“It’s just so lovely to have company again!” | Peter Fleming shares the secrets of his iconic TV to comedy career

Tell us about you/your act.

I started making children’s television programmes for the BBC in the early 1960s and carried on for the next two decades. Wonderful times we had, my team and I! A shame it all came to an end and the BBC threw all my work out of their archives shortly afterwards, but I’m sure I’ll be able to find lost copies with the help of audiences like yours!

How did you get into comedy?

Largely through a clerical error a few years ago, but I couldn’t honestly say I can bring myself to correct it now. It’s just so lovely to have company again!

What’s the best gig you’ve ever had?

Probably the Christmas party at BBC Television Centre in 1976. I did a little performance as part of the cabaret, singing ‘Bring Me Sunshine’ with Morecambe and Wise. They were rather annoyed at me for gate-crashing their performance, but everyone else thought it was good fun! Well, I did, anyway.

What’s your favourite thing about working in comedy?

Travelling around the country on my little raft to give these talks, you’ll meet all sorts of fans of my programmes who are now fully grown (and, it has to be said, quite maladjusted) comedians. I remember mentioning one night in Lichfield to a gentleman on the bill that I was the mastermind behind 1969’s whimsical (and in retrospect, quite sinister) The Birthday Man. Sure enough, he screamed in recognition, ran out of the venue before having the chance to go on-stage, and was never seen again! 

What inspired you to revisit the early days of children’s television?

More than anything else, it was the complete absence of any achievement on my part since.

Is there anything you think contemporary television could learn from revisiting the archives?

Yes: how much better it was when I was being kept in employment. I’m still available for work now! And only nearly impossible to contact.

If you could bring back any show, what would it be?

Oh, any of mine would do. David’s Octopoid Chronicles (1966), perhaps? Or maybe The Endless Confusions of Sally (1972), that was good fun. Perhaps Doctor Who, if I’m being generous to other programme makers. That’s been off the air for yonks now, hasn’t it?

What’s your favourite piece of behind-the-scenes TV gossip?

I’ve heard all sorts about the different Blue Peter presenters over the years. Did you know, John Noakes was actually 50ft tall? Every time you see him on screen, you’re witnessing a camera trick whereby the crew have forced him to stand at the far end of the studio to make him appear normal-sized.

Who is your favourite comedian we’ve never heard of?

There was this promising youngster starting out as I was leaving the BBC. Rowan Atkinson, I think he was called. I’d keep an eye on him!

What challenges have you faced working in comedy?

I would say the greatest challenge has been the endless misunderstanding people keep having that I am a fictional character created by the deranged mind of my archivist and carer, the award-winning character comedian Tom Burgess.

How do you think that comedy as an industry can better address these issues?

Simply ignore him.

What appealed to you about being part of a show like Blizzard?

The prospect of an evening with a roof over my head again – I’d be a fool to turn it down!

What have you got coming up that we should look out for?

On 1st February, I shall be travelling down to London to give a talk as part of the ‘VAULT Festival’. I’ll be talking about things I haven’t discussed for many years, so my memory may be a little hazy – for this reason I felt it sensible to bill the event as a ‘work-in-progress’, though in fact all the work progressed to its full extent and, in many cases, bitter end many years ago!

Peter is performing at Blizzard on Monday 27th January.

Book your free ticket here.

You can keep up with Peter’s other work by following him on Facebook and Twitter.

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