Interview: Rory Bremner
PUBLISHED: 16:44 11 June 2011
He has made a name for himself as Britain's best known and sharpest impressionist. Impressionist Rory Bremner tells us about his latest tour and a life spent impersonating others…
The first words we hear from Rory Bremner are profusely apologetic ones. He’s been double booked on interviews and he just manages to squeeze in several pithy one-liners, before he apologies again, and asks to call me back after he’s fulfilled the conflicting appearance.
He’s said in the past that his worst character defect is his eagerness to please. And we wonder if it’s this trait that’s also seen him emerge as the country’s foremost satirical impressionist over a 30 year career.
Like a magician who uses bewitching ruses to win favour, so it seems Bremner has employed uncanny impersonations since childhood to make people laugh.
True to his word, he calls back shortly after and explains how the art of impressionism — with which his name has become synonymous — was first honed in school. His victims then — his teachers.
One in particular caught his attention, he explains: “A French teacher called Derek Swift. He ingrained in me a love of language and introduced me to the satirical works of Voltaire and Candide. “His reward,” he laughs, “was for me to get up on stage and take the piss.”
These two influences, which he first picked up from Swift at Wellington College in the 1970s, have remained with Bremner. He now speaks three languages fluently and has presided over the discipline of satirical comedy so au-thoritatively, that for many he’s become a custodian of politicians and others in power.
Does he see himself more as a comedian then, or a political commentator? “I’d hate to be a commentator,” he says without hesitation, “although obviously I follow it closely, particularly with election coming up. First and foremost, it’s all about comedy for me. I started off doing teachers, then developing different characters like sports stars, but this goes hand-in-hand with an interest in world affairs, from Iraq to Blair.”
Nonetheless, he’s joined the ranks of other wardens like Jon Snow and Andrew Marr, appearing on their political slots to offer a different prism through which the political system can be viewed. That he uses comedy to investigate, instead of straight journalistic devices, does not undermine the fact that he’s a highly regarded voice within this world.
“It would be very pompous to describe myself as anything other than a comedian,” he says with abashed humility. “In the day you’re a news junkie, then you go on stage at night and just do a few jokes.
“But, like the comedy of Eddie Izzard, I do try to engage people with ideas to give things greater currency. Otherwise it’s just jokes with no purpose.”
In his latest offering, Rory Bremner & Friends brings him to Norwich Playhouse next week. It sees him bringing his unique brand of topical comedy and satire back to the stage and is a rare opportunity to enjoy Britain’s sharpest impressionist at close quarters.
He will be joined by stylish stand up Hattie Hayridge, best known for her role in the cult sci-fi comedy Red Dwarf, and award winning singer Ian Shaw.
A wide variety of subjects and topics will be given the Bremner treatment — but politics is sure to be the topic that underpins the show.
Do politicians sometimes make it too easy for him? “The political stage was a bit like the Big Brother house last year... some of their policies, the duck houses and other bizarre expenses — it was difficult to keep up.”
Describing how he goes about crafting a character, he explains how he listens a lot to the radio, television and also recorded voice exerts on his iPod: “My daughter once borrowed it to listen to Coldplay and I found her an hour later sleeping to Ming Campbell. Luckily she didn’t discover Nick Clegg — that would be enough to finish anyone off.”
So which of his subjects — political or otherwise — would he take to a desert island with him if he had to?
“Ann Widdecombe!” he says with a laugh. And then after a moment of reflection: “Probably Mandela five years ago. Or Clinton would be fascinating.”
t Rory Bremner & Friends is at Norwich Playhouse on June 14, £18, 01603 595898, www.norwichplayhouse.co.uk
MAKING AN IMPRESSION
t Rory Bremner was born in Edinburgh in 1961.
t He lives in the Cotswolds with wife Tessa Campbell Fraser, who is an artist. The couple have two daughters.
t He speaks numerous languages fluently – including French, German and Spanish – after studying at King’s College
t On the day of the 2005 general election, Bremner allegedly tricked Margaret Beckett on a phone call by impersonating then-chancellor Gordon Brown and prompting her to air her views on several high-profile cabinet colleagues. Beckett claimed to have no recollection of the incident
t Bremner first teamed-up with The Two Johns in 1999 to produce the Channel 4 hit show Bremner, Bird and Fortune, which is still successfully on air today.