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Alexei Sayle

November 2008

PREVIOUSLY when EG has asked how his work compares to the other novel-writing stand-up comedians, Alexei Sayle has ended up calling Stephen Fry a "ponce."
This time, while less acerbic about his contemporaries, the 56-year-old maintains his superiority as a writer.
"There was a review or an article in The Independent that said that of all the comics who are writing novels I'm one of the few, I think the only one, who you could really regard their work as literature.
"I think I was a really good comic and I think I'm as good a writer. I'm very lucky to have found a second thing that I'm that skilled at."
Another critic described his work as "gloriously odd". How does that sit with him?
"That's all right. I'd go for that, it's complimentary. It doesn't quite get the genius that is me but it's OK, " he laughs.
The latest novel, Mister Roberts, is set in Spain, where he has a home. It's the story of an English costume designer who sees a bright shining star lurch abruptly across the sky. Then on Christmas Day a strong, silent man with blank eyes enters a local bar. Behind it, Sayle is lampooning the pomposity of ex-pats.
Won't his neighbours be offended?
"Possibly, yes. I've just started to worry about that. I'm genuinely not taking the **** out of them, just writing about them in a comic way."
He adds: "For people their age their lives are much more exciting than they would be if they'd stayed at home."
He's not talking about the coast-based ex-pats, those stereotypical English pub landlords, but the older ones who live inland.
"They mix very well with the Spanish, they all speak Spanish, they're up on Spanish culture and have amazing lives."
Sayle had a house built after filming out there.
"I haven't been out there much this year because I've been busy."
So when you return there may be graffiti daubed all over the front door.
"Yeah, exactly," he laughs.
"We have enough trouble with neighbours anyway. They have all sorts of feuds. And this will just make it worse."
Alexei Sayle was at the centre of the alternative comedy scene of the late 80s, first with The Young Ones, then his own series, Stuff. His personality back then seemed to be that of a very angry young man.
"I think I've changed my attitudes a lot," he says.
"I still get angry about things but, er...."
You're more cuddly now.
"You'd think, wouldn't you. No, I'm more aware of other people's point of view. Not to say that I think they're right."
He adds: "I still consider myself to be a Marxist which is not saying much. You could be the head of BP and be a Marxist. It's only a way of analysing history, economics and stuff. I wouldn't call myself a communist."
The story of his upbringing in a communist household will be told in great detail with his next book – the autobiography.
"It won't cover the showbusiness years. I think it's less interesting. Everybody kind of knows all that. The early years will be more personal and more interesting, I think."
He's appeared in several films, including Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade and Gorky Park.
The next time we'll see him on screen is in a Miss Marple.
"(Laughs) I'm a dodgy psychiatrist."
You look like one.
"That's why they cast me. They rang my agent and said 'has he still got that beard?'
"It's a Christmas special. They've got Joan Collins, Brian Cox, Julia McKenzie, Sean Hughes... it's a stellar cast."
He hasn't done any stand-up comedy in more than a decade because he stopped enjoying it.
"It wasn't working for me. I wasn't getting the buzz out of it. Unless you really love it or you've got an expensive divorce, I can't see the point really."
He adds: "I do like the company of comics. They can be very funny in conversation. I feel a kind of kinship with them."
Nottingham always treated him well in those days, he says.
"It was always the first one on the tour that sold out.
"And I've always had a really good time at the Waterstone's. They've got a very nice room at the top of the shop there."
Although this time he'll be at Broadway Cinema, a signing and talk on "the darker side of comic writing". So the publicity material says.
"(Laughs) I'm sure I'll touch on it, yeah. I'll read an excerpt then answer questions basically and talk about..."
Whatever people want to know.
"Yeah. I've no problems with that."
What do they want to know?
"It varies really. I used to do tours of arts centres doing readings and the oddest questions were from somewhere like Worcester. One was 'have you ever thought of selling magazines from a stall in the high street?' 'Have you ever been in a mental institution and what was the food like?'"
They didn't wait for you to answer the first part of that question then?
"(Laughs) No."
For the record he hasn't, either as patient or visitor.
Does he enjoy the experience of the book signing and talk?
"It's nice to meet the readers. They seem like nice people. Obviously they'll usually ask more sensible questions than that. Either quite technical questions about writing or what was it like being in Doctor Who. In a way it's part of the duty of being a writer."

Alexei Sayle will be at Broadway in Broad Street on Monday November 17. Mister Roberts is published by Hodder & Stoughton.

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