21st May2018

Interview: British film legend Robin Askwith

by Philip Rogers

Actor Robin Askwith is celebrating 50 years in show business doing what he does best. In a new stand, up tour ‘Robin Askwith Gives It One’ as he returns to Southend on 23rd May at the Grosvenor Casinos. A unique night of comedy entertainment where he takes a hilarious look back over his life with some “Extremely famous people, in extremely famous situations”.

Presented in association with The Southend Film Festival and Misty Moon this promises to be a great night of entertainment that you won’t want to miss.


How are you?

Yeah long show last night as you know you have probably seen from my tweets.

How did it go?

Fantastic! The Half Moon, Putney, a rock venue and two hours. It’s supposed to be around one hour twenty, I looked at my watch and it was one hour forty, still rambling on. I said, Look I’ve got to go” and they were like “No More, No More” I was like “Is that ‘No more’ or No, More!” any case it just went on and on. I couldn’t believe it was two hours, but it was fantastic, it really was.

That’s a good thing, them trying to get you to stay on rather than trying to get you off… Heckle you

Well Heckling is all part of it, but it was great. It’s stand up with a difference. I don’t want to blow my own trumpet but its unique! Its unique in the fact it’s me and they’re stories and they are interwoven with extremely famous people, in extremely famous situations and they’re 80% true.

That brings me to my first question, your next performance is in Southend?

Yes! I am in a tour and Paul Cotgrove, who is doing the Southend Film Festival, wanted me to make an appearance in the 50th Anniversary of If…. (1968) Which is on the Thursday. I said there is no way I am going to be able to make that I am on a tour, but if you can book me the night before then I will be in Southend and that is viable. So, he booked me to do my gig the night before in the Grosvenor Casino and it all sort of fits in. I also did pantomime in Southend, I like Southend it’s good fun.  It’s only a small audience of a hundred people or something and so it’s a bit different from the Cliffs Pavilion which is seventeen hundred people. This is obviously a mad anarchic, crazy stream of consciousness.

It’s nice as well for both you and the crowd because it’s up close and personal with around a hundred people…

It’s the same as last night, that’s what the Half Moon was. I have no illusions and it is a show which will appeal to a certain amount of people. I would rather have a full house of a hundred people, than play a five hundred-seater and have a hundred and fifty people sitting there. It’s much more intimate, I can work them much better and they can enjoy themselves much more.

Why did you decide to do a stand-up tour this year for the UK?

I have been developing it over the years. Derren Litten the writer of Benidorm (2007-2008/2009-) encouraged me to do it, because he got sick of me talking around dinner tables telling stories. He said you’ve got to shut up really or these are such funny crazy stories you should make a show out of it. Now I wasn’t convinced, so it’s a work in progress. I started three years ago with interviewers, I even got Derren on stage once, other people and eventually went out on my own. I am gradually increasing the following. At my age its quite extraordinary and actually very interesting.

Are you finding that you are attracting a new crowd of people who are learning about you from the show?

It is a mixture, which is what surprises me.  Young people, middle age people and older people my age. Its right across the section there. Because everyone has access these days, so there is a retrospective feel around. I mean, I am still alive and touch wood I keep myself fit, I keep myself in good nick and I am quite sharp. So, I am in the stage of my career where I really don’t know what to do. I have done everything really, which sounds arrogant, but I have done everything really. I don’t get offered the work in television that I would like to be offered, even though I do work in television sporadically. I thought well I’ve got to do something, I wonder if I can do this thing, stand up, actually talk to people and make them laugh and make them listen or as Bob Lindsay would say “You make people laugh, then you make them listen.” It’s been very successful and been getting good reviews.

It’s been 50 years now you have been in show business and you have a lot of stories from over the years. Do you have a set routine when you go on stage?

Before every show I do write a sequence down, but I make it particular for each show. Some routines are very popular and liked more than other routines, but I think somebody tweeted today that they are astounded at the way I went off on a tangent and then found my way back in again to the original story. That is years of watching Billy Connolly because that is what he does. He goes off all over the place and he has forgotten what he started with. I seem to have the ability to do it. That’s it. Thank god I have that talent plonked in somewhere. So, to answer your question, yes, a lot of it is rehearsed, but a lot of it isn’t and just happens on the night. As it did last night. I turn a one hour twenty-minute set in to two hours.

That’s great for the fans to hear that you are doing different routines at the venue and as you say it is learning and growing.

And you’ve got to appreciate, the fans. You say the fans, but some people are there not quite knowing the full story. Some are there because they think, I know him, but don’t know that much. There are complete fans that know everything and there are some who just want an evening with a bit of a laugh. It’s quite a cross section and not just a load of people with autograph books. It’s quite a sophisticated audience actually.

You mention Billy Connolly being one of your influences there, is there anyone else who influences your style on stage.

