Interview: Christopher Biggins on ‘Run For Your Wife’
Playing an object of flamboyancy is how he first gained notice, as the subdued boy in well-known BBC comedy Porridge. As the programme gained popularity, so did he, distinguishing himself as one of Britain’s most singular personalities.
Like most famous people, Biggins is a self-invented, but the persona he has fashioned and the way he seems to process his own recognition hints at an underlying element of self-preservation. On stage, Biggins, 64, has won devotion for his theatre commitment; in fact, he has very rarely left the stage.
If there was a motto to describe his career trajectory, it might be the famous lyrics uttered by Frank Sinatra in My Way: “The record shows I took the blows… and did it my way.” I recently spoke with Biggins from his home in London.
What’s Run For Your Wife about?
It’s about a man called John Smith played by Danny Dyer, who is a taxi driver with two women in his life. He earns his money through driving his taxi, but ends up in different houses on different nights. He later gets involved in a fight after attempting to protect an old tramp played by Judi Dench, and in doing so, he is hit on the head and becomes quite confused. He forgets about his relationship with the two women —Sarah Harding and Denise Van Outen — who are not a very bad choice to have as two lovers. Neil Morrissey plays the role of his best friend Gary, who basically adds to the confusion.
Can you describe your character?
I play a homosexual which I think you’ll probably find very hard to believe. His name is Bobby Franklin, and he is a costume designer. You don’t see my boyfriend in the play but you do in the film and he is played by Lionel Blair, who I’ve been friends with for many years. I cannot tell you how much fun we had, it was truly incredible.
How do you see your characters as you journey through a story with them? Do you tend to get on the inside, or do you like to stay on the outside?
I prefer watching from the outside. I’m not a method actor, which meant for this role I didn’t have to do much research into the life of a 55-year-old homosexual. I just went out there and had fun with it.
I recently read several reviews for Run For Your Wife and saw how harsh the film has been received. Do reviews get to you?
Funnily enough they don’t and I think that’s the nice thing about getting older. However, I was upset for Ray Cooney. I think the critics were cruel in a way that was very unfair. I mean, we had a world premiere of the film at the Odeon in Leicester Square, which was packed with people who really loved it. It’s really frustrating to see how it was so badly criticised, but I think it might’ve been because it wasn’t trendy enough.
Of all the films and television programmes you’ve done, do you have a particular favourite?
I’ve had an amazing career and this may seem bizarre to you, but the thing that sticks out the most was I’m A Celebrity… Get Me Out Of Here, which was a life-changing experience for me. For some unknown reason when I won it, I gained a whole new audience of young people, which was a huge boost to my career. So I have to say that is probably one of the most important things that happened in my career.
Why are you so good at playing amusing, fun and full of life characters?
I’m lucky that I have this sort of personality that comes over on-screen. Sometimes it’s difficult because people who are fun and gregarious don’t always come across the way they appear to be on on-screen. It’s an extraordinary thing and that’s why it’s difficult to explain, but I’m lucky to be one of those people who come across as they are.
As one of the highest paid panto stars in Britain, you must have scripts stacked ceiling-high on your bedside table?
Yes, I do. I will be in Hull this year to do Jack and the Beanstalk. It really is great to do pantomime. I love it.
It seems on of the reasons you’re admired by many is that you are so genuine and sincere, when you’re out in public, do older women ever ask you to dance with them?
[Laughs] Yes, I’m very approachable. I get a lot of people approaching me in the streets. I love it. I’m not one of those people who get upset when asked for autographs. I have people always taking photographs on mobile phones but I don’t mind. I’m thrilled because the public has put me where I am, so I’m always happy to please them.
On the subject of dancing, what are your thoughts on the dance phenomenon known as twerking?
I was on Celebrity Big Brother as a panellist the other night and someone mentioned it. I think it’s sort of a crotch thrust type of dance. I’m not very familiar with it – but I think it’s something we’ve been doing for years.
What was your earliest ambition?
I had three ambitions – one was to be a vicar, the other a chef, and the third an actor. I’ve played lots of vicar’s successfully. I’m a very good cook, but I have got to get the acting together now and I’ll be fine.
I’d love to hear a little bit about your memories of meeting Frank Sinatra?
It was fantastic. I was staying with Joan Collins in Los Angeles, and a friend invited me to the 97th birthday party for George Burns. I was thrilled to be asked and when I got there I was on a table with Shakira Caine, [the wife of Sir Michael Caine], on one side, Frank Sinatra on the other, our hostess Barbara Davis, Carol Channing, Sidney Poitier, and Dan Aykroyd, who said to me, ‘Pinch yourself, Biggins. You don’t often get evenings like this.’ I thought if my mother could see me – she would kill. It was an amazing evening – Frank was charming and lovely. When time we spoke I called him ’sir’, and ‘Mr Sinatra’, but he eventually said, ‘Christopher, call me Frank.’
How would you like history to remember you?
Laughing and enjoying life to the full.
Run For Your Wife is available on DVD from 16 September.Tagged in: Christopher Biggins, Danny Dyer, Denise Van Outen, I’m A Celebrity... Get Me Out Of Here, Judi Dench, Lionel Blair, Neil Morrissey, run for your wife, Sarah Harding
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