Legendary X-rated comedian Roy Chubby Brown spoke to editor Simon Redley in a no-holds-barred and brutally frank interview during his current UK tour.
The original bad boy of British comedy – the late Bernard Manning called Roy his ‘love child’ – who opened the door for such modern-day controversial comedians like Frankie Boyle; lets rip about the PC brigade, censorship and his lifetime ban from some council-run venues.
He talks emotionally about his tough childhood and early life in borstal and jail, how Bob Hope helped put him on the straight and narrow to leave behind a life of petty crime and being “an utter a**ehole”, and how he faced the end of his career and possibly his life, when he was diagnosed with throat cancer in 2002.
“Good morning, The Holiday Inn Luton South, how can I help you?” Ah, yes, can you put me through to room 305 please, Mr Brown is expecting my call”. “Of course, sir, just one moment”.
“Simon. Hello. How are you?” A croaky-voiced Roy Chubby Brown answers the ‘phone in his room, for an early start 9.45am on the dot call. “Don’t be late calling him, Simon. He hates being kept waiting”, I am warned by his tour manager Ritchie.
“And it’ll be 15 minutes dead, as he doesn’t do interviews above that these days,” he says. Oh no, 15 minutes, that’s not long enough, I protest. “Well, he did one recently with a young lad, and two minutes in his battery ran out on his mobile , he forgot to charge it. Before it went, his first question was; what’s your favourite cake, followed by favourite film. Needless to say Roy wasn’t impressed and the kid blew it – no second chance!!!!”
Ritchie added: “If he gets asked again what’s his favourite colour / food, he’ll go crazy!” I promised I’d steer clear of colours, food items and make sure I had fresh batteries, and would not be late calling him! But I had other thoughts about the mean 15 minute slot….
So, I’d got the man on the end of the phone and no time to piss about. I refer to the disclaimer on his website, that he is an “old school comic”….and if you are “easily offended – stay away”. Are old school comedians a dying breed, Roy?
“I think they are, yes. When I started in the late 60s, I was a clean comedian and there was no money in it. People were heckling, and I was answering back with a few fucks and bastards in it. But that was getting more laughs than the actual jokes. My stand-up spot became bluer and bluer and bluer.
“When I first started, I thought comedians were comedians; I didn’t realise there were that many styles and that many differences. I never set out to be a blue comedian, but my money trebled; I went from £15 a night to £45, £60 up to £80 a night just for telling blue jokes and being filthy.
“I didn’t want to copy off anyone either. I know it’s a Vaudeville style mine, but I didn’t want to be like anybody, and get ‘ohh you’re copying off Max Miller’. I had only heard of him, never seen him on video or on tele’. My general idea was trying to find something that people hadn’t seen before. If I could set myself on fire and get a laugh, I would do….”
No one else looks like Roy Chubby Brown on stage. This short, roly poly (he says fat, I am too polite!) cheeky character in trademark clobber, consisting of a leather flying helmet and goggles on top of his bonce, a multicoloured patchwork jacket and trousers, a white shirt, red bow tie and moccasin slippers. He can walk on and say nothing and the laughter starts. As do the “you fat bastard” chants.
I recall seeing Tommy Cooper when I was about 11, at the end of the pier show in Skegness with my Mum and my younger brother, and he walked down the aisle from the back of the room to the stage to start the show, through the audience, spotlight picking him out. Stopping every few rows and chuckling, not saying a word, and it took maybe 15 minutes to get from the back of that theatre to the stage.
Funny bones, just like Tommy…
By then the audience were all on their feet applauding, and he got more laughs saying nothing in that 15 minutes than most of today’s so-called “alternative” comics can hope to get in a whole show. Funny bones. Naturally funny. Born with it, not taught or learned. Same as Roy. Exactly that. With or without the docker’s language, the man is fucking funny. Now see what he made me do!
Any out-of-bounds areas for your jokes and topics? “I do edit myself; child pornography is not funny at all, although I know thousands of jokes about stuff like that. But there’s so many subject matters you can have a go at; police dogs, drugs, debt, wives, mother-in-laws, driving test, applying for a job…. So many other things to talk about, why go into that subject. Knowing you are gonna step on somebody’s toes if you do that. It’s about freedom of choice, and I don’t want to do it”.
