■ The comedian, 59, talks about Blackadder, fame and finding love at a music festival
What’s your new film, Three Summers, about?
It was wonderful to get the opportunity to tell a whole collection of Australian stories all linked by music, which is how I met my wife. Thirty years ago I went to Australia to perform with the late, great Rik Mayall and we were required to have a support act because of the union rules in those days. By some good fortune the promoter booked an all-girl rock band and I ended up marrying the bass player. I became half Australian and my wife became half British. The movie is set at a little folk festival we used to take the kids to. Mine’s a fictitious version of it.
A music festival seems like a great place to set a film…
A festival is a great leveller. We’re all equal in the queue for the Portaloos. Mud has no respect for rank. I’m going to drop a clunking great name here but Emma Thompson, her husband Greg Wise and their daughter Gaia came to stay with us in Australia, and we all went to this festival together. I was sitting in the bar in the beer tent. When the kids were young, it was a great trick of mine: look, I’ll be the family base, I’ll be here in the beer tent and as long as you all check in every 45 minutes you can run around and do what you like. I remember saying, ‘We’ve been three times now and they always look exactly the same’ but underneath it isn’t — last year’s cute buskers are this year’s grumpy teenagers, last year’s young lovers are this year’s furious fight going on in a tent next door to you. It struck me as a great structure for storytelling — take a festival for three years.
Are you looking forward to taking the film to the Edinburgh International Film Festival?
Oh yes. So many small movies are made but it’s hard to discover small treasures so festivals are really so important.
What else are you up to?
This Shakespeare sitcom I pitched to the BBC, Upstart Crow, we have a new series in the autumn. It’s exciting that I’ve got a pretty successful sitcom again in Britain — I never expected to have that. British sitcom shaped my early comic sensibilities. Dad’s Army, Fawlty Towers and many more — even the less celebrated ones like On The Buses and Please Sir! I’ve been so lucky to have success over the years with Blackadder and The Thin Blue Line, I didn’t think I’d necessarily get another chance.
What do fans approach you for most?
Oh, I don’t really get approached but I’m still kind of known. Everybody knew who I was in the days of only three or four channels, hosting Saturday Live or The Man From Auntie. People still ask me when I’m going to do more stand-up, which is lovely. I say I hope to get round to it — I haven’t toured since 2005.
And Blackadder is still a cult show…
People always ask when there is going to be another Blackadder. You don’t get many chances to enter the consciousness as an artist and Blackadder did that. I remember feeling an immense sense of achievement that Blackadder 2 was the success it was. I joined when Richard [Curtis] asked me to come in after Rowan [Atkinson] dropped out as a writer. Clearly Blackadder 1, for all its many qualities, was a very different thing to what Blackadder became, so having played my role in making Blackadder what it was is something I’ve been grateful for all my life.
Do you watch it back?
No. People still come up and quote to this day, and ten years ago it happened all the time. I couldn’t be in a bar or a cab without somebody saying, ‘I expect you’re going home for some rat surprise’ and I’d know they were quoting Blackadder but I wouldn’t remember the quote they were quoting.
Any pet hates?
Well, one of my pet hates is that humanity seems to take more glee out of things we don’t like than things we do. Room 101 may be a fun programme but I tried to pitch a show to the BBC years ago called Reasons To Be Cheerful, which was supposed to be an antidote to Room 101. We’d bring on three guests who’d get to talk about things they’d like most. Hopefully they could be equally witty about things they’d like as things they don’t like.
What would your three things be?
Ha ha! Well, I guess wine, women and song wouldn’t be a bad start. I’m a huge fan of the grape and the grain, and I’m extremely happily married, but it’s a wonderful thing, you know. Also I met my wife through music. I don’t know, I’m probably going to get into trouble now…
There’s nothing to say you can’t appreciate beautiful women even when you’re married, right?
Exactly. You can say you said that and I nodded in agreement.
The premiere of Three Summers is on Sunday at the Edinburgh International Film Festival