The Good Listening To Show: Stories of Distinction & Genius

A Life of Writing, Laughter & Ignoring His Father's Advice (Phew!) with "The Fast Show"s Charlie Higson: Comedian, Author, Podcaster, all Round 'Polymathic Pants' & Personal Comedy Hero!

February 08, 2024 Chris Grimes - Facilitator. Coach. Motivational Comedian
The Good Listening To Show: Stories of Distinction & Genius
A Life of Writing, Laughter & Ignoring His Father's Advice (Phew!) with "The Fast Show"s Charlie Higson: Comedian, Author, Podcaster, all Round 'Polymathic Pants' & Personal Comedy Hero!
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

It's a 'Red Letter Day' here in the Good Listening To Show 'Clearing', as I welcome a personal comedy hero to the Show!  Delighted to welcome Charles Murray Higson - aka Charlie Higson - born in 1958 in Frome and billed as "That man off of The Fast Show" and credited by The Daily Mail as being both "An idiot and a disgrace!"

Charlie is life-long comedy foil of the likes of Paul Whitehouse,  Mark Williams, John Thompson, Arabella Wier (& the now sadly departed Caroline Aherne) who together make up the splendid ensemble and co-creators of the iconic British TV Comedy Classic, "The Fast Show".

Within a week of our recording together "The Fast Show" is all set to go on a smash-hit SOLD OUT tour of the UK as a stage-show. (And listen as a little bit of wee comes out (!) as Charlie offers me a ticket on the Guest list, when The Fast Show comes to Bristol! He'll definitely be getting an email!)

Charlie Higson is a an extremely talented polymath. He is a prolific Author, including 5 of the "Young Bond" series, having been commissioned by the Fleming Foundation to take up the mantle) He is also an Actor, Comedian & Podcaster.

His Podcast "Willy Willy Harry Stee" is Charlie's History of the English Monarchy, inspired by the mnemonic verse which he rote learned and remembers from school.

It's quite a "Fast Show" (see what I'm doing there?!) as there's quite a lot to talk about!

This is what AI thinks we talked about!

Have you ever wondered what stirs in the mind of a comedy genius? Picture this: Charlie Higson, a man of many creative masks, sits down with us and, with a wit as sharp as a scalpel, slices open the belly of the creative beast. He regales us with tales from the upcoming "Fast Show" tour, sharing how "Painting with Johnny" and other beloved characters are shortly to be resurrected night-after-night to the joy of sold-out crowds.

Charlie doesn't just tickle our funny bones; he delves into his diverse trajectory - from punk rocker to actor to the man who breathes new life into the world of James Bond, both young and old.

It's not all fun and games, though. Well, maybe it is – but with a hefty dash of nostalgia and reverence. Charlie pays homage to the comedic titans who paved his path, the likes of Monty Python, and admits that their imprint on his humor is as indelible as ink. He recounts the serendipity of meeting Paul Whitehouse, a kindred spirit in jest, at university and how it shaped their dynamic comedy duo. Even the bittersweet distraction of social media gets a nod, as Charlie admits to its allure, while also recognizing its role in today's narrative tapestry.

You can also Watch/Listen to Charlie's wonderful episode here:
https://vimeo.com/chrisgrimes/charliehigson

Tune in next week for more stories of 'Distinction & Genius' from The Good Listening To Show 'Clearing'. If you would like to be my Guest too then you can find out HOW via the different 'series strands' at 'The Good Listening To Show' website.

Don't forget to SUBSCRIBE & REVIEW wherever you get your Podcasts :)

Thanks for listening!

Speaker 1:

Welcome to another episode of the Good Listening To Show your life and times with me, chris Grimes, the storytelling show that features the clearing, where all good questions come to get asked and all good stories come to be told, and where all my guests have two things in common they're all creative individuals and all with an interesting story to tell. There are some lovely storytelling metaphors a clearing, a tree, a juicy storytelling exercise called 5-4-3-2-1, some alchemy, some gold, a cheeky bit of Shakespeare and a cake. So it's all to play for. So, yes, welcome to the Good Listening To Show your life and times with me, chris Grimes, are you sitting comfortably here? Then we shall begin. Yes, indeed, a seamless counterforce. I don't have to edit this later. Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to a very auspicious, if I may say, day in the Good Listening To Show clearing. It's Charlie Hickson is here and, charlie, I'm lucky to have you because you're opening the fast show Very lucky, very lucky.

Speaker 2:

Sorry, I interrupted. Yes, we're just about to do a fast show tour. We've got weaker rehearsals next week, leading up to a kind of warm-up gig.

Speaker 1:

And hashtag awkward. I was in the beacon in Bristol just three days ago going, oh I'll just get it, and you completely sold out throughout the nation in fact.

Speaker 2:

No, it's a tricky one because Mark Williams is about to start filming on Father Brown and Paul's about to start filming on some more fishing program. So we only had really a couple of weeks and so we thought, well, let's test the waters, see if people are interested, see how the show goes. And so we've got a couple of weeks and if it's popular, we'll do some more at a future date.

Speaker 1:

Yes and talk about popular. That's got bells, whistles and knobs on in terms of if that's popularity right there, because it's sold out before you could even announce it, I think.

Speaker 2:

You did. Yes, it's sold out in two hours. And we had all this sort of press lined up and adverts and things which shows you didn't need there you go.

Speaker 1:

So if I could just blow a little bit of happy smoke at you and just contextualize why you're here, I expect you're wondering why I've called you here. To the clearing this is the show in which I invite movers, makers, shakers, mavericks, influencers and also personal heroes. You'll see where you're fitting right in in all of those to a clearing or serious happy place of my guests choosing to all share with us their stories of distinction and genius. And it's my great privilege and pleasure to have Charlie Higson here. I know you know who you are. But just to blow a bit of happy smoke to contextualize, can I say when you were born? Is that allowed? Yeah, yeah, yes, 1958 in Froom. Charles Murray Higson, you're an English actor, comedian, author, podcaster. I love and adore your Willy, willy, harry, steve podcast. You're also prolific because you're about to do the fast show tour again. Also, you've been part of the Ian Fleming Foundation. You've written five of the Young Bond series and in fact I've already interviewed Steve Cole, who's inherited the mantle from you, I think as part of the Fleming Foundation, to continue the thrust of your bond.

