Stephen Mangan: “Footlights was unwelcoming”

The comic actor and Cambridge alumnus says the university’s famous comedy group was too “cliquey”

Stephen Mangan says he decided not to join Cambridge University’s famous Footlights comedy group because he found it “unwelcoming”.

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The actor studied law at Cambridge but said the group – known for producing some of Britain’s finest comic acting talent, from Peter Cook to Stephen Fry, John Cleese to Emma Thompson – “was so cliquey and they were so unwelcoming that I just decided not to bother”.

Mangan says Cambridge “gave me three years to decide I didn’t want to do law” – but claims comedy was not his original intention either. “I always wanted to be a great classical actor,” he said.

Since then, however, Mangan has forged a successful career as a comedy actor, starring in shows such as Green Wing and Episodes. 

This Friday he appears in the title role of the new Comic Strip outing The Hunt for Tony Blair (10:00pm, Channel 4) and he is currently filming the first full series of quirky detective yarn Dirk Gently, based on books by another Footlights alumnus, the late Douglas Adams.

Despite his feelings about Footlights – and law – Mangan still looks back on his university years wistfully and with fondness.

“It was a wondrous three years cocooned in this very privileged environment in a beautiful city,” he said.

Adding: “Whenever I go back to Cambridge now, I feel this terrible sense of loss for my youth, and feel bitter and vengeful.

“The city is rather fickle. She doesn’t seem to care that we’ve moved on but welcomes whoever’s there now.”

Ten famous Footlights alumni

Sacha Baron Cohen

John Cleese

Peter Cook

Stephen Fry

Hugh Laurie

David Mitchell

Sue Perkins

Griff Rhys Jones

Emma Thompson

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Robert Webb