I've got news for you! After ten years, Angus Deayton breaks his silence on that infamous sacking
The other day Angus Deayton was in a recording studio overdubbing a sex scene with Anna Chancellor for new BBC3 comedy series Pramface.
‘I was standing there making moaning and groaning noises with a producer, an editor and a sound engineer all staring at me through the glass,’ he says.
‘If there’s one thing more embarrassing than doing a sex scene, it’s overdubbing a sex scene.’
In May 2002 Angus Deayton faced lurid headlines about his alleged use of prostitutes and cocaine
Now, funny as Angus is, it’s hard to talk meaningfully about anything much – particularly sex scenes – without mentioning his departure from BBC1’s Have I Got News For You amid those well-documented ‘sex ’n’ drugs’ allegations.
That, however, was a decade ago, and his hugely successful career has continued on Radio 4 with It’s Your Round, and on TV with hits like Hell’s Kitchen, Would I Lie To You and the bleak BBC comedy series Nighty Night.
In his new comedy, Pramface, he plays the father of 18-year-old Laura (Scarlett Alice Johnson), who discovers she’s pregnant. The series follows her and her teenage boyfriend as they face the big moment and even bigger decisions about life.
‘Sadly without the help of her parents, whose relationship is in an even worse state than theirs,’ says Angus. ‘It’s a comedy drama in a similar black vein to Nighty Night. Sort of “comedy of embarrassment”, where you get as many laughs from the awkward silences as from the dialogue.’
Angus with Ian Hislop and Paul Merton on the set of Have I Got News For You
Angus, 56, is no stranger to awkward situations. In May 2002 he faced lurid headlines about his alleged use of prostitutes and cocaine. At the start of the next Have I Got News For You he told viewers, ‘Do not adjust your set. My face really is this red.’
He was teased mercilessly about it on air by panellists Paul Merton and Ian Hislop, and was reported to have privately thanked them afterwards ‘ for making something funny out of something so unfunny’.
In October that year, after Angus appeared in the headlines again, he was sacked from the show by BBC executives and the show’s makers, Hat Trick Productions, who claimed the scandal was making his role as host of a topical satire programme ‘untenable’.
It seemed a slightly odd decision, given most viewers wanted him to stay on, according to a poll conducted at the time for the BBC. Angus is, after all, not just a master of deadpan wit, but a popular man – a rare thing in such a dog-eat-dog industry. So what does he think really happened
One or two people know what really went
on then. There was a lot of hypocrisy, a certain amount of jealousy and
considerable underhand tactics.
‘I chose not to fight the PR battle at the time,’ he says. ‘It means, sadly, that Hat Trick’s is the version of events that sticks. But there was a massive amount of economy with the truth and, in certain circumstances, lies. I thought one day people would think, “Maybe there’s a different version
of events.” Anyone asked about it always comes up with the expression “untenable”. They say my job on Have I Got News For You was untenable and that Christine Hamilton had the moral high ground.’
He’s referring to the episode that went out just before he was fired, when Angus called Christine’s husband Neil ‘the disgraced former MP’ and she shot back, ‘If he’s disgraced, then what are you’
‘Think. Look at the tapes. Watch the programme,’ says Angus. ‘Have a look at the interchange between Christine and me. Who gets the round of applause at the end Plus, if my job was untenable why was there no evidence of it It’s not like the audience stopped laughing or we had to avoid any particular stories. We recorded four shows after the first round of allegations and the show didn’t suffer in the least. In fact, I’d say audiences were even more responsive and supportive than before.
Angus grew up the youngest of three boys in Caterham, Surrey, and attended the private Caterham School
‘When people ask me why it happened, it’s difficult to know quite how much to say to them. One or two people know what really went on then. There was a lot of hypocrisy, a certain amount of jealousy and considerable underhand tactics. But it would take a volume the size of War And Peace to detail it all, and I don’t feel that’s for me to do anyway.’