Speaker 2:

Yes, he did. He carried on doing the Young Bond, but actually earlier this year in May I did my first adult bond. So that was nice, which was on his Majesty's Secret Service. It was a special charity thing to coincide with the coronation.

Speaker 1:

Yes, and I'm particularly happy to have you here, because one of the bits of feedback I once had about this show is it's like a day spa for your brain, which reminded me of a sort of Swiss Tony-esque, slightly cheesy line of being in this podcast. He's not at all like selling a car, which, as you say, is like making love to a beautiful woman. So, yes, I'm going to.

Speaker 2:

Let's see how it goes before I commit to any pronouncements like that.

Speaker 1:

Yes, and the fast show is just so full of bangers I've just adored. I mean, you may or may not decide you want to talk about that, but painting with Johnny is my absolute favorite sketch, which I yeah.

Speaker 2:

I think he's surprising. Over the years he's become sort of more and more populous, one of those ones that people seem to like, and it was great fun to do. Just we went to some very nice parts of the country and did a bit of painting Very rolling hills, yes, and it all kicked off and I could just go nuts. The joy of it was that the sort of lines, the poetic lines of madness, were written by this amazing writer called Brendan O Casey, who wrote quite a lot of stuff for the fast show, because we were all right to perform as Paul and I for White House, and myself wrote the bulk of it, but everybody else wrote, and we also took in submissions from anyone who wanted to write in, and Brendan Casey started sending stuff in which was unlike anything anyone else was writing, and so those lines worked so beautifully for that kind of, and indeed I've just been watching, you know.

Speaker 1:

When finally Johnny becomes unhinged, they're here, they're here, they're landed on the pier, and I'm wearing his favorite color, by the way, which we won't mention, obviously. So it's my great delight and privilege to curate you through the journey of where there's going to be a clearing, a tree, a juicy storytelling exercise called 54321. There's some alchemy, some gold, a couple of random squirrels, a golden baton, a cheeky bit of Shakespeare and a cake. That's absolutely all to play for A squirrel cake, lovely, yes, extra nuts and cherries. So, charlie Higson, if I may call you a versatility and polymathic pants, for all the reasons I've already explained. Where is what is a clearing for you? Where does Charlie Higson go in your busy and hectic schedule to get clutter-free, inspirational and able to think?

Speaker 2:

The bath, love that In the bath. I don't like showers, I mean one uses them to get clean. I do that. Bath is a spiritual experience for me and for me it's really useful because you know, once you're in the bath I said no one can get to you, you're kind of cut off from the world. You're not going to be on your phone unless you have either a death wish or you want to get rid of your phone and you're not at a computer or a screen. I mean I used to read books and things in a bath. No more, because I do appreciate the time of just being able to switch off all of that and be alone with your thoughts. And you know, if anyone asks me what I do, I say I'm a writer and that's what I spend 90 percent of my time doing. But writing is not just the act of sitting down at a keyboard or with a pen and paper. You've got to have something in your head when you get to that space and often you know I'll be writing and I'll be stuck on something. I can't sort it out. And having a bath is a way to kind of just open everything up and let things float. And yeah, I do quite a lot of my writing in the bath, in my head.

Speaker 1:

Lovely. Are we talking candles and bubble baths and sort of you know, sumptuousness or what A?

Speaker 2:

few essential oils. Yes, a bit of bubble bath. I mean not to sort of comedy overflowing one or like they use in films to cover your modesty. A couple of candles help. Yes, just because it's nice to be in a warm, comforting environment and a feeling of safety and enclosure.

Speaker 1:

Love that and if I may ask a personal question, when did you last have a bath, please? Well, it's my bath night tonight, whether you need it or not. How lovely. So think of me in your bath just for a few moments, and that'll well, that'll mean it's time to get out of the bath. That'll ruin the whole experience. And you're yes, you're in good company. By the way, next level going to the bath, there's a director called Faelin McDermott who goes to a flotation tank, which I think is probably the next level. You know, I've always I've always fancied that.

Speaker 2:

I've been very interested to see how that goes. I mean, that is total, totally cutting yourself off from everything. And yes, I gather people go off into weird places in their head.

Speaker 1:

I'm sure he does. Well, I think he definitely does. And also, you can't get you can't stick your toe in the bath and a flotation in the tap, I mean in a flotation tank. So you're the first person actually, by extraordinary coincidence, in 200 episodes that I'm now just about to be in on the cusp of nobody said the bath. My daughter said a shower and, as I said, so, yes, nobody said the bath. So I commend you for your bath. So is it your a familiar bath or any bath that works for you?

Speaker 2:

Any bath really, although it's surprising how many people how many baths get made that actually just don't work as a bath. They're too short or they're too long Usually the worst ones that you go to in a hotel somewhere and they've they've given you a huge statement bath and you just slide about in it and fall under the water and just can't get comfortable.

Speaker 1:

That's not relaxing at all. Is it when they're too opulent?

Speaker 2:

Okay, so we're in your bath.

Speaker 1:

So I'm now, rather comically which is the construct of what we're going to do A bit waiting for. Godo Esk, I'm going to arrive with a tree now in your bathroom.

Speaker 2:

I'm happy to be in a bath in a lovely woodland clearing and with the sun coming down to the leaves and, and and yes, here's a new tree.

