Danny Baker, comedy writer, journalist, radio DJ and screenwriter, chats with Kevin Cooper about the prospect of retiring, his encounter with the late Hughie Green, his pod cast with Gary Lineker and his theatre tour of the UK with his show, Good Time Charlie’s Back.

Danny Baker is an English comedy writer, journalist, radio DJ and screenwriter. He was born in Deptford in south east London to Fred ‘Spud’ Baker, a dock worker and Betty, a factory worker. He left school at the age of 14 and initially worked in One Stop Records, a small but fashionable record shop in South Molton Street in the west end of London.

In 1977, Baker started writing for the punk fanzine Sniffin’ Glue which in turn led to an offer from the New Musical Express. He began working as the office receptionist, but was soon contributing regular articles and reviews before progressing to interviews. He often refers to these times during his radio shows, regularly citing examples of the ridiculous behaviour exhibited by his rock star interviewees.

He has had several radio shows including a slot on Radio 2 and the Saturday Morning Show, for which he won the Gold Sony Radio Award in the Speech Radio Personality of the Year Award for 2011, 2012 and 2014.

A very good friend of Chris Evans, he was a writer on his TFI Friday show, and in 2016 Evans hired him to work as a writer on Top Gear. Later that year he also appeared on I’m A Celebrity…Get Me Out Of Here.

In 2012 he released his autobiography, Going To Sea In A Sieve, which was the basis of his 2015 sitcom, Cradle To Grave.

Whilst getting ready for his theatre tour of the UK with Good Time Charlie’s Back, he took some time out to have a chat with Kevin Cooper and this is what he had to say.

Hi Danny how are you?

I couldn’t be better Kevin; I am giving off sparks (laughter). How are you today?

I’m very well thank you and before we move on let me thank you for taking the time to speak to me today.

Absolutely no problem, no problem at all and let me tell you, in fifteen minutes time you will be saying “phew, I’m glad that I got rid of him” (laughter).

Well if you get bored at any time you will just have to do what Huey (Morgan) of the Fun Lovin’ Criminals did.

Really, what was that?

Called me a wanker, told me to fuck off and promptly left the room (laughter).

(Laughter) really, well that is brilliant. You could dine out on that story. The reason why we are behind schedule is that I do know that I tell stories and I do talk a lot. Here in the office everyone keeps looking at the clock and shouting “we have got to move on” so in your own time Kevin, what do you want to know?

Correct me if I am wrong but I honestly did think that you were retiring from life on the stage?

(Laughter) listen, I have been trying to retire now for the past three years. The whole point of the forthcoming tour is that I am now sixty-two years old and I always planned, as you rightly point out, to get to sixty and retire from life on the stage. I have had a fair suck of the sauce bottle; I have been in this business for forty-two years now working with everybody from Elton John to Tommy Cooper, Spike Milligan, Kenneth Williams, Frankie Howard, The Sex Pistols, The Clash, Frank Zappa and on and on and on. Then there are all the stories about my dad so I thought that maybe I could get one last ninety minute spot out of all of this.

I figured that I really should do one last ‘An Evening With Danny Baker’ just to say “look, here are some terrific stories” so that was the very first show that I did and to my amazement all sixty-two shows completely sold out. So the powers that be asked me if I wanted to do another show, and so I looked at the first tour and far from looking back at my career in what we might call show business, I hadn’t even left school (laughter). Three hours into the show, the audience loved it, so then I came back and did the second show; ‘Good Time Charlie’.

Didn’t you get yourself into trouble with the natives when you were organising the ‘Good Time Charlie’ tour?

(Laughter) natives, don’t talk to me about natives. Let me tell you this, and I promise you, this is the absolute truth. On the ‘Good Time Charlie’ tour we never played Nottingham; we never played Liverpool, we never played Stoke and we never played anywhere up in Scotland. So I had hundreds of people approaching me asking if I had anything against them (laughter). I didn’t know this because I have never toured in my life but trying to organise a tour is somewhat like trying to visit relatives at Christmas. It’s like ‘over Christmas let’s go and visit Aunt Grace and Uncle Charlie’ to which someone would always reply “we can’t do that, they are going to be out”.

It’s hard planning a tour, so this leg of the tour has been organised to take in places that we have never played before. So anyway, back to your original question, and so much for retirement (laughter). I was honestly intending to retire and leapfrog over these tours. However, that simply was not to be.

So is retirement definitely not an option for you?

