You might know actor, comedian and author Ben Miller as Agent Bough, the long-suffering side-kick to Rowan Atkinson’s Johnny English, as one half of comedy duo Armstrong and Miller (with Alexander Armstrong) or as the original lead detective on Death in Paradise.
His latest role is in Bridgerton, the Netflix period drama which has been binge-watched across the nation, and his new book for children, The Day I Fell into a Fairytale, recently hit the shelves.
Below, Miller discusses the titles which have influenced his own writing and comedic career, selecting the books he’d line up on his Fantasy Bookshelf.
Miller shares the childhood book he reads to his own children, his dream role as an unhelpful caterpillar and explains why he’s more like Huckleberry Finn (with ill-fitting swimming shorts) than master detective Sherlock Holmes.
Which books inspired your career in comedy acting?
I read a lot of Dickens growing up, and it’s had a huge influence on me. The idea that names alone can be funny: that language and character and situation can have you in stitches, before you even add so much as a gag.
I love the later, socially-conscious novels, but for pure fun you can’t do much better than The Pickwick Papers.
If you could star as a character from any book, which would it be?
My daughter Lana’s favourite book is Alice in Wonderland, so I’d like to be in that, please.
The caterpillar would be my first choice. Sitting on a mushroom, smoking a hookah, and being of no help to Alice whatsoever is safely ‘in my wheelhouse,’ as they say in Hollywood.
Which character do you see yourself in?
Huckleberry Finn. In real life I’m a bit of a daydreamer, and Huck was the character I really identified with in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.
When Huck ran away and had an adventure of his own in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn I felt like it was happening to me. But then that’s the brilliance of Mark Twain; it’s all so natural it doesn’t feel like writing at all.
Which character do you wish you could be more like?
Sherlock Holmes. Who doesn’t? To have that tidy a “brain-attic” that you can instantly access any piece of knowledge. Mine is more like my bedroom floor: piled high with unfinished stories, half-remembered facts and badly-fitting swimming shorts I bought online and forgot to send back.
What is your favourite quote?
It’s from The Little Prince by Antoine De Saint-Exupery; “And now here is my secret, a very simple secret: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the naked eye.”
There are children’s books that you must keep reading as an adult and The Little Prince is one of them.
What was your favourite book in childhood?
It would have to be King Arthur and His Knights of the Round Table by Roger Lancelyn Green. It weaves all the magical stories of Arthurian legend into one glorious arc: the sword in the stone, Lancelot and Guinevere, and Gawain and the Green Knight.
My father used to read it to me at bedtime, right up until I was a teenager, and I’ve kept the torch burning by reading it to my kids too.
Your new book, The Day I Fell into a Fairytale is now out in hardback. Which stories inspired your own writing?
Every time I sit down to write a new children’s book, I get my eye in with a bit of AA Milne. Every soft toy living in the Hundred Acre Wood is effortlessly drawn: even the punctuation is funny.
The problem is the writing is so nailed down there’s nothing to steal. But then, who cares? At least I get to read a bit of Winnie-The-Pooh.
Is there a piece of reading which has had an impact on your life?
My friend Jez Butterworth once gave me a change of address card by a young man called Alexander Armstrong. It was a sort of shaggy dog-poem, where the last line sounded out his address. That didn’t turn out too badly.
What was the last book you read and would you read it again?
I just finished Serpentine by Philip Pullman, and yes, I would definitely read it again. It’s quite short, beautifully illustrated, and deliciously atmospheric.
We get a glimpse of Lyra in between His Dark Materials and The Book of Dust, as she works a few issues through with Pantalaimon, her daemon. As you do.
It made me think I’m not nearly thoughtful enough as a writer, but then just as we can’t all be AA Milne, we can’t all be Phillip Pullman either.
What’s next on your reading list?
Next on my list is The White Ship by Charles Spencer. In fact I’ve got it sitting next to me as I write.
It’s the true story of an extraordinary shipwreck that took place off the coast of Normandy in 1120, when Henry I, son of William the Conqueror, lost his only legitimate son, his treasure, and two hundred of his court. As a direct result, England plunged into anarchy. Can’t wait.
Ben Miller’s book for children of all ages, The Day I Fell into a Fairytale, is out now in hardback. New period drama Bridgerton is streaming now on Netflix.
Buy Ben Miller’s Fantasy Bookshelf
The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens
Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle
The Little Prince by Antoine De Saint-Exupery (translated by Irene Testot-Ferry)
King Arthur and His Knights of the Round Table by Roger Lancelyn Green
Winnie-the-Pooh by A.A. Milne
Serpentine by Philip Pullman
The White Ship: Conquest, Anarchy and the Wrecking of Henry I’s Dream by Charles Spencer
The Day I Fell into a Fairytale by Ben Miller