Speaker 1:

Well, look at all those greens shining through the trees. So, yes, waiting for Godo Esk, I'm going to shake your tree to see which storytelling apples fall out. So you've been kind enough to think about. You've had five minutes in your bath or elsewhere to have thought about four things that have shaped you, charlie Higson, three things that inspire you, two things that never fail to grab your attention and borrow from the film up, that's a bit more squirrels you know what never fails to grab your attention, irrespective of anything else that's going on for you in your hectic life. And then the one is a quirky or unusual fact about you. We couldn't possibly know about you until you tell us. So it's not a memory test. I'll curate you through it. So interpret the shaking of your canopy, of your tree, as you see fit. So where do I start? Let's go for four things that have shaped you. Four things that have shaped me.

Speaker 2:

Do you want them all first or go through them one by one?

Speaker 1:

Now it's open to interpretation. You can do Bish Bash Bosch one at a time. Well, I'll start with number one.

Speaker 2:

I'm going to do this in chronological order of how they shaped me or when they arrived in my life. One would be just a pen and paper A pen and a piece of paper because I got hooked on writing when I was quite young, when I was a kid. I got hooked on. I've always loved creating things. I've really been into art but also into writing, and I got hooked on the idea that you can take a pen and a piece of paper. You need nothing more, and simply by making those weird squiggly marks, you can create something that wasn't there before. You can tell stories, you can create characters, you can create great whole worlds. That to me seemed to be a really powerful form of magic and it's something that has stayed with me all my life. I've been lucky enough to be paid to make stuff up.

Speaker 1:

What age were you? I know you obviously picked up a pen at school straight away, but what age did you suddenly have the epiphany that this is?

Speaker 2:

something that's my happy place and it's going to help me. I would get little exercise, books and write stories and nicked off other things that I was enjoying. I was only a child and I didn't have much world experience, but probably like eight, nine years old when I was doing that and doing comics and things as well.

Speaker 1:

An empty page isn't sort of writer's block for you. Empty pages, anything is possible for you.

Speaker 2:

Gosh, yes.

Speaker 1:

I love it.

Speaker 2:

If you can't think of anything to write, you can always do a doodle.

Speaker 1:

Lovely. So you're a doodler too. That's an extra. No, I don't have time for writer's block.

Speaker 2:

I'm too busy. I've got more stuff to get on with than I will have time in the rest of my life to actually do you were writing a new book as we speak.

Speaker 1:

I understand as well Another one of the Enemy Book series.

Speaker 2:

No.

Speaker 1:

I should have finished that a few years ago. I blame my researcher, which was me on this occasion.

Speaker 2:

Back him, Get a new one. What am I writing? I'm just I'm in the final stages of finishing a kids book. It's a sequel to a kids book. I had a couple out a couple of years ago called Worst Holiday Ever, and this one's called Worst Superhero Ever. It's about this shy boy who accidentally gets a part in a TV series about superheroes and is not very happy about it. So, yes, I'm doing that, I'm about to start work on another book, which I can't actually talk about at the moment, and I've got a couple of TV things in development. So, yes, I'm always busy and we've got this class show too. I mean, you know, I became a professional writer when I was about 30. And you know, it's my job. I do office hours, it's my day job. You know, when the kids were young, if I wasn't writing, they would have no shoes to wear to school.

Speaker 1:

Yes, and, intriguingly, when you first got going, I know you started by squatting in London when you moved away from the University of East Anglia, where you'd met Paul Whitehouse already and you were a painter and decorator and I researched that you'd even painted and decorated Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie's house, apparently.

Speaker 2:

Yes, that was one of the jobs that I did with Paul. It was at a time we were we'd known Harry Amfield. It had been a friend of ours for years. We were working as decorators. He was working in TV and he knew Stephen and Hugh and knew they needed decorators. He said oh you should use my mates Charlie and Paul. So we did, was that?

Speaker 1:

the name of the store. We did a very nice job.

Speaker 2:

They were very happy with it. But they then they did the classic thing. There were four students, friends, and they bought a house together and then, as their careers and their careers took off and their wealth accumulated, they moved out, At which point Paul and I bought the house off them With a couple of our friends.

Speaker 1:

So it worked out very well, very good, and is that why you're sitting now? Is that the same house you painted?

Speaker 2:

No, no, that was two houses ago.

Speaker 1:

Bless you. So we've done a number one shape, which is a pen and paper. Unless you'd like to tell me anything else about that, what's the second thing that shaped you?

Speaker 2:

It would be Monty Python. I remember, you know, when you're a kid there's, there's programs you watch with your family that become very important. So you know classic things, dad's Army, more common wise, all of that kind of stuff, but they were also if you're lucky, a comedy will come along that you think this has been made specifically for me and you watch it, not with your parents, but it becomes your thing. And Monty Python was that. You know, it was a, it was an attitude, a sense of humor that spoke to me. I mean, it's tricky now going back and watching those, the Monty Python TV series. So much has changed in TV since and our expectations of things. You know, I remember at the time it was, it was just I would you know it would look forward all week for it to come on and absolutely immerse myself in each episode and not want it to end. And one of the things I really loved about it was the endless creativity and the endless invention in it. But also and this did you know, saw more and more that over the years was that the show was made with a great deal of care and attention and pride. The craft of it was amazing and you know when, and then when they did the two books which I bought as soon as I could again, you just see the level of detail and the thought that went into that they weren't just tossed off comedy books, and that's something that I've really taken on board. When all the comedy that I've made over the years is is, I have really tried hard on the craft side to make it, as well as I can, something that I will be proud of in a few years time. That was always more important to me than whether it was a massive hit.

Speaker 1:

And the through line of caring and attention is right there, with the resonance of the fast show, because that absolutely has the same attention to detail and carefully curated yeah.

