Television comedy legend Jimmy Tarbuck talks to Victoria Nangle about his first love of stand-up, stealing from Terry-Thomas and why he’s not going to be a panto dame
What keeps you coming back to stand-up?
“I suppose in a form, laughter is a drug. And I can’t describe to you the feeling of that when you’re the one they’re laughing with. It’s wonderful. You might ask Ken Dodd the same thing, he’s 83 years of age and he still does it.”
Absolutely, I think you find every comic keeps going back to this fantastic euphoria…
“Well, it is and if you can do it at a certain level still, I will always do it. But when the level slips, and believe me I’ve got a lot of people around who would tell me that, I would stop.”
Do you know your audience well, then?
“I know that people have been watching me for 50 years and they came again. This show I’m doing is the story of my life really.”
So it’s more of a raconteur piece?
“Oh no, I still do stand-up but I love the ‘Question and Answer’ because it keeps me on my toes. It’s a lot of fun with the audience; they shout out what they want to know.”
Are there regular questions that you get?
“Sometimes they’re very cheeky questions, yeah and they **** themselves laughing, if you pardon the expression, at my expense.”
What kind of questions?
“I’m not telling you, you gotta come and watch!”
You wrote a book, Tarbuck On Showbiz in 1985, are you likely to write an update on that?
“I’ve been asked about my autobiography and things like that, if there was real interest I’d write it so we’ll see. Maybe it will come nearer the time. I can’t stand people of 25 writing their life story, their life hasn’t begun, you know? You see these people, My Life, it’s a load of balls. At 25 you haven’t even lived yet.”
A lot of comedians seem to move into acting a lot more. You seem to have touched on that but have you ever wanted to explore it more yourself?
“If the part was right I wouldn’t hesitate. I did a piece with my daughter Liza, she had a hit show called Linda Green and there was a part in it for me, and I did Brazen Hussies, which was a TV film with Robert Lindsay, Alun Armstrong and Julie Walters. It was an honour to be acting alongside people who are really great.”
Has that made you more hesitant to just take anything?
“I wouldn’t just take anything, no no no. I nearly got a very large part in a Walt Disney film, The Happiest Millionaire, and I got to the last two, between Tommy Steele and I, and Tommy got it. I would have loved to have done that, I would have loved to make an appearance in a Walt Disney because Walt Disney is sheer class.”
You released quite a few records, didn’t you?
“I’ve tried every aspect of this business. The only thing I’ve never done and don’t think I’ll do now is strip off.”
No burlesque for Jimmy Tarbuck then?
“I know. The family want me to play one of the ugly sisters in pantomime but I’m not going to do it, or a dame – I will not do that just for their amusement.”
I see you more as a P.T. Barnum…
“Thank you very much, yeah, that would be me. Roll up, roll up! Yes, I could do that!”
Or maybe the wizard from The Wizard of Oz?
“Yes, that wouldn’t be bad, I’d like that. I got offered the lead in Brazen Hussies. No it wasn’t Brazen Hussies, it was called Hairspray. They offered me the lead in that but they wanted me for a year and I really couldn’t do it for a year. I couldn’t go into the theatre every night of the week for a year, it would drive me bonkers.”
Who last made you laugh so much you nearly fell of your chair?
“Someone told me a joke on the golf course yesterday, but I’m not gonna repeat it to you, you’re a young lady. I roared laughing, there was four of us and three of us roared with laughter. And it was rude. They’re nearly always rude the good gags.”
You’ve never been tempted to get bluer?
“Well, no I’m cheeky, I don’t F and blind, that doesn’t appeal to me on the stage, I save that for the golf course when I miss a putt.”
What’s your favourite live gigging memory?
“That’s easy. It was in 1963, 27 October, they put me on Sunday Night At The London Palladium, which was the biggest show ever in those days, 20 odd million viewers, Bruce [Forsyth] was the host and it was just nice. And in that distant memory of all those years ago it was just a wonderful experience.”
Your image is used all over the place, I was researching it and I found key rings, T-shirts and bags with your picture on. How do you feel about being a bit of a style icon?
“Well, there you go. I’ll tell you what to do – you find out whose selling these, get me the money and I’ll split it with you.”
Well, I found them on Amazon…
“On Amazon, alright I’ll have a look at it. Yeah it’s going good still, bit of a renaissance with the Piers Morgan show which went down very well for me, he was more than kind and very easy for me to work with. And it’s all bubbled up again which is lovely.”
I heard a rumour that you stole Terry-Thomas’ diamond-encrusted cigarette holder?
“Yes, that’s right.”
Would you say it’s a good way for young comics to get attention?
“Well, I didn’t do it for that. I was waiting to go on and at the end of the evening he said, ‘I can’t use you now’. I was about 18 and it was a big blow to my ego and I walked out the theatre and there it was on the table, and I walked out with it. End of story.”
I would like to thank you for explaining to me about spreadbetting when I was a child…
Your 1980s game show Winner Takes All did…
“Well, you can go on the 3/1, 4/1 or 10/1. I mean, I used to get very clever people that didn’t know how to bet and I went with the rules, very strict rules on quiz shows where money’s involved and you’re not allowed to help them. And I’m trying to go, ‘go for the 4/1!’ and I couldn’t, and you’d see people lose only because they were very well read but not great with betting.”
I’d like to bring back Winner Takes All…
“Well, you write in and get it brought back. I’ll do it and you can be the hostess. There you are, love.”
Jimmy Tarbuck is playing at Congress Theatre, Eastbourne, Sunday 9 September 2012, 7.30pm, £20. Call the box office on 01323 412000 or visit www.eastbournetheatres.co.uk