I’m a little choosy when considering labelling someone a national institution, although comedy writer Andy Hamilton almost certainly fits the bill. Notwithstanding appearances on Have I got News For You and QI, there’s also the small matter of his four-decade career stretching back to Not The Nine O’clock News, credits on a glittering array of TV and Radio comedy staples, whilst co-creating Drop the Dead Donkey and Outnumbered along the way.
Most recently, Hamilton returned to his stand-up roots, performing 90 minutes of self-crafted material under the working title Change Management, including a forthcoming appearance at Sheffield’s Memorial Hall on 25th September, one of a quartet of new Hamilton dates this Autumn.
Speaking with the genial Londoner following his recent spring tour, he elaborates on the format of his routine: “I started about 18 months ago but I keep changing and updating it. I’m doing four new shows in a week including Sheffield. It’s me getting up doing jokes, anecdotes, stories and commentary on social changes I’ve noticed during my life, good and bad. It’s a good night out… although I would say that! Primarily my job is to make people laugh but also to maybe make them think a little bit; perhaps cause a few arguments on the way home.”
When discussing whether changes have been mainly for the better or for worse, Hamilton’s plays a fairly straight bat. “I’ve not done the maths yet but it probably evens itself out. A lot of the change is to do with new technology affecting the way we behave and think. I suspect all has the potential to be beneficial or harmful, some both at the same time if that makes sense. It does feel like we’re in a period of particularly rapid change although I suspect every generation feels that. Dickens thought railways were the pathway to hell although I think people living in a state of permanent flux, is a new phenomenon.”
Not surprisingly, Hamilton’s obsession with the comedic arts started very early on in life, “TV was one of my best friends when I was a kid; Steptoe, Hancock, The Likely Lads, the American stuff like Bilko, listening to The Goons. As a teenager, I was already interested in comedy, it was a big part of my life; so looking back it makes more sense than I realised at the time that I should go into that field.”
Stints at the Edinburgh Fringe following on from Cambridge University Light Entertainment Society further reinforced this notion, Hamilton elaborating about his time with CLUES, “It’s a charity that does [free] shows for prisons, old people’s homes, people who can’t get away. We used to do other [paid] shows to raise money to fund the charity ones; it’s where I first started writing.”
Keen to glean anecdotes regarding some of my personal Hamilton favourites, he readily recalls the legendary Who Dares Wins panda sketches, “They were quite an achievement because the costumes were almost impossible to stay inside for more than 5 minutes. They were brilliant, expensive to make but phenomenally hot. It’s hard to convey just how hot they were. I borrowed one once to do a children’s party for my son. After a couple of minutes I couldn’t bear it. Tony Robinson and Jimmy Mulville probably lost half a stone every time they did one of those sketches.
Some of the correspondent scenes on Drop the Dead Donkey seem eerily prescient in today’s fake news dominated media and Hamilton agrees, “Damien Day was the pioneer of fake news. The Dimblesteddy bear sketch (where Day’s own cuddly toy is retrieved from the rubble in three completely different war-zone broadcasts, claiming to be that of a local child) was one of the first things we ever wrote, trying to illustrate the tone of the show.”
Switching to radio, Hamilton has contributed to a clutch of long running wireless stalwarts including The News Huddlines and I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue, Andy recalling encounters with the former show’s main star, “Roy was great. He told great stories from the days of variety and I use some of them on stage” I’m also surprised not to have heard of Old Harry’s Game, written and directed by Hamilton whilst also playing the main part. “Have a listen; it’s been on a long time. I play Satan. I write it and play the prince of all evil, which is a bit of a stretch but worryingly not that much!” OHG also happens to be Hamilton’s personal favourite although he does provide a caveat… “It’s really hard, like asking me to pick a favourite child as I tend to be in love with the project I’m working on at the moment,” confirming his furious work ethic when adding “I’ve got a podcast out called Inside Donald Trump hosted by Michael Buerk, you will find out things about Trump that no one knew. I’ve also got a book out called The Star Witness and I’ve loads of scripts out there so never know what’s around the corner.”
Finally, it wouldn’t be right to speak with someone boasting such an illustrious career without gleaning a few sage words of encouragement to those thinking of pursuing a similar line of work. “If you really want to do it and have a talent for it, don’t be dismayed when you get rejected. I don’t know anyone who hasn’t known a time when they couldn’t get arrested, so grow a thick skin. As a writer which is what I am really, you’ve just got to keep writing and don’t worry about when they say no or they don’t ring you back. Just keep going.”