Speaker 2:

well, we were able to do that partly because because Paul and I ended up producing it. It hadn't been our plan but we couldn't find, we couldn't get hold, we couldn't sign up. The two or three producers we really liked and worked with and knew and one of them amazing comedy producer called John Lloyd said you know what you want to do, you know the show inside out. Why don't you two produce it?

Speaker 1:

We hadn't thought of that.

Speaker 2:

We thought, oh what, we could actually do that and amazingly, the BBC said, yeah, okay, here's a load of money, go away and make us a show.

Speaker 1:

What a great producer he was in just letting you go fly free with it, let you go feral, basically.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, I mean you know we had learned a lot I mean me particularly with Jeffrey Perkins who we first worked with on doing Saturday Night Live with Harry Enfield doing Stavros and loads of money, and he was a very, very generous man. He really liked discovering new talent and nurturing them and showing them the ropes. And when we came to do Harry Enfield television program, his first sketch show with me and Paul Jeffrey was producing that and he let me kind of shadow him almost. You know I was next to him in rehearsals and was next to him in the recording booth. What do you call it now?

Speaker 1:

A gallery. A gallery yes.

Speaker 2:

And, yeah, he taught us everything so that when we got to the first show we did feel confident enough. But, yeah, maybe we could do this.

Speaker 1:

And you're in good company, because of course Stan Laurel was very much the sort of production side with attention to detail, and he was always there working long after to sort of curate the excellence.

Speaker 2:

Yes, While Oliver Hardy was off enjoying himself. Yes, playing the greatest yes looking to the gods and drinking and having nice meals. There's a man at home tearing his hair out, writing some more stuff.

Speaker 1:

And with regard to sort of what goes around comes around because you live, at work in the same world have you been able to sort of personally thank the Monty Python Squad for this stimulus, for this sort of great inspiration?

Speaker 2:

I've met Terry Jones and I've met Michael Palin a few times and, yes, obviously told him how important everything they'd done had been. I mean at the time being a kid, that I had no thought that I might end up ever making television. But you know, seeing the things that they did and things like Rutland Weekend Television, eric Idle did and the Michael Palin series what was that called? The different stories each week.

Speaker 1:

Hang on. No, you just said it. I know exactly what you mean Ripping yarns.

Speaker 2:

Ripping yarns, yes, so you know, loved all that stuff and you know bits of it fed in. I mean, when Paul and I came to make comedy we didn't stylistically do what Multiplier Thin did. We didn't have that sort of for want of a better word surreal edge. You know, edge of silliness or zaniness or whatever, and there's a bit of silliness of what we did. Ours was probably more, you know, grounded, but you know the way they created characters was very influential on us.

Speaker 1:

Talking of which, I just adore the pathos in Ted and Ralph in what you have curated there. So that's another thing that I've just always liked to return to.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, well, that was amazing that those characters became so successful, because they were completely against the ethos of the fast show. The sketches are quite slow. Yeah real catchphrases and it's really about the difficulty of human beings to form relationships.

Speaker 1:

Absolutely Wonderful second shape With the accolade going to Monty Python. Shapeage number three, please. By the way, I've got a bell in case we get lost.

Speaker 2:

Okay, yeah, I'm rambling.

Speaker 1:

No, no, you're not, it's my, I'm just immersed and happy. So it's number three, please. Well, it would be punk rock. Ah, yes, because, not least because you had your own band. Well, I did yes.

Speaker 2:

And punk rock came along 76. I was what 618.

Speaker 1:

You were born in 58. So quick maths 76. Yes, good luck.

Speaker 2:

Yeah. So you know I was a teenager and he came along at exactly the right time in my life to kind of excite me, and I think it was. You know it was a time in my life when I was coming out myself, was leaving home, going to university, and you know it's hard now to look back on punk rock and if you weren't there you wouldn't have been aware of just how, what a change it made to everything. Yes, because it lasted what a couple of years and there wasn't vast amounts of really brilliant music that came out of it. You probably could make a good triple album of the good punk tracks. But the ethos behind it was what was so revolutionary? The idea of you can do it for yourself. Yes, and it was all the stuff around that. You know. People were making clothes and fashion for themselves. They were producing fanzines, comics and stuff like that. And there was the music, there were visuals, there was a, there was an attitude of, yes, exactly that of you can do this. You don't need three articulated lorries and the world's biggest drum kit. You know you can just go out there with any instrument you get old hands on. You don't need to spend years learning the ins and outs of music, as long as you've got energy and enthusiasm and, you know, a desire to entertain, and all of that Fed into it, fed into the whole of society. It led to a lot of things. It led I think it probably led to alternative comedy. Again, there was this feeling we don't need to do it like they do in the old days, you know, dressed up in a dinner suit in some stuffy club or ballroom somewhere. It's like, well, we'll do it in a pub, We'll do it, you know, in some grotty back room somewhere. And yeah, we'll just go up and do it, have a go. We don't need to spend years writing gags or having a team of gag writers for us, we'll just go out and see what happens. And also, I think you know that that then led on to the whole explosion of independent production companies in the 80s. Again, it was like you don't need to go down that lengthy, laborious route at the BBC of starting at the bottom, maybe writing for radio, building your way up and having to. You know that whole monolithic structure that the BBC. You see, it was like, no, just get out there and make your own shows. So so pretty much everything that happened through the 80s with me with, because I was in a band in the 80s for six years and then getting into TV comedy was just well, let's do it.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, and it was right hand lovers. Is that correct?

Speaker 2:

I can Well, my first band yeah, 1977, with Paul Whitehouse, we met in Norwich University and we were both wearing straight jeans, so we knew what type of music we were into. Our attitude was because still then, 77, most people were wearing flat jeans and had long hair. But you know, we had short hair and straight jeans, and so the obvious thing to do was to start a punk band. So we did.

Speaker 1:

And I noticed you then sort of upgraded your own billing by having a band called the Higgsons.