Some modern-day comedians have made jokes about Madeleine McCann and caused outrage, understandably. Not Roy. “I made a statement when Madeleine McCann went missing; I’ll die happy when they find that little girl. We were in Portugal when she was taken, only a few miles away and I had a three-year-old daughter at the time. My wife saw it on the news and went paranoid, so me, my wife and two kids had to sleep in the same bed on the night.
“She made me get in the car and drive round the streets – we were about 20 miles from there – and she said, you have to go. I got lost in the car, I can’t read the sign posts. I had to go to a police station and ask how to get back. I was driving round looking for Madeleine”.
Back in Roy’s early days as a comic, his pal Bernard Manning told him, keep up the swearing and the blue act, but Les Dawson suggested if he were to drop the swearing, he was good enough to get his own TV show. Who was right? “In this day and age, Bernard. 35 years ago, if you’d have asked me that same question, I’d have said Les”.
If you go see a Roy Chubby Brown show, he never tours the same show twice, and he will change his act each night by inserting topical gags about what’s in the news on that day. He spends hours every day scouring the newspapers to pick out stories he can have a go at, and make funny. Today was no different, before I call him he had been doing his trawl of the press.
“Picked the paper up today, all about feminism, with them trying to stop the girls at F1 parading on the track. What the fucking hell’s going on here? Next, they’ll be asking footballers to marry fat fucking tarts. It’s unbelievable.
“It’s ridiculous. People have forgotten how to laugh, Simon. The bottom line is: this PC thing is absolute bollocks. People going round thinking the whole world is going to hold hands and we are all gonna live happily ever after. That’s not gonna fucking happen. Every time you pick up the paper, there’s something that’s gonna get you saying, fucking hell, I don’t believe it.”
There are venues around the country owned by the local council who have banned Roy Chubby Brown from appearing in them, as they regard his act as offensive. So unless there is an alternative local privately owned venue big enough to accommodate him, and the many hundreds and often more than a thousand fans per show, the people in that area have to travel for miles to go see him.
But he still fills venues across the UK on every tour, most dates sell out, and his audience are a mix of men and women, young and older. Accusations of racism can be quelled when you know that the owners of a big venue he plays every year, and is about to appear at again, is owned and booked by Asians who love his comedy, and their bar-take!
Banned for life…Why me?
“Northampton has banned me for life because of the nature of my act. I have said to them on the ‘phone, what about Sarah Millican talking about……………?What about Jimmy Carr coming on and asking……………..?What’s the difference between them and me?
“Why is it me, what have I done, If you are gonna book Sarah Millican and Jimmy Carr and not me? A lot of comedians will say, well Simon, you know Chubby Brown opened the flood gates to us. We never said ‘fuck’ on stage until he came along. There are less venues to play because of the PC brigade, yes. But the ones who love me will travel”.
Funny he should mention Northampton and The Derngate Theatre. In the 1980s, I was in the audience for a RCB show to review it for the local paper where I was the news editor. I penned a phrase in that review, which his management subsequently used on a video and posters: “He’s fat, he’s filthy and he’s the funniest man in Great Britain right now….”
First and only time I have seen him on stage, and I was gobsmacked at how funny he was, and how many women were in that audience and wetting themsves at his foul mouthed jokes. The local rugby team were in, as was a big group of coppers on a boozy night out, all lapping it up. Genuinely, despite the language, one of the funniest comics I have ever seen or heard.
But as famous, funny, successful and wealthy as he is, TV audiences have rarely seen him on the box. Producers not risking his potty mouth and Roy not willing to gag himself and change his act.
He was on New Faces in 1970 – and came second to a country band, and he auditioned for Opportunity Knocks, but was rejected when he used the word “arse” in a gag, and was told he could not be “trusted” to go on TV.
A programme about his comedy career, called “Roy Chubby Brown: Britain’s Rudest Comedian” was screened by on Channel 4 in 2007. He has done a handful of interviews on TV in his career – always pre-recorded, I bet! – and was brought to the attention of a new, younger audience when his real name of Royston Vasey, was used in the dark TV comedy “The League Of Gentlemen”, as the name of the weird village in the show. He made a cameo appearance in the second series, playing The Mayor.
But does he ever feel he should have gone for TV and the mainstream? “It’s all down to management. We all watch tele’ and say, how did he get on TV. Or isn’t he brilliant. I work hard enough as it is. I do 50,000 to 60,000 miles a year, up and down the country like a whore’s drawers; I am always working.
