One of Britain’s most controversial comedian celebrates an explosive 40 years in show business with a new touring show.
Jim brings to the stage for the first time a truly revealing look at his life.
We spoke to the comedian about his new show, his career highlights and why he might not be touring much longer.
Q: You are a terrific live performer. Can you describe the buzz you get from doing stand-up?
A: When the show is flying, there’s nothing better. It’s euphoric. You feel like you’ve won, because you achieved what you set out to do and given people the best night they’ve ever had. That’s great, but imagine being Pink Floyd. They have 100,000 people cheering them because it’s the best thing they’ve ever seen!
Q: You have a tremendous rapport with your audience is, don’t you?
A: Yes, I like telling stories, and people like to listen to them. They think, “He’s telling this story just to me.” That’s a marvellous feeling.
Q: You are touring with your new show, “40 Years On.” Can you please describe the show to us?
A: It’s looking back on my 40 years in showbiz. It’s different. People say, “It’s classy. It looks like you put some thought into it!” It’s even got a soundtrack, like a film!
Q: What will you be talking about, then?
A: I’ll be talking about all the characters I’ve known during my life. The first section is all about the mad uncles and aunties I had when I was growing up in south-east London. No one was rich, but everyone seemed very happy back then.
Q: What do you love about that area?
A: Whenever you go back, you love it so much because you don’t have to stay there! No, of course, I do love it. I grew up with the people there. They speak the same language as me. I do feel a real connection with the people there.
Q: Which of your many career highlights do you discuss in the show?
A: I talk about where it all began when I won New Faces in 1976. Whenever I think of that, I still feel fuzzy inside. I had an amazing sense of euphoria. I knew I had got to the start line. I always thought, “Give me a chance and I’ll succeed.” And that turned out to be true!
Q: Any other highlights?
A: Yes, The Generation Game. It was difficult to make because we wanted to make it different from Bruce Forsyth’s highly successful version. So I made it very unpredictable and slapstick like Tiswas. Did you know that I was the first Phantom Flan Flinger on Tiswas? That would be a good Trivial Pursuit question, wouldn’t it? We filmed the crew on The Generation Game and made it more anarchic. We had a real laugh, and people loved it. Would I do it again? In a shot!
Q: Are you also proud of your victory in Celebrity Big Brother two years ago?
A: Absolutely. I think people like to see celebrities out of their comfort zone. I’m normally very laid back, and that’s the way I was in the Big Brother House. Also, it felt like the end of a rotten year for me. It closed the book on an awful time.
Q: It was a terrible time for you, which only ended when the police told you they would take “no further action” after 12 months of charges hanging over you. How do you view that period now?
A: It was horrible. The scary bit was not knowing where the police were going. Demons were on the loose in society. I know from my own experience with my charity, Care after Combat, that many an innocent man is in prison – which is what I was worried about! I’ve been asked by several celebrities since to try to change the law. But I think the law should be changed by people in wigs and gowns, no ageing comedians.
Q: What else will you be doing in “40 Years On”?
A: I’ll be signing 200 copies of my book, “No Further Action”, in the interval. All the money goes to Care after Combat. I couldn’t afford another wife, anyway. You don’t get a discount just because you buy in bulk!
Q: Are you ever purposefully provocative in order to annoy the politically correct?
A: Yes. I deliberately try and upset certain people. All those unfunny lefties rile me. I feel my reputation is unfair, but I would say that, wouldn’t I? If I upset someone, I can’t say it’s their problem. And it’s true that whatever I say, it never looks good written down in black and white because you can’t see the twinkle in my eye. Everyone needs a bad guy to make them feel better. But you can’t change some people. I could cure hunger in Africa, and certain people would still see me as racist.
Q: Do you think you can alter that image?
A: Yes, I think that perception can be broken. You can wrong-foot people sometimes by giving a surprise answer. But in the end, all I can do is live my own life and ask myself at the end of each day if I’ve done my best.
Q: What does the future hold?
A: I’m trying to cut down on the touring because I’ve got a new job. I’m not going to pack up the comedy – after all, I’ve lasted this long! I also need it as a release. But I’ve got other priorities now. With Simon Weston, I co-founded this charity in 2014 called Care after Combat. It looks after military veterans who are in the criminal justice system. Working with the charity has got under my skin. I feel very passionate about it.
Q: Tell us more about the charity.
A: I’ve got used to being around veterans. I used to entertain the troops, and my dad was a soldier. 60% of prisoners reoffend, so I thought, “Let’s try and prevent the veterans from doing that.” Our aim is to keep people out of prison. At Care after Combat, we are currently looking after 160 veterans. 50 of them have been released in the last 12 months and none of them have reoffended. We take care of them.
Q: What you do with them?
A: A lot of them got into the criminal justice system through a moment of madness. So we are there to give them self-esteem and a mentor. We also give them education, which is vital. Yes, by all means punish people who have committed a crime, but make sure that you can educate them at the same time, so they don’t reoffend. It’s in everyone’s benefit – apart from the people who make burglar alarms, of course. They’ll all go skint! So we work to help these guys back onto the path to normality. We can’t go waving banners at football matches, because these veterans want to be anonymous. But we can still really help them.
Q: What will your job be at Care after Combat?
A: I’ll be the CEO. I’ll have 80 staff. It’s not bad. My last job was at the Co-op when I was 16! As CEO, I’ll bring in experts on fundraising, marketing, accounts, and at the coal face. All I have to do is raise half a million pounds every year! When I’m on stage, I’m never far from the self-destruct button, but I don’t worry about that. I’ve been around soldiers all my life, and they don’t consider risk or consequences. Above all, I want to do this job well. It’s time to grow up.
Q: Have you visited a lot of prisons during the course of your work for the charity?
A: Yes. I’m actually spent Christmas Eve in a prison. Whatever you read in the newspapers, prison is horrible. You’re away from your loved ones and locked up for 22 hours a day. Instead of being locked up for 22 hours a day, I think prisoners should be in the classroom for 12 hours a day. It should be like University. I hope that one day, employers will ask ex-prisoners, “Why should I give you the job?” “Because I did two years in Winchester prison.” “You’re hired. You’re our new MD!”
Q: How did you get to know Simon?
A: I met him when he was being patched up at Chessington. He’s a great guy. He’s our charity’s chairman. He’s instantly recognisable. There’s much more to him than you’d think. He suffered terrible physical injuries, but he also underwent huge mental trauma. That’s why he’s a hero. He got his life back. He’s inspirational, and he cares deeply about others. Once you’ve got him on board, you can’t fail. Even I can’t ruin it!
Q: Any other plans?
A: I’m thinking of touring next autumn with a play I’ve written about Alzheimer’s. It’s called “A Piece of Cake”, and I wrote it originally for Ronnie Corbett. He said, “It’s brilliant, but ironically I won’t be able to remember it!” I’m hoping someone will call me up to talk about producing it. I look forward to hearing from them! It’s a play about hope. That’s very important.
Q: Finally, what message do you hope that audiences will take away from “40 Years On”?
A: I came from nothing, but I managed to make a success of my life. I want to let people know that they should never give up. Something bad will happen, but then something good will happen. I’d like to tell people that there’s always something else coming, no matter how bleak life may seem. You have to push on and get through life. Above all, I would like to give people hope.
The show starts at 7.30pm both nights and tickets are £23.
Box office 01536 414141 or visit www.lighthousetheatre.co.uk.