Speaker 2:

next, Well, in true punk spirit, most of the people in the right hand lovers were kicked out at university and the band folded after well, less than a year. But I love music, I love making music and I wanted to form another band. So we got together with some new intake of students and, yeah, created a band which they came up with a name. It wasn't my idea, we needed to put something on our first poster and they sort of said that such a crap name for a band, it would be good. Let's call ourselves that.

Speaker 1:

And the rest is history, lovely.

Speaker 2:

Yes or consigned.

Speaker 1:

Fourth shape now in the curated structure of what I'm drawing you through Well, I touched on it there.

Speaker 2:

It would have been meeting Paul Whitehouse, Ah it's indeed. You know, if I hadn't gone on to university East Anglia in Norwich, I don't know where my life would have gone. I would have ended up being a writer of some sort, but my career which I've been very happy with really was formed entirely by meeting Paul and other people at university, but mainly Paul.

Speaker 1:

And what was the first meeting? What was the first impression?

Speaker 2:

Well, as I say, there was someone with straight trousers, so we probably got together and went to a gig. There was a lot of good live music in Norwich and, yeah, we made each other laugh, which we still do, luckily, and you know that's a great way of bonding, and we were completely different people, which has also helped. He's very loud and extrovert. He's the kind of life and soul of the party. He's always doing funny voices and impersonating people and has that great energy. I am more cerebral, I suppose, in my approach. I'm quite shy, so I kind of stand back and observe more. And you know, paul is very much has that energy of splurging things out and creating things and I am then doing the standloral, I suppose, organising it, structuring it, putting it into a story, formatting it or whatever. I mean that's an exaggeration, but that's kind of how we come to it. And you know, like a good marriage, you're far better off if you compliment what the other person does rather than you both do the same thing. Otherwise there's no point in actually being married.

Speaker 1:

It's great advice for the listeners generally about all sorts of things Lovely. So now on to thank you for the four shapeages. Three things that inspire you. Now, if there's any overlap, don't worry. About three things that inspire you, charlie.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, now God, I wrote it down. Yeah, I got confused between the shaping me and inspiring me. Well, you know, books have always inspired me. I have to say that I love reading, and I always have done, and I love the way that the books can take you out of yourself and take you on an adventure all around the universe sometimes, and that you connect with it in an emotional way and a kind of intellectual way that you don't do with any other media. And it's a shame that people are reading less. Well, they're reading less of the sort of self-contained book, as it were. I mean, they're obviously reading a huge amount online on their screens on their phones, but that unique relationship with a book has always been incredibly important to me. And now a lot of writers say, oh, if I'm writing something, I can't read another book, in case some of it seeps into my writing. And you think, oh fool, if I read a book by someone, it's really good and hope that some of it seeps into your writing.

Speaker 1:

Please let it bleed across. Yes, absolutely so. Books.

Speaker 2:

Yes, one. Well, another thing and I'm basically saying this is a form of self-promotion is when I was at school, I was probably the last generation of school kids who were taught in a sort of old fashioned way before you know, I think through the 60s and 70s education was revolutionized quite a lot. It wasn't that sitting down while a school teacher just told you things, but certainly with history I was, you know, I was taught a sort of narrative history, and it was just British history you only learned about anywhere else in the world if it was somewhere that we'd gone and invaded and colonized the empire. But that narrative thrust of what happened in history which you know. Some of it I've remembered. A lot of it I've forgotten. But one of the things that I did remember was I learned that I'm Willie, willie, harry, stee Harry, dick, john, harry III, which you mentioned earlier, which is a way of remembering all the British monarchs, from William the Conqueror up to the present day, up to Elizabeth the second, as it was then, and you know, almost, almost didn't ever get to update it. It was on the throne for so long, but it was something that stuck with me and it led to in recent years I've really got into history. I've been a regular at a fantastic history festival called the Chalk Valley History Festival, which is also part of this whole inspiration of a history I suppose you could call it. I originally went to host they do a sort of comedy history quiz with historians and but I also do a history talk each year and I've been doing that for over 10 years now and on the back of that I thought I would do a podcast. I wanted to do a podcast to teach people that narrative history of our monarchs and to use them as a lens to look at wider British history over the years.

Speaker 1:

So, yeah, let's say history. Yes, my second inspiration. And Willie, willie, harry Stee is the name of the podcast too. Yes, it is too Wonderful so that's a great.

Speaker 2:

so your third inspiration I've only got two written down, two spiced, I was sure I was sure I'd filled it all in.

Speaker 1:

Which means, if you like, we can now go on to two things that never fail to grab your attention, which is the borrow from the film up oh squirrels. You know what never fails to grab your attention, irrespective of anything else that's going on for you.

Speaker 2:

Well, to tell you the truth, either of these would count as a distraction and an inspiration. So, if you'll allow me that, yes, and they're probably the same things that distract most people. It's social media and playing games on my phone or on my computer, which which are a huge distraction, but they are also I use them as tools. They are very useful. I mean social media, for all its hills. It's like the world. The world. There's some good things in it. There's a lot of bad things in it. There's some confusing stuff, some stuff that makes you furious, and social media reflects that. How could it not? How could it stay as being some weird utopia where everybody's lovely? That's not how the world works. So, you know, I do find it useful to see some of the things that some of the people out there are saying. Luckily, I've been. I've never been trolled or monstered or or had a pile on, so I've been quite lucky, and I do try and pretend to be quite genial on social media and kind full circle.

Speaker 1:

What's lovely. There's a universe in your hand with social media, but also with your piece of paper and a pen. There's a universe in your head.

