|Les, one third of the holy trinity of entertainment (Image: BBC)|
Les appears alongside Shaun Williamson and Keith Chegwin as Warwick Davis tries to lead the trio back to the top. Les has had such a wonderful career in entertainment from working with Russ Abbott in the 80s, Family Fortunes, West End productions, Extras and Life’s Too Short. With a TV career that spans more than thirty years he has always been a versatile enough performer to adapt his approach and continuously work in quality productions.
|Les Dennis in Family Fortunes|
Les started out as a stand-up comedian in working men’s clubs before winning the ITV talent show ‘New faces’ in 1974. This opened the door to numerous light-entertainment shows and then in 1982 he joined Russ Abbot’s Madhouse and then The Russ Abbot Show. After working with Russ, he formed a hugely successful comedy partnership with fellow impressionist Dustin Gee, which led to their own series, The Laughter Show. As we all know Les then went on to host Family Fortunes and presented the show for fifteen years from 1987 to 2002.
But it’s not just TV, Les has worked on numerous theatre productions including Chicago, Skylight and Legally Blonde The Musical and he made his big screen debut in Intimate Relations with Julie Walters.
In 2005 Les was approached by Ricky Gervais to appear in an episode of the hit comedy Extras alongside Gerard Kelly, who played a rather camp theatre director, Bunny. The episode was a huge success and led to a whole host of new TV and theatre projects for Les. In 2011, he worked with Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant once again in Life’s Too Short, with Warwick Davis.
|Les Dennis in Extras (Image: BBC)|
Now, Les is back in the Life’s Too Short Special this Saturday at 10pm on BBC 2, working alongside Shaun Williamson and Keith Chegwin, and it looks to be another comedy classic. I’ve spoken to Keith and Shaun already, so it was a pleasure to speak to the third member of The All Star Funtime Roadshow.
It’s the Life’s Too Short Special on Saturday, are you excited?
I’m really looking forward to it! When we were filming it was just the best fun. Shaun and Keith are so funny and good to work with and of course working with Warwick is a joy. Working with Ricky, Stephen and their team is always such a great thrill. They know what they want. They’ve made a really funny hour of TV. They’ve made Warwick’s character more humble and much more sympathetic in this special. Warwick wants to get me, Keith and Shaun from three Z-listers to one D-list so it’s a very funny scenario.
Shaun says that he is quite low key, Keith is very excitable and you’re in the middle of the two. Is that about right?
Yes, I think so. I think I’m the more grounded one of the three. In the show Shaun is still kind of Eeyore – we’re all playing the twisted, demented parts of ourselves. It’s great and Keith is such a good actor – such a natural! When we all started I don’t think the word ‘celebrity’ was the kind of tag that it is now. At the start of our careers it was all about getting good work and these days it is all about the fame it seems. In the Life’s Too Short Special the three are all chasing the last chance to have another go at being celebrities!
|The UK's Most Popular TV Celebrities (Image: BBC)|
You’ve worked with Ricky and Stephen in Extras and now Life’s Too Short. How did it all come about?
I had a call from my agent to say that Ricky Gervais wanted to speak to me. I thought it was a wind up, that it wouldn’t be him. He left a voicemail and it did sound like him – I was worried it was John Culshaw winding me up! Ricky is one of the biggest comedy talents in the world. The Office had been such a huge success and I had read about this second project, Extras, and I thought it sounded really interesting. So I got the call and he said he had an episode for me – it was a dream come true! I had a chat with Ricky and Stephen, they asked if there was anything I didn’t want to do, I said no – go as far as you like, and we did!
What was it like on set for the Life’s Too Short Special?
The energy was incredible. Ricky had said that the public wanted this as he was getting tweeted all the time asking ‘when are you going to do something for the three guys?’ I think the little cameos from the first series made a big impact. So I think they always had the idea and if they had time they would make something with the three of us together. When we all got on set, we were like kids in a tuck shop – we were all really excited about the whole thing. Working with those guys is always good. Ricky and Stephen know what they want and we don’t do more than two or three takes. They take it and they don’t overdo it and we’re usually finished by 4pm! There’s one scene where they said to us, go in, you know each other - just play with it a bit. We did and hopefully some of it will make it to the screen. It really is a dream job for any actor. They are such brilliant writers - very creative, and as directors they know what they want. I get a lot of tweets from people saying they can’t wait for the Life’s Too Short Special and I can’t wait myself! The fact that it’s an hour long is just so exciting.