Well last year I was away on holiday by the ocean because my wife always says that life should have a third act. So at the end of the last leg of the Good Time Charlie Tour off I went to Portugal for two weeks and what you should know about me is that I do not have a mobile phone. I know that sounds very strange in this day and age, but it is the gospel truth. You heard it here, that’s right; Danny Baker does not have a mobile phone. Having said all of that I must confess that I am on Twitter (laughter). So when I got home I looked at my Direct Messages, of which there is usually around two, and they are generally from people who I owe money too (laughter).

However, to my amazement there were twenty three messages there. So I turned it on, looked at it, and one was from a friend of mine who I used to do TFI Friday with, the show that Chris Evans and I wrote back in the 1990s. He told me that he had this brand-new TV show that he wanted me to be on. So I thought about it, called him and was about to say no to his offer then my wife said “go on go and do it, it’s only for two weeks and you already know Will”, so this is how my career has always been. I have never had an agent; I had none of that in the beginning, but there is this TV show so I thought ‘okay let’s go away and do that and then I will retire’.

Just how did you manage to get involved with Gary Lineker?

I was telling you about these twenty three messages, well as for the other fifteen messages, the very last one of them read ‘I suppose that’s a no then is it?’ which was from Gary Lineker (laughter). It turns out that he had been trying to get hold of me all the time that I had been away. I thought ‘has he found one of my bags’ because I have to say that I didn’t really know Gary that well at all. He wanted to say that he had been asked to do a Pod Cast and had been asked who he wanted to do it with and, bless him, he said me. I immediately called him and said “sorry Gary I’ve been away” to which he replied “that’s alright I was just about to ask someone else” (laughter).

Anyway, I went over to his house the following week, and I must tell you that he really is an amazing cook. So he cooked lunch for the two of us together with these four teenagers who know how to work the internet and do the whole thing. After lunch we recorded the Pod Cast which went straight to number one in iTunes. We have done another forty of them since called Behind Closed Doors, and on Sunday we did the first live version to a packed theatre so that is going to be touring sometime in the future. The only reason that I am saying this Kevin is because I am trying, I really am literally trying to retire. My wife keeps saying “stop, stop, stop” but I have to keep telling her the same thing, I am not looking or trying to find this work (laughter).

You openly speak about the late Hughie Green when you do the live show. Is that a story that can be repeated?

That’s correct and I’ll tell you about it. The story as you know involves a train set together with the fact that Hughie Green was the most foul mouthed person that I had ever met and what you have to remember is that I come from a family of Dockers. In fact I have never heard anyone to this day who is as foul mouthed as he was. Other than a few scenes in The Sopranos I have never heard anyone swear as much as Hughie Green (laughter). However, unfortunately I had forgotten that there were a number of younger people in the audience who firstly, didn’t know who Hughie Green was and secondly had never heard some of the words that I used.

Hughie hadn’t been on TV for a few years and then one day, out of the blue, my home phone rang, and I have no idea just how he got my number but it was Hughie. I have to say that Hughie by this time was a fallen idol. As soon as I answered this voice on the other end of the line said “is that cocksucker Danny Baker there” to which I replied “yes, up to a point” (laughter). Hughie said “well listen here you little puissant, this is Hughie Green here and I have got a fucking idea for you which is going to make the shit run down your fucking legs”. At this point all that I could say was “okay” (laughter).

Hughie went onto say “I know just what you are thinking; why would an old prick like me be ringing you” and I thought ‘well at least he was right there’. Anyway it began like that and it continued like that. I honestly to this day don’t know if Hughie was speaking to me like that because I was from the streets, but he really was so over the top. However, I have learnt since that that is how he spoke. He was absolutely psychedelically foul mouthed. He wanted me to go and see him at his flat on Baker Street, which really was a beautiful place. Hughie was quite rich even though he hadn’t been on TV for quite some time and I personally think that he saw me as the gatekeeper to Chris Evans.

I remember that he gave me a can of Special Brew which I had never drunk in my life because I can’t bare the stuff (laughter). He said “here’s a fucking drink for you as I don’t suppose that you drink whisky do you, you little pansy” (laughter). I hadn’t said a word at this point. So there I was sipping this can of Special Brew when Hughie took me over to this door, he pressed a button and the door swung open, and at that point he said “I have only ever let three guys come in here, ever, and you are one of them”. Anyway he switched on the lights and there was this enormous trainset. Hughie said “look at that, what do you think of that. It is all part of the idea so stay with me”.