“I’ve got no regrets. Only thing sometimes pricks my conscience is, I don’t see my wife and kids as much as I’d like to. Left them yesterday, won’t see them until Sunday. Luckily, booked a five-day holiday in Tenerife next week, so we get five days together and we’ll have a good laugh”.
One very positive by-product of not being on TV, is his records and videos/DVDs are always best sellers and usually find their way into the main charts in the UK. He has released something like a dozen cassettes, two EPs, two LPs and around 30 videos/DVDs.
No RCB show is complete without his audience singing their heads off to his biggest hit, “Living Next Door to Alice (Who the Fuck is Alice?)”, a cover version of “Living Next Door to Alice”, recorded with Smokie. His version spent almost five months in the UK Singles Chart, reaching number three in August 1995.
How different is the private Roy to the potty mouthed, onstage Roy? “There’s the ‘not funny’ Roy as well. Being a Dad, married three times, got seven kids; being a Dad I have responsibilities, and there’s times when you have to put your foot down, so you can’t be an arsehole all the time. Got to be the stay-at-home Dad”.
Roy was diagnosed with cancer of the throat in 2002 and underwent life-saving surgery, which left him with only one vocal cord. He lost his voice for eight months, so he told his fans and the bookers that he was retired. In 2015 he announced proper retirement, but was back by demand in 2017, with a new DVD and tour.
“It was nicer to tell everyone I had retired. I struggle now with my throat all the time. I can only do a couple of nights at a time, three at the most and then my voice goes off, because I’ve only got the one small vocal cord. But I get jokes out of that….”
So, did having cancer and surviving, change his outlook on life and affect his comedy? “It did at first, because I thought I was finished. I was looking at what can I do. What would I be? Would I drive a van for Tesco, digging the roads, window cleaning. As long as you’ve got two arms and two legs, you can always work, but with no throat…..I went to a voice specialist for six months, and I could hardly speak at all”.
So does he now have a target date for retirement? “I want to be like Cooper (Tommy), just drop dead on stage”. Not yet, we hope! “I don’t have to work at all, as I have done well and have pensions and stuff. I should be a very wealthy bloke, but I’ve looked after everybody, you know.
“You can tell with my staff; Ritchie’s been with me 31 years, Geoff, 28 years, Keith, 18 years….none of them have left us (sic). They get a good wage, I look after them. Sometimes if we do a two-nighter in London, after the first night I take them all to an Indian or a Chinese. Buy the drink for them. They always say; if you look after them, they’ll look after you….”
He loves his family, that obvious, but he lives to make people laugh. “I am on stage tonight at eight o’clock and I cant wait to get on stage, because I’ve got new things to say. Today I am sat in my hotel room, the ‘papers in front of me, looking through to see what’s going on and writing gags from those stories.
“Some think it is snobbish when you are not in the club at dinner time, having a game of snooker with your mates, but I have to work at what I do. Got to keep looking for humour everywhere.
“I do these same venues every year. Just done two nights at Billingham Forum, and everyone is saying – a great compliment for me – Roy, we saw you last year and you didn’t tell any of the same jokes tonight. I say yes, because I work at it”.
His home life today with two houses; one in Yorkshire complete with recording studio, three pianos and all the musical gear, and another home in Lincolnshire, is very different to his childhood.
His father was a drinker, a fighter and liked the ladies………..and his mother left home when Roy was eight, with his Dad’s best mate. He did not see her again for almost a decade. Roy got into trouble and was in and out of borstal and prison.
“The first time I went to prison was for keeping lookout for two Scots lads, who broke into a shop. I stood on the corner and they said we are gonna be millionaires. Unbeknown to me, it was a gift shop selling buckets and spades.
“A bobby came up and asked me what I was doing; and this is how thick I was; I said; oh me mates told me to keep a lookout, they’re down there. I was the oldest of the three of us, I got sent away for two years and them pair of ***** got off.
“Next time I pinched a car, and then a copper’s bike. I was always getting into trouble. I thought my life as a teenager was going to be crime. I didn’t grow up until I was 21. I was just a big daft kid. Mum had left home when I was eight, Dad was a drinker, in the club day and night, and he got suspended from work for drinking. Mum fucked off to Blackpool with his best mate.
“We didn’t have a cup or a saucer in that house that wasn’t broke. They shouted abuse at each other all the time. I lived on the roughest council estate in Middlesborough, called Grangetown. Even today after all these years, it still has a stigma and they say, ohh, keep away from there.
Drug squad or famous comic?