My style was completely Billy Connolly, because he was the first person to do stream of consciousness that I was aware of early on. There was no such thing as stand up back then, it was entertainment or comedy. I was a dramatic actor that turned to comedy, but I wasn’t a comedian. People like Barry Cryer you’ve got a real talent for comedy and you should be a stand-up comic. I didn’t want to be a stand-up comic, I don’t tell jokes, I don’t like jokes. I have worked in pantomime with Bobby Davro and he drives me around the twist. I loved him to pieces don’t get me wrong, but bloody comics they drive me up the wall. So, my early influences, Eric Morecambe was a huge influence and I knew him, which was a bit of a plus. But my influences before Billy Connolly were people like Bob Hope, Larry David, Robin Williams, they are stream of consciousness people. There were a lot of American influences and Tony Hancock those were the people. Bob Hope in particular and a bit later on Peter Sellers.

As you know with Live Theatre and Pantomime things can go wrong, have you had an encounters or issues on your tour so far?

I had a beauty the other day up in Edinburgh or somewhere and it was going down well, getting lots of laughs and everything else. Suddenly this bloke as they do every now and then they get up and go for a pee or go for a drink which is quite permissible. But usually I have a bit of a go at them. So, I said “Oi, we’ve only just started… it gets better, where are you off too?”, where are you off to and he said (Puts on a Scottish accent) “Oh it’s great, I am loving it, it’s absolutely fabulous.  So, I said “Well where are you going?” he said, “I thought it was Robin Williams!”. Now two things are wrong there. For fifteen quid you are not going to get Robin Williams and he’s dead. That’s what makes the show and then anything I said after that was just funny.

You couldn’t have planned it better.

I mean last night, a friend of mine who is an airline pilot was at the show and he said “what was all that about Colchester? I don’t know what it was. I was talking about making a film in Colchester and there was a huge laugh and I said, “What are you laughing at, is it Colchester?” and they all laughed. All laughing at the word Colchester! And the more I said the word Colchester, it became like crazy. It made no sense, but the word Colchester made them laugh. If I wrote that down and said if I say the word Colchester and they all laugh, its bonkers. But I have a lot of friends in Southend, so it should be good.

You originally trained to be a classical actor, but you are best known for the British sex comedies of the 70’s. Looking back would you do anything differently regarding your career?

That is impossible because I have done just so much, encompassing everything from West End Musicals, Hollywood films to situation comedy. It’s not really been in my hands, it’s very seldom in your hands. The only thing I could do differently, and life would have been very different it I had not taken Confessions of a Window Cleaner (1974). That was a turning point for the better or the worse, I will never know. But if I did something differently I would not do that film just to see what would have happened.

Your first feature was If…. is also playing in Southend on Thursday to celebrate the 50th anniversary. Looking back what are your memories of the film 50 years later?

I spoke a lot about that in the show last night actually. Well it was the beginng, it was the genesis of my career and it was all due to Lindsay Anderson obviously who really discovered me and mentored my life whilst he was alive.

Going back to your tour how many more dates have you got to go?

Southend, I am in London again and the Isle of Sheppey on the 2nd June and then that is it for this. I only do a few because they are knackering. It’s a bit more involved that just stand up because it is my life. If I did it every night it would be slightly different, I don’t think it would be as good. So, I do two or three a week and that’s it.

What are you looking to do after the tour?

I’m heading back to where I live in Gozo and I shall do some more sailing and pottering around, pick up bits and pieces. I am looking to do the show on some cruises and look to develop the show. I am looking to do some more in the autumn and I am doing Pantomime in Darlington this year, so the diary has enough in it. But I am really into developing this show at the moment.

Are you looking to make it longer or are you happy with the timeframe of an hour and twenty minutes?

I’d like to keep it at an hour and twenty minutes, but it never bloody is, it’s crazy! Even Darlington the other night where they showed Queen Kong (1976) which is the worst film ever made. That eats in to the night and I could get away with doing three quarters of an hour, but that was about an hour forty. I would like to keep it down to about an hour twenty, but the audience won’t shut up!

You had your big break 50 years ago now getting into acting, but what advice would you give to someone who is thinking to get into acting?

Well don’t! Is the advice which was given to me which is good advice actually, because you are told straight away, its dodgy or its difficult. I hate when people have these expectations. There are no expectations, it’s tough, its competitive, you do not stand a chance, unless you are in this silly celebrity circuit thing where you just have to have big tits and turn up. I don’t know what that is about. But being an actor, you have to have an enormous amount of talent, but even more luck. But my advice would be don’t. And that’s good advice.

How would you sum up your career in 5 words?

I have made it spectacular!

Robin Askwith Gives It One will be playing for one night only at the Grosvenor Casinos on Wednesday 23rd May at 8pm as part of the Southend Film Festival. For more information on the event and to purchase tickets for the Southend Film Festival please see the website for details: https://www.southendfilmfestival.com/


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