Is this John Thomson? Oh yes it is!
A successful TV show following the lives of six people broadcast its final episode a decade ago. Repeats continue to air today thanks to a combination of sharp, witty writing, the chemistry between the actors and an ability to capture the nuances of human behaviour. For a series written more than ten years ago, its relevance to contemporary audiences hasn’t waned; even the popular music used at the time doesn’t seem to have dated. Oh, and it was filmed in Didsbury.
Cold Feet marked a milestone in British tele – a middle class drama that was both funny and moving. John Thomson played the loveable Pete Gifford, best mates with the roguish Adam Williams and husband to Jenny. So to what does Thomson attribute the enduring popularity of the show?
“Cold Feet covered the lives of three very different couples,” Thomson tells Northern Soul. “People could relate to and identify with them separately. Every box was ticked. And the casting was one of the beauties of Cold Feet. You won’t get that kind of casting again that works so organically. The show was quite middle class. Everybody was aspirational and people could see a bit of themselves in the way it was written. There was something for everybody. It has stood the test of time.”
Now Thomson has embarked on an entirely different project: an Easter panto. He admits that it has been a huge challenge.
“It has been daunting, we’ve had no investment, we’ve done it all ourselves.” Thomson is referring to Tam Ryan, a mate of long-standing who has built a reputation as one of the best panto actors around. The idea for an Easter pantomime came to the pair last November. Five months later and The Easter Funny Show is about to premiere at Manchester’s Opera House.
Thomson says: “It’s been a baptism of fire but we are embracing the challenge. Writing the script and fine-tuning it was the easy part. Writing and performing is one thing, producing is another. By having it at the Opera House, we are dipping our toe in the water and testing the market. Both of us have put our money into it.
“The show is for all ages, it’s aimed at exactly the same audience as a panto. It’s a family fun show. Imagine that you’ve taken all the best bits from a panto and taken out all the boring bits, that’s what we’ve done. We’ve kept all the things that kids relish, things like the sing-a-long sheet, interactive routines and we’ve created a plot where the golden Easter egg must be protected at all costs. On the variety side, we have an ultraviolet puppet show for the little ones.”
Having Thomson back on the stage is to be welcomed as anyone who has seen his stand-up will tell you. After a hiatus of several years, he has joined the comics at the North West’s Laugh Local and has also been spinning the discs as a DJ for its sister enterprise, Bop Local. Last year, he starred in a touring production of John Godber’s classic comedy, September in the Rain, an experience which had a lasting effect.
“We went up and down the country with September in the Rain,” he reflects. “When we were performing for Northern audiences, the difference between them and Southern audiences was dramatic. Northern audiences are very grateful to be entertained whereas Southern audiences take you for granted. When we did places like Darlington and Chesterfield we went down an absolute storm. But it was like pulling teeth in places like Bromley, really frustrating. I realised that there’s not just a North/South divide, there is a chasm. I wouldn’t want to perpetuate that myth but it’s true. It’s a shame it’s like that.”
Thomson’s Northern credentials are in no doubt. Born in Salford and brought up near Preston, the 45-year-old began his career alongside fellow comic Steve Coogan on the satirical puppet show Spitting Image. A talented impressionist and mimic, Thomson went on to collaborate with Coogan on programmes such as The Dead Good Show, Coogan’s Run, the Paul and Pauline Calf video diaries (where he played ‘Fat Bob’) and Knowing Me, Knowing You… with Alan Partridge, which he also contributed to writing. The two were reunited on screen in the 2002 cult classic 24 Hour Party People.
“I was in Memphis and I went for something to eat at barbecue restaurant,” recalls Thomson. “The guy there asked me where I was from and I said Manchester. He said that one of his favourite movies was 24 Hour Party People so I mentioned that I was in it. He gave me some hot wing sauce and some Memphis dry rib rub.”
Despite appearing in one of the most famous dramatisations of Manchester’s music scene, Thomson says that “hedonism came to me a bit later”. He was the youngest in his year at Manchester Polytechnic and not particularly interested in clubbing.
He says: “It was great to be part of that film [24 Hour Party People] but I didn’t buy into the Haçienda scene. I was a student at the time, I put my toe in the water and then came out. I absolutely love some of that music but as for the bands, I wasn’t such a huge Happy Mondays fan.”
Thomson remembers doing Remote Control, a Channel 4 quiz show hosted by legendary Manchester music impresario Tony Wilson. “He said to me, I’m not putting you on the guest list for the Haçienda, all you will do is go in and take the piss. So I never went.”
He adds: “I still really can’t believe he died [Wilson passed away in 2007 aged 57 of a heart attack after being diagnosed with cancer earlier in the year]. He got so much stuff off the ground. He was a hugely influential figure and he took risks.”
Thomson takes risks too, not least investing his own money into the show at the Opera House. But he’s also off to Argentina at the end of April to make a programme about gauchos for BBC Two with former Fast Show collaborator, Simon Day (Thomson has been taking riding lessons in preparation for the trip). And that’s not all. Thomson is also working as an executive producer on a feature film called Dying Laughing which examines the psychology of the stand-up comic.
He explains: “It’s about how you felt after your worst ever gig and how you get back on the horse. I went to LA to set everything up – it rained every day – and we now have 50 hours of interviews with top US comics…next we’re going to New York, back to LA and then back to the Brits. We’ve got some great names…It will be out next year.”
Meanwhile, does Thomson think there will ever be a revival of Cold Feet?
“It’s ten years since Cold Feet finished and 17 years since I started that show. If it was going to be revisited, I think it would have happened long before now. I would be very interested to do it but the problem would be matching the calibre of the casting.”
Main image by Chris Payne
The Easter Funny Show is at Manchester Opera House April 11, 2014 at 7pm and April 12, 2014 at 1pm and 5pm. For tickets, follow this link http://www.atgtickets.com/shows/the-easter-funny/opera-house-manchester/
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