Miles Jupp: From Balamory to the News Quiz and beyond

Comedian, actor, broadcaster '“ Miles Jupp is a man with many strings to his bow. He talks to Yvette Huddleston.

Miles Jupp
Miles Jupp

Not only does he host Radio 4’s popular long-running comedy panel show The News Quiz, as well as appearing on others such as I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue and Just a Minute, he also acts on stage and television. Not to mention the supporting roles in major feature films, including The Monuments Men, Johnny English Reborn and Sherlock Holmes, that he has under his belt too.

As if that weren’t enough to keep him occupied, he is currently on an extensive UK tour with his new solo stand-up show Songs of Freedom which stops off at Leeds City Varieties in February and the King’s Hall in Ilkley in March. Jupp is also a father of five, so even when he’s at home he probably doesn’t get much down time. When we speak over the phone just before Christmas he is in transit, standing on a platform waiting for a train at Paddington Station.

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“I suppose I like being busy,” he says. “And when you get busy you don’t want it to stop, you want there to be a momentum. Sometimes I do things I’ve suggested, which is nice, at other times something just comes along that sounds exciting, and then some of it is simply work, because I’ve got mouths to feed.”

As well as being a stand up comedian and host of The News Quiz, Miles Jupp is also an accomplished actor and had recently appeared in the BBC series Father Brown. C) BBC - Photographer: Gary Moyes

He has already done 29 dates of the tour last autumn and is looking forward to being back on the road again. “So far I have really enjoyed it,” he says. “I love going to lots of different theatres and turning up somewhere where you don’t know people and meeting them. I’m not saying it’s not hard work but it’s a fun thing to do. And people have come out to have a jolly time…” Given the fast-changing nature of global events over the last 12 months, Jupp has had to make some amendments to parts of the show. “Bits of stuff will inevitably trickle into it,” he says. “Going to a show there is an element of escapism and just forgetting about all the stuff that is going on. That’s important, but at the same time you have to engage with it so that you can laugh at it. By standing up and talking about it and smiling you are being part of the resistance.”

Jupp took over from Sandi Toksvig as host of The News Quiz in September 2015, after having been a regular panellist for some years. Was he daunted by taking over from Toksvig, who had made the role very much her own during the nine years she was in the chair? “It was a little bit daunting but I thought I have just got to get on with it,” he says. “You are inheriting an audience so they will take some time to warm to you but you’ve just have to do it the way you are going to do it – there is no point in being nervous. I am not going to read reviews and I am not going to worry about that kind of thing. You are not an ambassador – you are doing a specific job. I knew it could be overwhelming – but the show wasn’t completely unfamiliar territory to me as I had appeared on it quite a few times and I knew a lot of the people who come on. Having said that, there is a different dynamic as chair and it took a bit of thought to find a different angle – your responsibility as chair is essentially to create an environment where people can do what they do best.”

I’m curious about how the show works in terms of preparation – apart from the chair’s script, as a listener it all feels very off the cuff. Jupp says that’s exactly how it is, and how it should be. “You want it to sound spontaneous, so you can’t really plan stuff – and anyway you can always tell if that’s happened,” he says. “We don’t really get together until just before the show, everyone does their own preparation. I am there all day with the producers and writers and then the guests will rock up just before we do the recording.”

Jupp’s route in to stand-up, and subsequently acting and presenting, was unconventional – he has never been to drama school – but comedy was something that appealed to him right from being a schoolboy. “I remember watching comedians when I was at school, thinking it looked like such an exciting thing to do. And being funny, making people laugh is enjoyable.” He was brought up in a religious family – his father was a minister in the United Reform Church and he went on to study Divinity at the University of Edinburgh. It was while he was there that he got a taste for performing. He joined the university drama society but says he found it a bit too ‘safe’. “I did some improv and then very quickly started doing stuff on the Edinburgh comedy scene. I chanced my arm by throwing myself out of my comfort zone.”

As well as being a stand up comedian and host of The News Quiz, Miles Jupp is also an accomplished actor and had recently appeared in the BBC series Father Brown. C) BBC - Photographer: Gary Moyes

Taking that risk proved to be fruitful and he quickly made a name for himself on the comedy circuit. He was soon winning awards for his stand-up – his debut Edinburgh solo show Gentlemen Prefer Brogues was nominated for the Perrier Best Newcomer award. On the back of those successes he was offered a job as Archie the eccentric inventor in the children’s television series Balamory – even before he had finished his degree. “I am completely untrained,” he says. “I learned as I went along – that was my training. You can learn a huge amount by doing that. There are situations where you know what you are doing and others where you don’t – then you find out that everyone is bluffing anyway.”

He has had the pleasure of appearing in two fairly ground-breaking TV comedies over the past few years. In Rev he played Nigel the ambitious lay reader alongside Tom Hollander’s beleaguered inner city priest and he was the incompetent press officer John Duggan in ‘comedy god’ Armando Iannucci’s razor-sharp political satire In the Thick of It, a scarily realistic portrayal of the machinations of Westminster. “They were amazing opportunities and incredible projects to part of,” says Jupp. “And to work with Armando, well – I will always have that.”

In 2011 he wrote and starred in the Radio 4 comedy series In and Out of the Kitchen, the diary of a minor celebrity chef, Damien Trench. It was a huge success leading to three further series and a short-lived TV version on BBC4. His latest project, which he is in the midst of when we speak, is Trench’s fictional memoir Eggs and Soldiers: A Childhood Memoir which is due for publication in July. “Writing a book is a completely different thing,” he says. “You have to be disciplined. It’s a different mode – you are not pacing up and down on a stage, you have to sit at a desk on your own, but you have editors who help, so there is a support network there for most things.”

One of his more unusual recent projects was taking a part as “a slightly Scottish man” in a Dutch film Waterboys, about a father and son relationship, which was released in the Netherlands in December. “That came out of nowhere,” he says. “I had a Skype conversation with the director and he said you have to be Scottish – I told him I could only do one type of Scottish accent and then I went to Amsterdam to meet him and he said ‘Miles this film is going to be much funnier than you think’. I have absolutely no idea how he heard about me and I didn’t want to ask, in case he was actually thinking of someone else.”

Miles Jupp appears with his Songs of Freedom show at Leeds City Varieties on February 7 and The King’s Hall, Ilkley on March 20.