Ben Elton: You ask the questions

The writer and comedian Ben Elton, 42, was born into a family of academics in Catford, south London. He wrote his first play at the age of 15, and in 1977 he went to Manchester University to study drama, and there he met his future collaborators, Rik Mayall and Ade Edmondson. After graduating, he became the BBC’s youngest- ever scriptwriter, co-writing The Young Ones and Blackadder. In 1981, he began his career as a stand-up comic at the Comedy Store in London. By 1986, he was presenting Saturday Night Live on Channel 4.

His literary career began in 1988 with the publication of the bestseller Stark. He has since written seven novels, including Popcorn and Blast From the Past, which were both adapted for the West End stage. In 2000, he directed his first film, Maybe Baby, based on his novel, Inconceivable. His latest project is the musical, We Will Rock You, for which he wrote the script incorporating songs by the rock group Queen.

He lives with his wife and three children in Primrose Hill.

Some of the new-wave comics of the Eighties ? no names, no pack-drill ? say that you’ve sold out and gone all establishment, palling out with Tories and stuff. What can you do to regain your credibility?
Simon Chesterton, London

I was unaware that I ever had any credibility, and would certainly never aspire to such a thing. Principles are what matter, not poses. I do the work I feel like doing, say the things I feel like saying, and drink with whoever I feel like drinking with. My political position has not changed since my Thatch-bashing days, and as it happens, I got slagged off for not being left-wing enough even then. Incidentally, if you’re talking about who I think you’re talking about, last I heard, he was doing voiceovers for bank ads. I’m not criticising. I use banks. We all do. I just wouldn’t do an ad for one. It’s a question of where you draw your own personal line.

What would Rik, Mike, Neil and Vyv each be doing now, 20 years after The Young Ones?
Sue Smith, by e-mail

Rik would be President of the Michael Portillo Fan Club. Vyv would be a special advisor to Stephen Byers on transport policy. Neil would have moved to Brixton in the hope of being allowed to cultivate his dope plants in peace ? unfortunately, he would have been ripped off when he bought the seeds and be getting a headache trying to smoke fennel. Mike was an enigma then, and remains so.

Does your fridge still smell?
Mark Benning, Brighton

My fridge has changed more than anything else in my life. I now have three small children and so, because of Mister Men yoghurts, Tweenie fruit juices, Laughing Cow cheese triangles, small bowls of cold pasta we hope they might like later etc etc, there’s no longer any room for booze. I’ve thus bought a second fridge, which I realise is very un-eco.

Are you glad that old Thatch is silent?
Emilia Fairfax, by e-mail

I don’t celebrate anybody experiencing the frailties of old age. If the Left is incapable of answering Thatch in argument, then her silence will do us little good. Besides, she’s been more of a problem for her own lot than Labour of late. I always eagerly awaited her pronouncements, they gave me some of my best material.

Have you ever met Jim Davidson? Would you ever work with him? Is it true that you’re going to take over hosting The Generation Game?
Bill Usborne, Belfast

I have met Jim Davidson a couple of times. The first time was at Comic Relief in 1986. He did an excellent spot with some kids that Lenny Henry and I watched from the wings. When he came off, we applauded and he said: “Can’t stop, got to do a benefit for the National Front”. It looks bad in print but actually it was quite funny. I doubt that we would ever share a stage together, but recently he has asked me to do a gig for the British Forces Foundation, which helps servicemen and -women who are in difficulties. I’ve said that I’ll try to help, although we haven’t yet set a date. As to the Gen Game, I’d never heard that rumour and doubt it would be for me. Larry Grayson was always my favourite host, but that’s partly because I fancied Isla St Clair something rotten.

Do you get mistaken for Jack Straw?
Siobhan Jones, Guildford

Never, but I am often mistaken for Mel Gibson.

What do you think your younger self would have thought of you as you are now?
Ben Simmonds, St Albans

Same bloke, greyer hair. Also amazed that things turned out so well.

Is Ali G racist?
Peter Hinds, by e-mail

Ah, the old Stavros debate rears up once more. No, he isn’t, any more than Harry Enfield was anti-Greek, Dick Emery’s “ooh, you are awful” character was homophobic, or Jenny and Dawn’s fat old men characters meant that they think all men are sexists. It would be a sad situation if character comedians were only allowed to play within their own ethnic and social groups. Having said that, I think the debate that Ali G provoked was a healthy one.

What has made you laugh in the last 24 hours?
Julia Burns, Taunton

My children. Their scatological material is very similar to my own.

Who or what is the butt of your present jokes?
Tilda Smith, Birmingham

I’m not doing any stand-up gear at the moment, but like all fathers, I’m already becoming the butt of my family’s jokes. Young as they are, the kids have already decided that I am inherently a joke. Why is that? Why are dad’s considered so sad? I’ve seen it happen time and time again. I may start a self-help group.

Of all the different things you’ve done, which has given you the greatest job satisfaction?
Damian Young, Leeds

Hosting the Brits. You can’t put a price on a hug from Kylie.

Who’s going to win the World Cup?
Sarah Williams, by e-mail

Football ain’t my thing.

Your musical We Will Rock You opens soon. What makes you rock, Ben?
Andy Taylor, Coventry

Rock and pop has always been a big part of my life, and I have very broad tastes. Like most people, I’ve always loved Queen, and getting the chance to work with their greatest hits has been great fun. In the long run, though, I’m in no doubt that the greatest pop group of the 20th century was the Beatles.

What is there left for you to achieve?
Sheila Forrester, by e-mail


‘We Will Rock You’ opens on 14 May at the Dominion Theatre, London (020-7413 1713)

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