“Well, I’ll tell you what I did not long ago. Bit of nostalgia; I had a ride around the streets of Grangetown to see what it’s like. It’s all bollards and speed humps now. I stopped and I saw in the mirror in my car, these three lads come out of separate houses all with baseball bats. Walking up behind my car.
“I got out of the car and said are you alright. They said, oh fuck me, it’s Chubby. We thought you were the drug squad, and we were just going to smash your car. I said, well its me. They asked me what I was doing there. I said, just having a look round. They said ah, OK, you don’t want ought do you. I said no, no I don’t thanks. I can get high on a pint of lager, me mate”.
Roy’s start in comedy came about almost by accident. “I was in Durham prison, and the library used to come round with a cart and there was a book, Bob Hope. Called, “I owe Russia $2,000. Well, I was always cracking jokes and being the idiot any road, and if I was with a gang of lads and they asked who was going to jump through a plate glass window, I’d say, I’ll do it. I think it’s just wanting to be loved by everybody else.
“That book was Bob Hope telling about touring the camps in Vietnam entertaining the troops, and the war all that. It was dead funny. The ‘screws’ in the jail, when I was telling them some of the lines from that book, were pissing themselves. One particular ‘screw’, called Morton, said, you know son, you should do comedy, you are so fucking funny, you can’t half tell a good story”.
Roy goes on to tell me about leaving prison and being asked by his cousin Derek to step in for his bands drummer, when he went on holiday. He had already taught himself to pay ukulele, banjo, piano and drums, and tried trumpet but he says, it gave him toothache! No gag. His cousins Derek and Lee and a singer Tony Morris, had a band called Pipeline and then The Four Man Band amongst other names.
Eventually, that band wanted to play jazz / funk, but Roy yearned to do comedy, so he started a comedy duo in the 70’s called Alcock and Brown, who did support slots for top names on the club circuit. He first met Bernard Manning at Jollies club in Stoke on Trent in 1976, who loved his act and put the word around to help him get more work, including a spot at a late night private member’s club in London, where his put-downs to hecklers almost landed him in serious trouble….
A large group of guys on tables at the front of the stage were getting a bit too loud during Roy’s act, so he told them to pipe down in no uncertain terms. After the show, the club owner came to Roy’s dressing room to tell him how good his set was, but that they might have a wee bit of trouble to sort out.
Revealing that these men who Roy had bluntly dealt with verbally, were in fact, “business associates” of The Kray Twins, and one of them was very upset that Roy had said he had a face like a cow’s ****! That gentleman was Lenny “The Guvnor” McLean, The Kray’s brutal enforcer and bare knuckle boxing champion. “When he told me that, I asked George, the club owner, where the back door was. He said, we do not have one. I asked him where he’d fucking like one!”
Talking about his start in showbusness, after he left prison: “I’d had a cheap set of drums when I was younger, but I used to play waltzes and slow stuff, and they were playing pop. “The drummer left his kit, I stood in for three nights. When he came back, our Derek said sorry, our Roy’s a far superior drummer to you, so we have given him the job. I had to buy a set of drums, so I went to me Dad, and he said yes, and put down a deposit on a set.
“A months later on stage in Stockton and these two blokes walked in, and said we are from Hamilton Music Store, and took me drums back. He hadn’t paid the payments. I said, I’ll just tap the fucking table then, shall I?”
At another gig at a large working men’s club, a power cut saw him improvise and have the room in hysterics with his ad-libs and one liners. His cousin Derek on bass, said, “we are keeping that in, it’s bloody funny….” So from then on, part way through a set, the band would stop playing and leave it to Roy to stand up on his drum kit and act the fool. The punters loved it.
I nearly killed him, and I got sent away for that…
So, after his Mother left and he did not see her for nine years, what kind of relationship did he have with her? “I tried to be one of those sons and go round to the Mum and put their arms round her, but we’d lost that. I feel guilty about it now, because she’s been dead 30 years.
“We lost that love that you have for your Mum. I still looked after her and bought her a washer, TV and carpets, and painted and decorated for her. Every week I went round and took cakes and biscuits.
“Dad married a barmaid with five kids and they all had different fathers. One of them, I put him in the washing machine and turned the **** on. I nearly killed him, and I got sent away for that”.
