We took the actor and comedian aside and talked to him about, among other things, his conspicuous policy of not taking cocaine.
David, you seem to be the internet’s idea of an ideal pub mate.
Oh, that’s nice to hear.
Of an evening do you ever wonder why that is? Or do you consciously try not to?
I think almost everyone, and I would include the vast majority of people who I would declare to be evil, nevertheless want to come across well. I think an important thing as a comedian is for your persona on those occasions to be based in truth. And if people respond well to that, then you go, well, that’s great because I don’t need to worry about the mask slipping.
Like that adage about the truth being preferable because it’s easier to remember.
Oh, that’s absolutely true. If somebody says, “Didn’t you say that the Queen should be executed?” I sort of go, “Well, I don’t think the Queen should be executed, so I don’t suppose I said that.”
How does it feel to be considered as a sort of Stephen Fry-esque figure in British culture?
That’s lovely. But obviously the other side of any affirming compliment is a fear that it’s all going to turn sour.
And they’ll find the bodies.
Exactly. And they’ll hate me with a deeper intensity because at one stage they thought I was OK.
A while back you said that as you reached middle age you might join the National Trust and start pottering around castles. Pottered around any castles recently?
I have, actually. And I quite recently wandered around St Mawes Castle; although I hasten to add that’s not a National Trust property. I think that’s run by English Heritage.
Yes, we don’t want to get phone calls.
English Heritage is part of the government. But what used to be the English Tourist Board is now called ‘Visit England’. And I slightly lament the turning of all titles into a slogan. Just call it the English Tourist Board. It’s like changing the name of Marmite to ‘Eat Marmite’.
You’re quite self-proclaimedly normal; you’re not someone who goes around taking cocaine…
I’d be a fool if I was self-proclaimedly the consumer of an illegal drug. There are very few people who proclaim that. Because it can be a police matter. If I were a taker of cocaine, I think I would have the good sense to be a hypocrite enough to lie about it.
That’s exactly what someone who takes cocaine would say.
It’s a great thing; it’s the thing that brings the cocaine takers and the non-cocaine takers together. They all say that they don’t take it.
What’s the most thrill-seeking thing you’ve done? Ever done a skydive?
No, no. when I was a teenager I was a member of this nerdy Pan-European debating organisation called the European Youth Parliament. And as I went to the eighth session, they did a sort of team-building weekend. And in that I had to briefly abseil and climb a not-very-high rock face. I hated every fucking second of it.
What would it take for you to do something like a bungee jump?
Ooh. I do respond to money. But I don’t think the market would ever support the amount of money I would charge to do that.
A skydive’s sort of all right because you’re trusting someone else to release the parachute.
I would certainly prefer that. And this is a big difference I have with my wife. She hates flying and one of the reasons she hates flying is that she hates the feeling that she’s not in control. But she would actually much rather be at the front [of the plane], driving it.
Which would be terrible.
Because she’s not trained. Exactly.
No, I hope I never get onto a plane and your wife is flying it.
They’ve never yet let her.
And thank God for that. You’ve mentioned you’d quite fancy writing a murder mystery novel. Which detective series do you have most of an affinity with?
I think I’m an Inspector Morse guy. I would genuinely bungee jump if it led to the discovery of a full two-hour Inspector Morse that I’d never seen. Not a Lewis – that won’t do; not an Endeavour; a proper late-’80s-era Inspector Morse. I’d attach myself to a giant rubber band for that.
Would you attach yourself to a giant rubber band if they said you could be in an episode?
If anybody wants me to be a Maigret or Inspector Morse figure for the next decade, then I’m absolutely up for it. The Christmas specials; the classic car… though they’d have to put it on a low loader because I can’t drive. Maybe that could be his thing! He can’t drive! He refuses to drive!
I’ll make the calls. You mentioned in an interview that at 90 you wanted to be a ‘demented embarrassment’ still hosting radio shows. What do you really think you’ll be doing as a nonagenarian?
If I’m alive and in possession of my mental faculties and not in constant pain at the age of 90 – and those are three big ifs – then I will count myself extremely lucky. I would love to still be popping up on Radio 4 and making befuddled remarks. If I’m up to it I’m up for it.
Nicholas Parsons has breached 90 now, hasn’t he.
I think he’s 140 now. He pre-dates the whole corporation by some years.
He was just talking and they built the studios around him.
He was probably discovered after the Renaissance just doing Just A Minute in a cave. And it was only centuries later that they thought they might actually broadcast it.
Something to aspire to.
Back continues on Wednesdays at 10pm on Channel 4.