Hughie asked me if I would like to take over the controls and wear the Station Masters hat but I politely declined. Then after a few minutes he said “it’s not just about the train because if I was simply pitching you an idea with a train then that would be bullshit. It’s bigger than that”. He then asked me “what do you see over there” and on the far wall there was a tableau painted on the wall of a coastline, a bay, the ocean and the moonlight being reflected on the ocean. So I said “is it a painting of the sea” to which he replied “that’s not the sea you cocksucker, that’s not a painting of the sea. Fuck me, if I had thought that you were that stupid, that is the Atlantic Ocean my friend”.

It was at this point that he then started telling me about the show that he wanted me to make. He wanted the show to start on a train in London, which goes across to the coast, most probably to Cornwall, where everyone who was on the show would get onto a nuclear submarine which would then go under the ocean to the Hudson River. It would then immerge just in front of the Statue Of Liberty, where all the cast would get off the submarine. Hughie thought that if it took three days for the cast to get from London to New York then the audience would be glued to their TV sets for the whole of the three days, not being able to miss any of the show.

He went onto tell me that he had the connections for the nuclear submarine, and all that I was thinking was ‘Jesus Christ, in a moment he is going to say what do you think’ (laughter). Then it happened, Hughie looked at me and said “so, what do you think” to which I replied “what happens if we lose the signal halfway across the ocean”. Hughie looked me up and down and said “here we fucking go, nit-picking already” (laughter). Anyway, I think that I made enough of the right noises to allow me to get out. In a way it was a sad moment. Here was a guy who had been at the top who had got this idea to give him the chance to do his very last broadcast, aboard a nuclear submarine.

I have to be honest with you and say that, in a way, I really did find it touching that he would think that I could somehow make this happen for him. The whole moral of this story is that without getting ahead of myself, after I had been in the business for a while I had such a reputation as a writer that Hughie Green really thought that I could make this happen for him. There you go, that’s another nine minute answer, but you did ask (laughter).

So after saying that you would never work on stage again, who or what changed your mind?

(Laughter) the truth of the matter is that I have never said that I would never work on stage again. All that I did in the first tour, which I never realised, would become this leviathan and this express train which it is, I wrote the kind of thing that a respected actor would say that “my greatest love is the stage, I want to bring down the curtain” and it was written in ridiculous language. The problem is that people actually thought that I was serious (laughter). But for god’s sake my first love was the stage. Don’t get me wrong, I have stood in the wings many, many times over the years as I have written for almost everybody in British show business in one way or another; some of which you will have never heard about.

I have never ever wanted to walk out onto the stage myself, but when it finally happened the audience seemed to have a terrific time; they seemed to recognise all of the cultural points of reference and the stories really did go over big time even though they change every night. I wouldn’t say that I was bitten by a bug but I haven’t yet finished the story on either of these tours, and this one takes us up to 1988. I most probably will do one final tour which will most probably be called ‘In Half The Time’ and it will run for two hours (laughter). However, that will have to wait until next year as I am currently doing the thing with Gary Lineker, and another thing and another book (hysterical laughter). I know, when I left school at fourteen who knew, who knew.

May I take you back to 2015 and Cradle To Grave?

Yes, by all means, please do.

Were you surprised at just how popular the TV series was?

Not really if I am absolutely honest with you Kevin because I wrote it with Jeff Pope who has been a mate of mine for over thirty-five years now. Cradle To Grave was the thing that got derailed when I got into selling soap powder and everything else, which is fine because I didn’t want to be remembered for the 80s but I always knew that the stories, certainly those about my old man and everything else, really were extraordinary. Jeff at that point was the head of drama at ITV. He is an Oscar nominated scriptwriter in his own right, and up to that point Jeff and I had never worked together. Funnily enough you really do know when work is good. God knows that you can point at any point in my career and see just how uneven it is (laughter).

However, both Jeff and I knew when we were writing Cradle To Grave that neither of us wanted it to be some kind of larky, almost sitcom like series. Let’s face it Only Fools And Horses is magnificent, legendary, genius work but a lot of people thought that Cradle To Grave was going to be like that. Jeff and I knew that there were more to the stories than that and we are still trying to turn around the oil tanker to see if they can all get back together again. But having said all of that I have to say that it really is good work. At the same time I will equally put my hands up and look at eighty percent of my career and say “sorry about that”.

I have known Peter (Kay) for a long, long, long time now and when he heard that we were going to be making Cradle To Grave for the television he called me and said “I really do want to do that”. For me it was great having Lucy (Speed) playing my mum and I have to say that there is so much more in the tank. We deliberately tried not to make it too nostalgic; that’s why there were eight episodes and not the usual six. We didn’t have people reading headlines like ‘another three day week once again in the 1970s’ and hopefully the drama side of it, such as it was, balanced out the more extraordinary stories that were held within it. So without sounding unabashed, I have been around show business for quite some time now and I knew that it was good and that it would make a great series.

