Robert Webb: “Question Time makes me embarrassed for Britain”

The star of The Bleak Old Shop of Stuff on TV, film and why hospital drama makes him sick

What’s your guilty pleasure?


You’ve Been Framed. Harry Hill nearly makes it respectable, but
you still feel guilty laughing at cats falling over.

What makes you blush?

Question Time because of the idiotic responses from the audience and the very boring answers from MPs. It makes me embarrassed for Britain.

What would you bring back?

I yearn for that missing third series of The Young Ones. I think they stopped too soon, yet I don’t know whether I want to see The Young Ones now, ie not so young.

What would you delete from your wife’s watchlist?

Any kind of docusoap or any programme with footage of real people either ill in hospital or treating ill people. It makes me feel ill just watching. Hospitals are horrible. Why would you want to make TV about them?

What would you delete from your comedy partner David Mitchell’s watchlist?

We don’t disagree much although, to make my life worth living, I’ve had to learn the rules to cricket, otherwise I’d be staring at the screen in bafflement. 

When we write, each day starts with a good 45 minutes to an hour having a cup of tea watching whatever daytime nonsense is on. If the snooker is on we’ll watch that because the commentators make us laugh, otherwise we’ll happily sit through shows about what people have in their attic or a good Quincy.

We draw the line at that soulless Dalek Jeremy Kyle.

What sends you to sleep?

I don’t need anything too soporific because I’ve got two small children. Normally, a dismal five pages of a novel and I’ve just about had enough for the day!

Has becoming a parent broadened your TV horizons?

Waybuloo and In the Night Garden are required viewing for my daughter, Esme, who is two and a half. I prefer the brilliant CBeebies Bedtime Hour; controversially, I think it has the edge over Milkshake! on Channel 5 in the morning. 

A very comforting bit of continuity for parents of my age is hearing it introduced by Derek Griffiths – who I remember from Heads and Tails and Play School.

What do you curl up to on a rainy Sunday?

I’ve seen the Bourne films more than is strictly healthy. I avoid comedy films because it feels a bit like work, although I can watch Groundhog Day again and again in an appropriately Groundhog Day way. And when no one is around to stop me, Star Wars.

When were you last starstruck?

Working with Stephen Fry and Tim McInnerny – who played Captain Darling in Blackadder Goes Forth – in The Bleak Old Shop of Stuff. I’ve left them in no doubt that I’m a colossal fan, but you don’t want to go on; it makes them feel old when you start saying: “My mum used to make me go to bed just before you came on, because I was at school.”

How much to get you into the Celebrity jungle?

That will never happen. I would have to be threatened with a Dickensian debtors’ prison before I would say yes to that. 

This is an edited version of an article from the issue of Radio Times magazine that went on sale 14 February 2012.


Robert Webb stars in The Bleak Old Shop of Stuff tonight on BBC2 at 8:30pm