Speaker 2:

So there's a three line of simplicity in that, yes, but one you're creating yourself and you can get lost in that, you can go down and rabbit hole of you. You know, writing a novel, this, yeah, it's what it's all about. But, and yes, a computer is a window into the universe which can, or doorway as well, so it can suck you in. And but, you know, social media has been very useful for writers because we spend our lives in places like this, where I'm sitting now, by ourselves, tapping away, spending time with our imaginary friends, so to be able to communicate, and probably really properly for the first time, with people who read your books or watch your shows, because the past you write a book and you send it out there and if no idea who's reading it, what feedback yes you know, occasionally it's never happened to me, but you know, some writer gets very excited because they see someone on the tube reading their book and nowadays they're on the phones. They could be reading your book on the phone.

Speaker 1:

I pretend they all are, oh and were you happy the other day, by the way, because I sent you a photograph of I found in a cabinet in a reclamation center. Yes, your book the Dead was in a cabinet that was being sold as a job lot with lots of other books, but yours was one of them Very nice on one level, that, yes, it's going, hopefully going to a good term.

Speaker 2:

But there's also the other level of someone's thrown this out. But, yes, no, I mean social media and computer is a great way, you know, I can keep in touch with other writers, I can keep in touch with readers, I can keep in touch with what's going on, but it can chew up your time. I mean, if I'm probably spending time on it, it'll be when I'm, you know, on a journey somewhere and I've got the time to myself or whatever.

Speaker 1:

And your favorite. Your favorite place to write is right where you're sitting, is it Is that? That's obviously your your home.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, I mean, I've worked from home from, you know, from when I was gosh late 20s, and I've always had a home office of some sort. And you know, when my I got together with my wife, she knew you know that was, that was what my lifestyle was, and if I was in my office I was at work. You know it wasn't like time to. Can you just come and help me with this? Obviously, if it's something, yes, obviously you're a good husband, but you know she, she also now works from home, so she has her own office. So so I've always been comfortable with we're working from home and working by myself and yeah, I do like I can work kind of anywhere, but I am comfortable in this office.

Speaker 1:

So, as we know, give you a bath and an office, you're off. Basically, that's you at home.

Speaker 2:

I know and it's, you know, it's. It's a weird lifestyle. Sometimes, the end of the year, you think, well, what did they do last year? Oh yeah, I sat in that room typing things, but that's not entirely true, because, because through writing, I've had such amazing opportunities and things to do. I was I. Just the other day I was at Buckingham Palace.

Speaker 1:

Well, you've just dropped that in, nicely. What were you doing there?

Speaker 2:

I forgot. Over 10 years now I've been one of the judges on the 500 words competition yeah, a story writing competition for kids, which is huge fun to do, and for the last few years the Queen has been quite involved with it. She's a big patron of literacy, charities and things like 500 words. So so this year it's all. It's all at the palace.

Speaker 1:

Lovely. So now it's a one quirky or unusual fact about you that we couldn't possibly know about you until you tell us Now this is one.

Speaker 2:

I've been really scratching my head over because by the time you've done 10 interviews where they've said tell me something that no one knows about you. I've kind of run out of stuff. So I you know, and I wish there were more quirky and interesting things about me that people didn't know. I mean, I did murder that person one time, but I try not to talk about that.

Speaker 1:

What was that? Sorry that you murdered a person. That's quite a good, unusual fact.

Speaker 2:

Not long ago. I really shouldn't have told you about it in secret.

Speaker 1:

It's out now, but don't worry about it. That's fine.

Speaker 2:

So you're unusual, the great thing about being a writer is you can murder as many people as you like in your books. If there's something you don't like, you turn them into a character in a book and push them off a cliff.

Speaker 1:

Yes, a bit like oh, did I say that out loud? Oh, did I actually do that out loud? I've actually killed you, so that's quite a good fact. I'll have that one, okay. Your Wikipedia, by the way, is full of quite quirky facts, so if you ever get a bit stuck, oh is it?

Speaker 2:

Yeah, but people know that you said it's got to be something that no one knows. If it's on Wikipedia, it's hardly secret, is it?

Speaker 1:

Good point. You've got me on a technicality there, lovely. So we've shaken your tree, hurrah. So now we're staying in the clearing, moving away from the tree. Next we talk about alchemy and gold. When you're absolutely at purpose and in flow, charlie Higson, it may be self-evident, but what are you absolutely happiest doing?

Speaker 2:

Well, I think it's what we've been talking about for the last 40 minutes is I do love writing. I mean, a lot of writers say they don't like the process of it. They like having written something, they like being a writer, but they don't necessarily enjoy the process of writing. I do. I'm never happier than if I'm really stuck in on a project and it's really going well and it's flowing out of me. I mean it's hard work. You have to write and rewrite, and rewrite, and rewrite and keep going over it but, it's something that I like doing shaping words. So, yes, it's no great revelation, but I'm happiest when I'm writing.

Speaker 1:

And how do you capture your ideas mostly? Are they just all in your head, or have you got sort of journals and books just all over?

Speaker 2:

I don't have journals and books. I mean, occasionally I'll write something down Just before going to bed. I think, well, that's a good idea. If I've come from the bath or the classic waking up in the night, we must write that down. But whenever I've done that, I look at it the next day and I'm what. I don't think that was such a great idea. I have relied on keeping them in my head and I've always worked on the principle that if I remember it, it was a good idea and if I forget it it was a forgettable idea.

Speaker 1:

Nice adage for self control. I think that's fantastic. Okay, so now I'm going to ward you with a cake, Charlie Higgs. So this is the last sort of multi-layered cake of suffused with storytelling metaphor. So do you like cake?

Speaker 2:

first of all, Another huge cake fan. I like it. I like a dry chocolate cake, it shall be yours.

Speaker 1:

A bit like a sort of not a black forest gatter, then that's a bit soggy.

Speaker 2:

No, I don't like cakes full of fruit and cream and stuff that squirts everywhere. You try and eat it.

Speaker 1:

None of that.

Speaker 2:

Okay, I like a chocolate cake that's a few days old and gone a bit stale.

