‘80s children’s weekend television?
“I remember that, in those days, I could still party until late and do a show first thing in the morning. We had a wonderful time and it was the best training ground in the world for doing live TV.”
As one of the first performers to play at The Comedy Store, do you feel the ‘alternative’ comedy of the 1980s has achieved a lot of its goals, being as yourself, Stephen Fry, Emma Thompson and your other contemporaries are now embraced by Radios 4 and 2, BBC2 and could be said to form the backbone of contemporary culture?
“I don’t think we had goals. I think we were just enjoying ourselves. In a way I think it was better when no one worried about fame or ‘celebrity’ but just wanted to do a good job.”
Which ‘envelopes’ do you like pushing at the moment?
“I like the ones where I persuade people not to use expressions like ‘pushing the envelope’.”
What was Susan Calman’s [The News Quiz regular and ardent feline appreciator] wedding like? How heavily were the cats involved?
“Sadly I was working and not able to attend. I believe the cats held up her train and then later held up the reception under the influence of too much catnip.”
What does the show you’re about to tour involve?
“There is the usual mix of silly nonsense, a bit of conducting Beethoven, a chance to win a prize and some nuggets of curiosity. Hopefully something for everyone.”
Can you tell us much about your new book Valentine Grey?
“I can tell you everything about it because I wrote it. I had thought to get a ghost writer but sadly lack the skills to communicate with the spirit world. It is a novel set in the Second Boer War of 1899 and the story revolves around a young woman who disguises herself as a man and goes to South Africa to serve in the British Army. Come to the show and I’ll tell you all about it or buy the book and find out for yourself.”
Are you looking forwarding to interacting with a live audience?
“The Q and A with the audience is always my favourite bit.”
Do you enjoy playing to a Brighton crowd?
“I love Brighton. It must be the sea air for everyone in the theatre always feels so energised.”
What are your plans for the next year?
“I am already busy writing a new book and a new play. I will also be the new Chancellor of Portsmouth University which will keep me occupied.”
Any idea if there will be another Radio 4 Christmas Panto News Quiz this year? Last year’s was
“I’ll ask the boss. I hope so. I enjoyed it.”
Sandi Toksvig Live! – My Valentine, Directed by Pip Broughton.
Sandi will be signing copies of Valentine Grey (Virago) after the show.
Recommended for ages 16+