Good Griff – We have a natter with Griff Rhys Jones
by Karen Shaw
I’m ill prepared. A last minute interview with one of my comedy faves, Griff Rhys Jones has come available and I have a few minutes to prepare. This is an interview that I have to be reasonably informed for. He’s a clever fella is our Griff, and I don’t want to sound like a dribbling idiot when I chat with him. No-one in the office responds to my frantic ramblings as I ‘Google’ Griff… they’re used to ‘the mad old woman in the corner chuntering!’
After shooting to fame in the early 1980s with the BBC comedy sketch show, Not The Nine O’Clock News and Smith and Jones, Griff Rhys Jones has had a illustrious comedy career, enjoyed acting success winning two Laurence Olivier Awards, founded two production companies, presented.
It’ll Be Alright On the Night and most recently filmed a number of documentaries including Griff ’s Great Britain and Slow Train Through Africa with Griff Rhys Jones. It’s an envible career.
It’s a freezing cold day here in Colne when I catch up with Griff and I can’t help but wonder what it would be like to travel the world for a living but Griff says it’s not all it’s cracked up to be.
“Everyone thinks how fantastic it must be to be on a perpetual freebie, floating out with the greatest travel agents in the world, the BBC. But the main purpose of any travel with any director is to either drown you or kill you in some very simple yet effective and dramatic way!”
I don’t know about you but as I sit watching (and listening to) the rain pelt against my window, I can’t help but feel it might not be the worst job ever. Griff has a fountain of stories
from his times abroad and he’ll be sharing some of them in his upcoming tour, Where Was I? a show in which he documents some of his personal haunts from the last fifteen years. Although, he admits that there are so many it’s hard to decide which ones to share.
“My problem at the moment is I have thousands of stories about travel and the real problem for an audience is if I tell them alphabetically or chronologically and under those circumstances, it can be a long evening!” Griff laughs.
“Something tells me that no matter what stories Griff tells the audience will enjoy them, especially when it comes down to his Indiana Jones’ antics.
“Some of the show is quite simple, like why you’d never want to go first class and some of it is what to do when you jump off a burning boat.”
And what do you do if you jump off a burning boat?
“Don’t forget your passport even if you’ve not got your life jacket. It’s the passport that’s going to cause you problems later on!”
Griff is speaking from experience and continues the story…
“Don’t forget your passport even if you’ve not got your life jacket”
“We got rescued by the Association of American Teaching Hospital Matrons. They were on a trip and were very sweet. They provided us with some of their clothes. They were quite large American ladies so we were walking around in zebra skinned Lycra!”
Sounds more like a scene from a Carry On film…
“When we arrived in Ecuador with no passport, we had loads of forms to fill in. It took a week! Every afternoon we’d have a meeting in a different office. So whatever you do, save your passport!”
However, this isn’t Griff ’s first brush with danger. In between filming and whilst on tour he likes to keep fit by running and has run across The Red Square, along the Riviera and on a Thai beach, but when he was in Tunisia, Griff ran into a little danger.
“The most dangerous thing I did was go for a run in the oasis down at the bottom of Tunisia. It was a beautiful place, and I thought I’d go for a run in the evening.” Griff explains, “I’m running and I suddenly realise that I’m surrounded by dodgy looking dogs. Dogs, if they’re determined they’re going to rip you to pieces don’t all stay in a pack, they circle you. There was one growling at me and the others were circling me…I’ve run with stones in my pockets ever since!”
I suggest that might be a good concept for his next tour and could be titled: ‘Running the World’ but Griff is focused on his forthcoming show, Where Was I? his second solo show which comes off the back of the success of his first show Jones and Smith, which told the story of his relationship with comedy partner, Mel Smith, his death and the onset of ageing. Griff admits that doing that tour was quite therapeutic.
“What’s enjoyable about a double act is, no matter what happens there is always the two of you against the world. So now, suddenly I’m going with my assistant and they go off and I feel quite lonely.”
Although Griff may miss Mel who died in 2013, he still enjoys talking about him and hearing anecdotes about his old comedy partner. He recently got the chance to reminisce whilst filming for Johnny Vegas’ new comedy, Murder on the Blackpool Express.
“It was like anecdote city! We were all on the coach, telling stories so it was a joy and the director had to interrupt us every time he wanted to do a shot.” Griff chuckles, “Johnny is a wonderful bloke. He worked with Mel and knew him well so it was lovely to work together.”
Whilst filming Murder on the Blackpool Express, Griff spent a lot of time in Blackpool. When I ask him how he found ‘The Pool’ he admits the town has a special place in his heart.
“I’m President of Civic Voice which is the Association of Amenities. Blackpool has a brilliant society of people who look after the buildings in Blackpool. They organise events and tours and keep an eye on the heritage of Blackpool.” Griff explains, “They took me all over Blackpool a few years ago so I’m quite familiar with all the extraordinary things there are there. It was lovely to go back.”
And did he see his name on the comedy carpet?
“I did! I’ve got a little bit of the comedy carpet – my initial in granite!”
Griff ’s new show will focus on his adventures whilst travelling. He’s travelled all over the world so I can’t help but wonder if he’s ever considered buying a holiday home.
“Oh no! Too many places still to see! What I like about travelling is moving on.
“I love going to places that are fascinating and romantic. I like to explore cities, culture, food and people. I think the two most dangerous words in the English language are ‘guided’ and ‘tour’ because you can find yourself just shuffling along and being shown things.