Speaker 1:

So if I was able to post you on, it's quite good if I do it by second class and you can just get it nice and dry.

Speaker 2:

So you get it about five years time the way the post works these days.

Speaker 1:

And now you get to put a cherry on the cake, which is stuff like what's a favourite inspirational quote first of all, that's always given you succour and pulled you towards your future.

Speaker 2:

Well, there was a very good quote Elmore Leonard, great American crime writer brilliant writer. It was about to go on a radio show, I think it was, and they said to him when you come on, could you just give us like 10 tips for writing? And he thought, well, he's been slightly thrown in the deep in there. So he said he just wrote these things down really quickly and went on, and these have now become enshrined as the 10 greatest tips on writing by any writer, which he did by accident. And they are very, very good. It's about simplicity and directness and it's about communicating with your reader and making sure that they want to carry on reading what you've written. And one of them and I'll paraphrase slightly he said you know those boring bits in books that you tend to skip over. Don't write them. Yes, and you know, and it is a great piece of advice to a writer, because often you'll be thinking all right, I've got this great bit happening here and this great bit happening here, but I've got to get them from here to there and they need to. You know, they've got to do this stuff and make friends with people. And then you think, oh well, why do I do that? No, that's boring, let's just go from there to there. We'll find a way. So you know, get on with it and engage with the reader and engage with yourself and write what's entertaining you and not just think well, I've got to do this to make it a proper book or a proper bit of.

Speaker 1:

TV and this is the sort of top 10 tips from Elmore Leonard, a sort of established so people Google that they can find all 10.

Speaker 2:

Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah, it's. If you put in tips for writers, it'll be one of the first things that come up, but obviously if you put Elmore Leonard's tip for writers, it'll definitely be the first thing Marvelous.

Speaker 1:

I read a lot of Elmore Leonard which got me into James Lee Burke by some circuitous route, but it was still into American crime fiction which I love.

Speaker 2:

So yeah, well I really got into crime writing in the 80s, which was a real golden age, and it was right. American writers like Elmore Leonard were really coming into their own and also the publishers would rediscover, rediscovering and republishing a lot of old crime books, a lot of noir and pulp crime fiction stuff and you know, I loved all that and I really got into that and that was my first love. I wanted to be a crime writer and I wrote. In the early 90s I wrote four crime novels but then TV took over and you know, making the fast show was a full time job because Paul and I we were writing it, we were performing in it, we were producing. So we were sitting in the edit. You know we were there from start to finish and we get the under one series and we'd have to start another.

Speaker 1:

Next question is what's the best piece of advice you've ever been given?

Speaker 2:

Well, when, when I was about 16, my father, my father was an accountant and he went on to become a management consultant and he was very much, you know. He was born in the mid 20s and he was very much of that part of that conservative with a small C generation that had come through a lot, a lot of the problems of the 30s and obviously the war years, and you know, britain after the war was not the sort of golden age of wealth and prosperity that America had. We were still struggling and there was still rationing. When I was born and he, you know, he knew that I loved writing and he sat me down one day and he said look, I think I'm I, I think it's great that you write, I'm very proud of the things that you've been writing and you obviously get a great deal of satisfaction out of that. But make sure you get yourself a proper job, because you will never make any money as a writer. And the reason this was such good advice was because I was 16 and all 16 year olds completely ignore the advice. Indeed, and deliberately try and do the opposite. I have never had a proper job as such. I mean, I was, I was a decorator, but I'm self employed. I've never had a boss, I've never had to do that kind of nine to five, and I've been hugely lucky to have been able to make a living as a writer and to you know, to still be doing it now is fantastic. And I haven't had to take my father's advice and get a proper job Lovely.

Speaker 1:

And with the beautiful gift of hindsight, penultimate question now is what's the best? Sorry, what notes help or advice might you profit to a younger version of Charlie Hixon?

Speaker 2:

Well, one don't listen to your father.

Speaker 1:

Of course.

Speaker 2:

I mean, you know I hate to appear smug but, and I said before, you know, my life has as unfolded in in a way that I've been very, very happy with and I never had a plan. You know, as a teenager I never thought I would work in television. I enjoyed writing, but I didn't have any expectations that I would ever get anything published. I liked, you know, school, I wrote and put on sort of comedy entertainments. I liked doing that and and through meeting the right people, which was pure luck, I've been able to to do that. So you know, I have very little advice I could give to my younger self other than don't make any plans which I didn't, you know. Don't ruin things. But go back and ruin things by saying, right, you've got to do this, this and this, and then my younger self could screw the whole thing up. I would say to, to, to, to, to to young people. Now you know there's much more sense these days. I think that you've got to know what you want to do and and it's part of university now is so expensive it's got to be, it's got to be your first step on what you're going to do. It's got to pay off. You know. I mean I chose subjects because I thought, well, they're things that will really have nothing to do with the rest of my life. I did English, american Literature and Film Studies, little knowing that that's what I was going to be doing for the rest of my life. I would say to young people is it just a little bit of a bit of a joke? You know? I would say to young people is don't, don't stress about the future and about what you're going to do, but where it's going to go, and particularly in your twenties, is to use your twenties to experiment, to try doing as many different things as you can. You know, I was writing, I was in a band, I was a decorator, I was working in comedy. I was doing all these different things. And, yeah, don't, don't feel you've got to get bogged down and decide on something.

Speaker 1:

And because the other thing is is.

Speaker 2:

You know, I can't really.

Speaker 1:

I've got three boys in my own I was going to ask you if they're following your advice.