At just 14-years-old, Royston, who has a sister, moved out. The other kids from his Father’s new wife, ripped his posters down, took his pocket money, played with his toys and he was having none of it. So, he buggered off and slept in a fishing boat in Redcar, living off scraps, until he got arrested and taken to a detention centre. Next came borstal and then prison. He had left school at 14 with no qualifications.
How did that tough childhood and lack of proper care and love from your parents, affect you in later life? Did they ever apologise when you were an adult? “No, never. But I never had time to sit down and reflect on that. I am not a violent person now, and I love my kids to death and there’s nothing I wouldn’t do for my kids now. So, I give them all the love and affection that I wasn’t getting”.
The tears of a clown…hiding sadness behind the laughter. Is that true for you? “I think with all comedians, you start off thinking, I’ve just said something funny and everybody’s laughing and I wish I had some more funny things to say. What you are doing is; you are looking for love and affection off people, that you’ve never had.
“But you’ll have people in show-business who are jealous to death of your success, and they’re two-faced about you, but you have other people who really love what you do and they can’t wait for you to ring them up and say, hiya it’s Roy. Once you become a celebrity, people say awful things about you and you’ve got to have broad shoulders and take it on the chin”.
On comedy as a coping mechanism, an escape and therapy…. “I always think if the room’s quiet, you crack a funny joke. I’ve cracked a funny joke at funerals and people pissed themselves laughing.
“Stood in the church when they buried comedian Timmy Taylor, and as the curtains were going round the coffin, they got stuck. The place was packed and there were about 15 comedians there, and I said: ‘Typical Timmy. He won’t fucking get off, will he?’, everybody pissed themselves”.
Is fame important? What does it mean to RCB? “It’s earned me a living. Do you know what I have never done, Simon? I have never refused an autograph or a photograph, or a selfie, because these are the people who put you where you are.
“I know a lot of acts who do refuse. *** ******** will not sign an autograph, and ****** won’t have his photo taken or sign an autograph. They are up their own arse half the time, these fucking people”. His favourite comedian is Ken Dodd.
Roy has been married three times and has seven children, from 50 to the youngest two of 14 and 16. He is in touch with five of them. “Two of them have gone the wrong way”. His son Martin has been in jail for drugs and firearms offences. “I know life’s not all happiness and skipping and smiling. I’ve had a few fucking sleepless nights Simon, I’ll tell you”.
Roy met his third wife Helen, an air stewardess, when she went backstage at one of his shows, and offered to buy him a cu of tea. “She had her photo taken, and asked me what I was doing. I said, I am gonna make a cup of tea. She said can I buy you a cup of tea, I said if you want, there’s a café over the road.
Love at first scone!!!
“We went over, she said do you want anything else. I said I do like them scones. She said it’s a scon’, I said fuck off, when you are from Teeside, it’s a scone, man. We still laugh over that now. I’d been on my own for nine months. She said would you like me to come to see you in Blackpool, I said look darling, I am a lot older than you. People will think I’m your Dad. When we first started going to the gym, one guy said, oh I saw you with your daughter yesterday. Oh, fuck off! I was more embarrassed than anything. But love’s love, isn’t it?”
That “strict 15 minutes” interview turned into 42 minutes in the end. Really fun chat with a seemingly, down-to-earth, decent, naturally funny guy. Adores his family and makes every second of his life after his cancer scare, count. Parts of the conversation I cannot use (!!!) and I have to tell you, it is a good job I had an empty bladder before I called him!
One final factoid about Roy before we close this one, which I find really ironic considering his act and what he is famous for. In 2003, Mr Brown ended up in court in Blackpool and was fined £200 for assault, when he whacked a fan who had sworn at him.
Roy being upset that this guy was using such bad language in front of women and children who were on the pier at the time. Roy also ‘bans’ swearing by his adult children and friends in his home. That foul language is part of his job, and not carried over into his private life.
So, before I left him to get back to his ‘papers, I ask if he would please sum up Roy Chubby Brown in one sentence? “One sentence? OK. Just a bloke who wants to get through life without any trouble. I want everybody, the family, to be healthy and the final words; ‘How are we gonna manage without our Dad?”
I was tempted to ask him if he likes Marmite and what is his favourite colour, but thought better of it. Next time maybe…….
- “The Second Coming (Yes, He’s Still Alive)” DVD is out now. Roy’s UK tour continues throughout 2018 until November (no dates in July). Find them on: chubbybrown.biz
By Simon Redley
Photos courtesy of: Roy Chubby Brown and HRH Live
Top pic: Andy Hollingworth Archive