Can you tell us more about Les Dennis, the character, in the upcoming show?
It’s very much the Les Dennis that appeared in Extras but he’s part of a trio, which Ricky, I think, called ‘The Holy Trinity.’ Les is most grounded of the lot while Keith is the wildcard. You may have seen in the trailer that we get to rap – we perform the Shaggy song, ‘It Wasn’t Me’ – which is hilarious! There’s that, there’s the fact that we are trying to get some success and Warwick is putting his all into it. I don’t want to spoil anything else though!
Is it difficult playing a spoof version of yourself?
It is an acting job – you have to play this demented version of yourself. You are playing something that is outside of yourself, but obviously you’ve got to make it seem like it is Les Dennis – he looks like me anyway! It’s a tricky thing to do but the writing is so good and the chemistry between the three of us and Warwick worked immediately. When something is so well written it is relatively easy to do and a real joy. The lines take care of themselves. They leap off the page and then when you do them, they take that extra leap into being really funny! There are parts of it that are hysterically funny. The crew couldn’t do it for laughing the first time! When we were in a club doing our act we had this audience and they were genuinely loving it! Maybe Shaun, Les and Keith should tour for real!
I’ve asked the same question to Keith and Shaun but would you like the three of you to have your own spin-off show?
We would absolutely love it! I think someone coined the phrase that it would be ‘Last of the Summer Wine’ for the 21st century! Ha! I hit 60 this year, Keith and Shaun are a bit younger than me, but we’re all getting up there, so it would be a real 21st century ‘Last of the Summer Wine!’ I think it could work as a series and hopefully the public would agree.
I grew up watching you in Family Fortunes and it’s just not the same without you. What do you think of the latest version of the show?
It’s a different show now, it’s more celebrity driven but Vernon has done a great job with it. When he took over it I did exactly the same as what Bob Monkhouse did with me, and called him up and wished him the best of luck. You really have to pass on the batten. I don’t have any qualms about that as I gave the show up myself. It’s a different show now but it’s a good show and is holding its own and doing well. It is very kind when people tweet you and say ‘it isn’t the same without you’ – that’s so lovely.
Would you like to go head to head with Vernon Kay for a special version of the show?
Haha! I don’t think it could happen because who would host it? It would have to be Shaun, Keith or Ricky perhaps!
I watched your episode of Extras at the weekend. Do you still get asked to do your famous Mavis impression?
Haha! Yes, occasionally. I get it now from young kids who might have seen Extras. They know I did the ‘I don’t really know’ scene but they don’t know what it is! They only know it from Extras. They say ‘do that line,’ I say ‘what the Mavis impression?’ and they say ‘is that what it is?’ So yes, I still get asked to do it occasionally.
You’ve had a glorious career, but if you had to pick one, which show are you most proud of?
I think I would say that Extras was the show that turned things around for me. It has given me a broader audience and brought people to realise that I an act. It would have to be Extras but I loved Family Fortunes, and I remember my great partnership with Dustin Gee, which was an extraordinary and lovely time, and doing Me and My Girl in the West End, but I think Extras has to be it as it’s come to further fruition with Life’s Too Short. This is a really exciting project. Extras, though, was the turning point in my career.
What are your plans for the rest of 2013 and beyond?
I’m 60 this year so I’m going to try and take things a little easier but if a great project comes up I’m always up for doing it.
Have you got a final message for Life’s Too Short fans?
Anybody who loves the series of Life’s Too Short is going to love this special so much. It takes the series so much further. Warwick is brilliant, more likeable than he has been and the Holy Trinity are totally on form. I haven’t seen any of the Val Kilmer scenes yet but reading them, they are hilarious!
A huge thank you to Les for talking to frogfuehrer.com. Keep up to date with Les on Twitter by following @dennis_les and of course, don’t miss him in action this Saturday in the Life’s Special on BBC 2 at 10pm.
© M. A. Sibson