Speaker 2:

Well, I try not to give them too much. Because you know, other than saying yeah, you don't. You know, go off and do that, that would be great. And change your job. Yeah, go and live somewhere different and do all of that. And because you know there are jobs that exist today that didn't exist in my day and there are new jobs and things to do every day that appearing. So how can you advise someone where you should be doing this? I remember when I was at school you'd go and see the careers officer and if they thought you were you were in the sort of top half of the intelligent kids at the school they would advise you to go and work in a bank and if you were in the bottom half, they would advise you to go and work in the local. It was called Marley tiles, so the local factory, and that was essentially your careers advice. I'm sure Marley tiles is not there anymore and there aren't any banks left anywhere. So you know who knows what jobs there will be and things you can do, and you know what I do say to my kids is these things are opportunities. You know my oldest boy is an editor and a filmmaker and you know AI comes along and some people are thinking, oh, this is scary, it's going to put me on a job. You know, I said to him learn about it, particularly AI video. I said you learn that you will be the person who knows how to make AI videos and that will be incredibly valuable. So don't see things as a threat. See them as an opportunity.

Speaker 1:

Lovely. We're ramping up to a bit of Shakespeare momentarily to talk about legacy, which is the final best. But just before we get that, if I may, this is the past, the golden baton moment, please. So now you've experienced this from within, who would you most like to pass the golden baton along to in order to keep the golden thread of the storytelling going?

Speaker 2:

Well, they don't need to be famous people, no anyone that you think would be inspirational. Yes, Well, I have a very good friend called Louis Vos, who Paul and I met at university and we've been friends with him ever since. He's a musician, he's an amazing piano player and he's also an amazing piano teacher. But he has had a lot of adversity in his life but he has managed to overcome it all with great strength and he's kept his sense of humour. And you know, I think his story is pretty inspirational. Just say his name one more time it's Louis Vos, V-A-U-S-E.

Speaker 1:

Louis Vos. Thank you very much for the golden baton pass to Louis Vos. And now, finally, then, inspired by Shakespeare, all the world's, a stage at all, the bed of women, women, billy players. We're going to talk about legacy. Charlie Hickson, how, when all is said and done, would you most like to be remembered?

Speaker 2:

Well, I think one of the important things is how you hope that people think you were a nice person, a decent bloke, and that you were kind to people and that your family hopefully turned out all right. Don't think you're a massive knob, so that would be nice For my writing to live on. It would be lovely to think people would be reading my books in the future, but I have no say over that. Who knows what will happen.

Speaker 1:

And you must be very proud, by the way, of the accolade given to you by the Daily Mail, which is on your Twitter feed, which is where you were called an idiot and a disgrace. And of course, you're none of those things really.

Speaker 2:

Yes.

Speaker 1:

When you said massive knob, that triggered me to oh, I've remembered that Daily Mail quote.

Speaker 2:

I know they say these things and then the next day they ring up and say oh, can you come in? We'd like to interview you.

Speaker 1:

So where can we find out all about? Not that we need to, but Charlie Hickson? I know it's too late because the far show is sold out, but where can we find out?

Speaker 2:

We will be adding new dates, so look out for that and but in the meantime, if you want to be entertained by me, please do listen to my podcast. I try to make as entertaining as possible. I talk about a different monarch in every episode, in chronological order, and I have a guest historian on to go into it in more detail with.

Speaker 1:

Yes, it is a wonderful series indeed, thank you, and in terms of Twitter and all that Sheblang, do you want to sort of oh, yes, I'm on Twitter.

Speaker 2:

I am at Monstroso.

Speaker 1:

And why is why at Monstroso?

Speaker 2:

Well, because I was initially told to go on Twitter by my publishers. Many years ago I had a children's book out called Monstroso and I thought, oh, it would be quite clever and funny to call myself at Monstroso. I would be able to promote the book at the same time. It was, in retrospect, a very stupid thing to do. I should have called myself at Charlie Higson. I probably have twice as many followers.

Speaker 1:

Yes, you can always change your handle, but yes, it works, because it's quirky and it's unusual.

Speaker 2:

Well, I like it now and I find it quite funny when people are sort of saying in other tweets well, as Monstroso said, they're going. Who?

Speaker 1:

Charlie Higson, as this has been your moment in the sunshine, in the Good, listening to Show Stories of Distinction, of Genius, is there anything else you'd like to say?

Speaker 2:

No, I think I have entertained people sufficiently. But there was no coward said that when it was forced, someone said oh, you know we're at a party or something, and they got their 12 year old daughter in to play the piano for him. And when she'd finished one piece, he said yes, I think you've entertained us sufficiently.

Speaker 1:

So, on that note, you have indeed entertained us sufficiently, but long may it continue, and I look forward very much indeed to meeting you someday and shaking you by the hand.

Speaker 2:

Oh well, that would be lovely. I've really enjoyed it, Thank you, Me too.

Speaker 1:

And there is. You have sold out in Bristol, but I'll make you poke you. So is there any way I could buy one somewhere from people you know?

Speaker 2:

Well, yeah, remind me. Send me an email to remind me, and I'm sure I could get your guest ticket.

Speaker 1:

Thank you. A little bit of we came out. That's all good. Thank you very much indeed. So thank you very much indeed, charlie Hexen. This I've been Chris Grimes. Tune in next week for more stories from the clearing. Good listening to showcom. Thank you very much indeed. Good night. You've been listening to the Good Listening to Show here on UK Health Radio with me, chris Grimes. If you've enjoyed the show, then please do tune in next week to listen to more stories from the clearing. If you'd like to connect with me on LinkedIn, then please do so. There's also a dedicated Facebook group for the show too. You can contact me about the programme or, if you'd be interested in experiencing some personal impact coaching with me, carry my level up your impact programme. That's chrisatsecondcurveuk. On Twitter and Instagram it's at thatchrisgrimes. So until next time, from me, chris Grimes, from UK Health Radio, and from Stan, to your good health.

Charlie Higson's Creative Process and Inspiration
Influences
Meeting Paul Whitehouse and Social Media
Ideas, Cake, and Writing Tips
Career Advice and Legacy Considerations