The most extraordinary thing about the cast of Phoenix Nights, the Peter Kay cult classic comedy over a decade from our screens, is that they are so warmly embraced on this side of the Pennines. Dave Spikey’s Lancashire accent would grate from any other mouth, but, somehow, I find it warming.
So do plenty other Tykes, it seems, given that he’s playing St George’s Hall in Bradford next week, one of the region’s bigger venues. Spikey is doing his bit for Yorkshire-Lancashire relations.
“Everyone who likes to laugh. I am really fortunate and proud in a way that I seem to attract a fantastically diverse audience from teens to senior citizens. Some will be fans of Phoenix Nights and other stuff I’ve written and appeared in,” he says, somewhat diplomatically.
Interestingly, like surrealist Harry Hill, Spikey had a career in science long before he started making ‘em laugh. In fact, he says, being a comedian was never supposed to happen to him.
“It’s all one big accident,” he says. “I was at the top of my profession, a Chief Biomedical Scientist in Haematology at the Royal Bolton Hospital and over the years I used to write comedy as a hobby. My father was a great comedy fan and we used to listen to comedy on the radio, on records and eventually on TV and so I grew up surrounded by laughs and competing with my dad as to who could come up with the funniest line every day. I was asked to write pantomimes and revues by the hospital am-dram society and eventually directed them then appeared in performances.
A friend of mine had a popular band at the time and asked me to support them on a small tour, he thought comedy would be a nice contrast and would complement the music. I didn’t have the bottle so I wrote a few two-handed sketches and me and my mate Rick Sykes formed a double act, “Spikey and Sykey”. It all went really well until he left to pursue his teaching career and I packed it all in for a couple of years and went back to looking down my microscope. But I’d got the bug and a couple of years later started out on my own and after ten years hard slog on the circuit I’d become an overnight success.”
Already this month he has brought his hit show Punchlines (see what I did there? Hit. Punchlines. Never mind), to the Theatre Royal Wakefield and next week will bring the show to St George’s Hall.
So what is it that makes the North such a fertile breeding ground for funnymen and women? “I think it’s something to do with the accent – the warmth and phrasing and timing. I think our sense of humour is special. I think it’s handed down through generations – that ability to laugh at ourselves, to take the mickey with a smile and without real offence and, most importantly, to laugh in the face of adversity.”
It is the sort of attitude that permeated Phoenix Nights and made it such a success. The show is still such a cult hit that the cast sold out Manchester Arena earlier this year, with the proceeds going to Comic Relief. There was alchemy when that show was put together. “I have never, ever laughed so much. Phoenix Nights was unique in as much as we were, and still are, comedians who were good mates from the comedy circuit. This wasn’t a cast of actors coming together for a job, this was a gang of mates having a ball.”
• Dave Spikey, Punchlines, Bradford St Georges Hall, October 30. 01274 432000.