Interview: Alexander Armstrong | Living North

Interview: Alexander Armstrong

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Trevor Leighton
Born in Rothbury, educated in Durham, and now entertaining the nation – we chat to, Alexander Armstrong ahead of his new tour
‘I’m going to be back up in the North East a lot over the next few years. I’ve become Patron of the Rothbury Traditional Music Festival, and I’m really looking forward to that becoming an important part of my life’

Whether as one half of the BAFTA-winning comedy duo Armstrong and Miller or as the host of Pointless, presenting Classic FM or acting in the new Horrible Histories film, Alexander Armstrong knows how to entertain. And having enthralled the nation for more than 20 years now, he’s looking to add yet another string to his already impressive bow – as he prepares to embark on what is incredibly his first ever stand up tour, All Mouth and Some Trousers. We catch up with the Northumberland native to find out more

What’s the premise of your new show?
It’s a stand up show and so, like all good stand up shows, it rambles a bit! No, it doesn’t ramble – it darts with great precision from point to point! The theme I dwell on is that period of my life when I had just moved to London from Northumberland, and my adventures in the foothills of a show-business career. 

What was that period like for you? 
Well for the first 15 years of my career I ended up doing lots of voice-over work. So a lot of this show will be me basically talking the audience through the voice-over business, because it’s a very funny world. And I don’t think anyone has ever really explained how it works before, it’s nuts! But I’ll be touching on everything – my life now, a little bit of family stuff, I’ll be using all kinds of autobiographical material. 

And this is your first ever stand up tour? 
Yes, this will be the first time I’ve taken a stand up show on tour. I’ve been doing stand up acts for quite a long time, after-dinner things and corporate events, so I learned the craft that way, but I’ve never taken it on the actual circuit before. It should be interesting! I’ve been talking about it for the last seven years at least, so now finally I’m going to do it. And who knows? If it goes well, I intend to do tons of them.
You played Catus Decianus in the new Horrible Histories film. What was filming that like?
That was huge fun! It was lovely because the team behind Horrible Histories are basically my comedy family. The producer, Caroline Norris, was also the producer on Armstrong and Miller, and the director, Dominic Brigstocke, was our director too. Nearly all the cast of the original Horrible Histories series were, at one time or another, Armstrong and Miller support actors, so the original Horrible Histories show was almost a sister show to Armstrong and Miller – or, I should say, we were a sister show to Horrible Histories. So it’s been lovely to watch how it’s taken off over the last eight years, because it’s just so brilliantly deserved. There wasn’t that many of the original cast in the movie, but the new cast are all really lovely people. I got to do a lot of my scenes with Lee Mack, which was just brilliant. Fingers crossed there’ll be more, because I’d love to do another.

Why do you think it’s so popular? 
I think it comes down to that idea of making comedy that actually appeals to all ages. There used to be this weird idea that if you’re doing a show for kids it somehow needed to be childish, and that’s not the case. Young children have a fantastic sense of humour and, if they know one thing better than anything else, it’s that they know when they’re being spoken down to. I’ve always felt that, and so watching that idea being disproved by the phenomenal success of Horrible Histories is fantastic. I remember just thinking: thank you for proving, once and for all, that you can make a properly successful kids comedy show. It’s basically the same as writing an adults’ comedy show, just without the swearing! I mean, when I was 11, I used to love Monty Python. We had a record of Monty Python, I wasn’t sure if I was allowed to listen to it, but I adored it. And the things I didn’t quite understand were the things I adored the most! If there was anything I didn’t get, I’d go and ask my older brother and he would quietly explain! 

You were in Newcastle recently as part of your presidential duties for the Lit & Phil. How often are you in the North East?
I try and get up as much as I can. Annoyingly, it’s almost impossible at the moment because we live in Oxford. There is a direct train from Oxford to Newcastle but it’s a slow one, and we’ve got four young children, so now isn’t the best time. But I’m going to be back up in the North East a lot over the next few years. I’ve become Patron of the Rothbury Traditional Music Festival, and I’m really looking forward to that becoming an important part of my life. I can’t remember exactly when the first festival was, I think it was about ’75 or ’76, but I do remember it was a big part of our childhood memories, because it was always right at the beginning of the summer holidays. My dad would usually write a poem for the Northumbrian Dialect Poetry competition and my cousin would always come and sing some songs that he’d written, and we’d all go along and watch. So, for me, becoming patron feels like a proper full-circle moment. It’s lovely to look at ways we can keep all the wonderful things about the festival, but also see what we can do to encourage more people to come along and breathe new life into it. 

How do you fit everything in?
It’s a mad dash! But I have a brilliant office who arrange everything for me. And a change is as good as a holiday, I find. This morning I’m on my way to do some stuff at Classic FM, I’ve got four Pointless shows to film, then I’m doing The One Show. But tomorrow I’m on Chris Evans in the morning and then I’ve got a day watching the cricket at The Oval, so it’s not all hard work! 

We’re starting to think about Christmas here already. What’s the festive season like in the Armstrong household?
One of our boys is a chorister, so he’s got singing commitments right up until the 21st December. But that’s lovely because it means that we get to go along to lots of different Christmas concerts and carol services with him. Music is always a big part of our Christmas – I think it’s a big part of everybody’s Christmas. Getting together with family is always important too. We alternate, so we do one year with my wife’s family and one year with mine, and this year it’s going to be all my family. My niece is emerging as a very promising comedy writer. She’s now 16, and every year she writes the nativity play for their parish church down in West Berkshire. And every year it just gets that little bit funnier. So our boys are all roped into that too, they spend the week ahead of Christmas rehearsing in the morning and that’s now become a bit of a festive tradition for us as well. 

After the tour, what’s next for you? 
I’m kind of hoping that I can just bob about in December doing all that pre-Christmas stuff with the pressure off, but it never works out like that! But I’ve got plenty of exciting projects lined up for the new year. 

Alexander’s 18 date stand-up tour, All Mouth and Some Trousers, starts in November, with a show at Darlington Hippodrome, 4th November, and Newcastle’s Tyne Theatre and Opera House, 5th November. For ticket information please visit: www.alexanderarmstrongontour.com

Published in: January 2020

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