I was recently speaking to Chris (Difford) and Glenn (Tilbrook) who, as you know, had a cameo appearance in Cradle To Grave and they both said that whilst they doubt that Hollywood would be calling them anytime soon, they both had a great time working with you on the show.

You have been speaking to Glenn and Chris have you, what did they have to say?

They said that I should inform you that they are both available and more to the point, they are both cheap (laughter).

(Hysterical laughter) let’s think about it; could I have a support act on the next ‘Good Time Charlie’ tour? Perhaps not, as those two would certainly have people running for the exits (laughter). It is already a long and full night and even when it gets to the interval I don’t think that the audience could stick it in there for Glenn and Chris (laughter). I steam on to the stage and ad lib for the first eight minutes, and then when the first photograph comes up, I ask the audience if there is anyone here from the last time, and they say “we’re still here from the last time” (laughter). However, next time around I think that I’ll change it (laughter). To have those two on the tour as the support act really would be terrific but, then again, we wouldn’t get finished until three in the morning.

Have you taken ‘Good Time Charlie’ as far as you can or is there more to come?

To be totally honest with you, I am always telling these stories anyway. If you and I were down the pub or at a restaurant, I would be telling you my stories and no doubt you would be telling me yours. And for me to have had a career based on doing that really is not a bad way to earn a crust. Having said that I am really good at doing absolutely nothing. Does my wife want me to do another show, not really. Do I want to do another show, not really (laughter). People always think ‘he must be always looking for new vehicles’ but let me tell you, I haven’t done that at any point in my career. I would quite happily have my third act sitting on a beach somewhere writing the odd book, because flicking playing cards into a top hat is my idea of a day’s work (laughter), but I still have so many stories that I have never told.

You and I are talking, and I have a terrific memory, and I am pretty good at telling a story, so what can I say but, watch out Kevin (Laughter). Thinking about it, I would say that there most certainly is going to be one more tour after this one together with as many books as people want. The good thing is that I don’t ever think of it as work; I don’t have to take myself off somewhere tapping my teeth with a pencil thinking about the job in hand. I’m a bit like Ken (Dodd) used to be back in the day; you just have to wind me up and let me go (laughter). In fact thinking about it and all that I have done I really should be a hundred and fifty (laughter).

You began in television back in 1978. Have you enjoyed the ride?

Yes I have, I really have. It’s been a long crazy trip as the Grateful Dead once said. I think that I lapsed into a coma in 1973 and I’ve been dreaming everything ever since. The great thing about me starting in TV, as you rightly say, back in 1978, I was fortunate to work with some of the greats, people like Ken Dodd, Larry Grayson, Ted Rodgers, and Frankie Howard as well as Johnny Rotten, Frank Zappa, Joe Strummer but the star of it all is always my old man.

In 2016 you went into the jungle for I’m a Celebrity… Get Me Out of Here! Did you enjoy the experience?

It was one of the best gigs that I have ever had in my life. It really was fantastic. It is a brilliant show to do. I really did have such a wonderful time. It was absolutely fantastic, one of the best jobs that I have had in forty-two years. I just wanted to be good company. I will most probably talk all about that on the next tour, because there is a load to say, so you’ll just have to come and have a listen (laughter).

Talking football for a minute, you are a lifelong supporter of Millwall. Looking at the table it’s tight at the bottom of the Championship, so will they stay up?

I don’t know, but I do feel that it will all come down to the last game of the season when we play Wigan away, which I really do feel we will lose. I have already seen Millwall relegated fifteen times in my lifetime, so we really do bounce around those divisions. Relegation, so what, I don’t support Millwall because they are playing in Europe, I simply go to support Millwall. We will go down but we will bounce back and come back up again. With all due respect to all of the big clubs in the Premier League I couldn’t think of anything worse than Millwall going up into the Premier League. This year if we had beaten Brighton we would have played Manchester City in the cup semi-final.

We would have asked them some questions like ‘could you please stop scoring goals against us’ (laughter). Like so many of the clubs who are in the absolute wonder world of the lower leagues, if we get relegated, so what, that’s what happens to clubs like us. It’s not the worst thing in the world. Forest fans are always telling me about the glory days but what I vividly remember is never getting a result up there at The City Ground whenever we played Forest and the fans throwing rocks at us as we got off the coach. Talk about shooting fish in a barrel; it really was a hard fixture going up there.

On that note Danny let me once again thank you for taking the time to speak to me today. It’s been fantastic. You take care.

Thanks Kevin, that was great and I will see you in Nottingham. Bye for now.