Whatever Angus’s faults, many felt that he’d been dealt an unfair hand. The likes of Richard Curtis, the writer of Four Weddings And A Funeral and an old mate from his Oxford days, stood by him, as did comic actor Stephen Fry, who subsequently refused to appear on HIGNFY. Deayton’s girlfriend, scriptwriter Lise Mayer, also gave him her full support.
‘We were both targeted,’ says Angus. ‘Nothing unites you more than when you’re under attack… from employers, employees, friends who you thought were friends. In a way, you’re traumatised and it takes a long time to come out of that.’
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Support: Angus and his partner Lise Mayer
there’s no silver lining to be drawn from the ‘traumatic’ six months
following his sacking. Thankfully, though, given his lengthy success on
HIGNFY and, of course, his stint on hit comedy series One Foot In The
Grave, which had finished two years before, he never worried about
putting food on the table. And he wasn’t out of work for long.
few months he appeared in a one-off special of Radio 4 comedy Radio
Active, which he’d started out in back in the 80s. The next year he had a
guest spot in BBC political comedy Absolute Power and in 2004 came
was also way more support at the time than I’d ever had before. If I
turned up to an awards ceremony or after-dinner speech, I’d get a
standing ovation before I opened my mouth. This idea of being reviled by
the public doesn’t hold water.’ Angus says Rowan Atkinson, a long-time
friend, taught him how to deal with celebrity.
‘I worked with him for
years [Deayton appeared in Mr Bean, Blackadder and several live
performances with Rowan]. He’s very normal and well-adjusted. I learned
what it was like to be in demand as a celebrity, and how to be polite to
fans. Friends are probably the most important part of my life. Family
too, but that’s a given.’
grew up the youngest of three boys in Caterham, Surrey, and attended
the private Caterham School. The son of a naval officer, he says he’s
rebelled against ‘convention all my life, but not in an in-your-face
way’. Although shy, his comic timing and sharp wit led to accusations of
‘subversive behaviour’ from teachers, but he never considered a career
in comedy – he wanted to be a footballer and had a trial with Crystal
Palace – until he bumped into Richard Curtis at Oxford.
had lunch and he agreed to take part in the Oxford Revue at the
Edinburgh Festival Fringe after a few members of the cast dropped out.
He then spent seven years on Radio 4’s Radio Active – a comedy set in a
fictional radio station, which he co-wrote and performed in – which
transferred to television as KYTV in 1989. Then, of course, came his
appearance as the Meldrews’ neighbour in One Foot In The Grave, followed
by Have I Got News For You, where his sauve manner won him the nickname
slightly odd that people started paying attention to what you had to
say,’ he says. ‘But I think as long as you’re aware it’s all a mask,
it’s OK. If you start believing it, that’s slightly dangerous.’ Angus
first met his partner Lise, co-writer and creator of The Young Ones, in
the late Seventies when she was dating Rik Mayall and he was with the
actress Helen Atkinson-Wood, whom he’d met at Oxford.
‘Lise and I had known each other for 13 years before we started going
out. I fancied her from the word go, but she was with someone else and
so was I.’ Their son Isaac, 11, was eventually born with the help of IVF
around seven years into their relationship. ‘It was really a struggle,’
he says. ‘But I don’t want to go into detail, as much for Lise’s sake
as for anyone else’s. It took a while, but it all turned out well in the
Angus has now
returned to Radio 4 to present It’s Your Round, a new comedy show where
each panellist makes up their own round for the other panellists to
play. ‘If a show’s no good I can always blame it on the panel for coming
up with rubbish games,’ he jokes. So, is this where he saw himself
ending up when he embarked on his somewhat chequered career back in
‘I never set my
sights on being an actor or comedian or presenter,’ he says. ‘I’m not
sure anyone ever feels they belong in showbusiness. I think everyone
feels a bit of a fraud, that one day they’ll get rumbled. That’s sort of
what showbusiness is – a charade. People are basing their assumptions
about you on half the facts. The rest of it just isn’t true.’
Pramface, BBC3, Thursday 23 February at 9pm, bbc.co.uk/bbcthree