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Les Dennis

FOR years he was that 80s comic mate of Russ Abbott's who had one impression - Corrie's Mavis "I don't really know, Rita" Riley.

There were others - Frank Spencer and Tommy Cooper among them - but they always sounded like his Mavis.

During the 80s he settled in to a role as TV presenter fronting Family Fortunes from Nottingham's Central/Carlton Studios for five years but more recently he has been Sad Les or Les Miserable, the spurned husband of Amanda Holden, who cut a depressed figure on Celebrity Big Brother.

Those days are over.

"Absolutely," he says, fending off a cold.

"There's no interest now. It had to calm down anyway because when it was at its height it was mental."

Putting all the details of his marriage and apparent breakdown on Celebrity Big Brother in to his recent autobiography helped, as did the self-effacing appearance on Extras, where he played up the Sad Les character, including nudity and even the Mavis impression.

"It was my chance to draw a line under it and say 'look, you know, I can have a sense of humour about this as well'.

"Some people thought it was Ricky (Gervais) and Stephen (Merchant) taking the p*ss and being cruel but from day one I was in on it.

"When I got the script I laughed out loud and thought if I can do this properly and act it well, because it's a tricky thing to play a twisted and demented version of yourself, I know it was a chance to say stuff it, I don't care. I'm not the Les Miserable that I've been painted as."

Dennis only recently became a father for the second time at the grand old age of 54.

"It's fantastic," he says.

"Really lovely."

He had a break from the stage comedy musical Eurobeat to bond with the new arrival and get his hands dirty.

He's no spring chicken so isn't it tiring?

"No, she's great. She sleeps really well. I'm more tired with the work I'm doing than with the baby."

The show, which comes to the Royal Concert Hall for a week from July 21, is a parody of the Eurovision Song Contest

"It is based in Sarajevo on the evening of Eurovision. There are two hosts, myself and Mel Giedroyc (it'll be Sally Lindsay for the Nottingham leg). She plays Boyka and I play Sergei Puukolisto. Boika is a former (affects East European accent) pole vaulting champion and cabaret performer."

Is she Welsh?

"(Laughs) And I'm a children's TV host."

Sounds camp and very silly.

"It's mad. The maddest show I've ever been involved with but the audiences absolutely love it. It's the only show I've been in where you ask the audience to keep their mobile phones on because they vote at the end for their favourite country."

The show's producers intentionally picked performers with experience of both television and stand-up because of the potentially random nature of each performance.

"You have to drive the second half with the voting and you have to be ready to take on some hecklers because some nights they can get really vociferous.

"Every night is different. Which is refreshing."

Sixteen acts perform as different countries in the first half. In the second, audience members place their votes using their mobiles. On a large screen each country's votes are announced.

"There is a UK entry called Rain and Shiner. They sing I Love To Love To Love To Love To Love You. We have a Bj??rk-a-like from Iceland, Asla for Sweden...

"There is one that wins a lot but that would be giving it away."

Do we always come last?

"No. What happens is, as you come into the theatre you are given a badge for your adopted country for the night and you can't vote for that country.

"And we're not the Baltic states."

He adds: "It is a difficult show to sell in the sense that people go 'what it is exactly?' When they see it they say 'I'm coming back'.

"What usually happens is, and I saw this in Edinburgh last year, after a couple of days the word of mouth means you can't get a seat."

It sounds like one for the girls, the hen parties and the like.

"We're getting a real cross-section of people. You get stag parties, hen parties, certainly in Edinburgh it had a big gay following. We did a spot at Gay Pride at Trafalgar Square."

How is your gay following?

"(Laughs) I don't know if I have one."

While he won't be lending his singing voice to this production, Dennis has a few musicals roles on his CV: Chicago and Me & My Girl included.

After Eurobeat he'll be hosting a You've Been Framed-style video clip show called Les Dennis' Home Video Heroes for Challenge TV but he can currently be seen going back to his roots on ITV's Les Dennis' Liverpool.

Having spent 1987-2002 here hosting Family Fortunes maybe he could do a Les Dennis' Nottingham?

"Well, I did spend a hell of a lot of time in Nottingham but it was always in the studio. When you are doing a show like Family Fortunes it's like Groundhog Day. It's hotel to studio to hotel to bed."

Didn't he go out in the city much?

"Very little. We stayed at the Hotel Des Clos (now Restaurant Sat Bains) and we'd get a car to the studio from there. I do remember Sonny's restaurant. If we had a do at the end of the run we'd usually go to Sonny's.

"I've done panto in Nottingham as well and I've always enjoyed the city."

His stay in the city will be the only one of the Eurobeat tour without his family. For the rest they're either with him or he returns home to London after each show.

"I am seeing loads of the baby and loving it," he says.

Being a father will occupy his time up until Christmas when he'll be back in panto in Liverpool with an all-Scouse cast that includes Cilla Black, Jennifer Ellison and Ted Robbins.

"Next year I'll be doing some updates of the book for the paperback which is coming out in April.

"It's very honest and perhaps the person I'm hardest on is myself. It's not just about all the stuff people might have heard over the last few years - it's about a rollercoaster life. And it has been that.

"There have been some great times like working with Tommy Cooper. People have said they've enjoyed that insight into the showbiz world that doesn't really exist now, you know the variety world that I just got in on the edge of.

"(Laughs) After all I've been around a few years."

You're 94.

"I am. There's a painting in the attic."

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