Before becoming a professional comic, Davies spent 13 years teaching drama. He says it was the one bit of advice his father gave him that he regrets following. But I’m not so sure that he would be enjoying such success today if he hadn’t taught. So much of his stand-up act is rooted in his experience, from the pathetic nicknames school kids are given (one boy was called Mumbo because his mother had BO) to the self-loathing he felt because he wasn’t doing what he wanted to. He rose up the teaching ladder, and by the time he quit, he was head of drama at a comprehensive. He wishes he could say he’d had a good time, but it wouldn’t be true.
“I was lost at sea. I wasn’t happy where I was in life. If you’re not doing what you want to do in life, you’re just like a pinball, knocking around. In my 20s I was a huge drinker. We’d go out at weekends and get absolutely s***faced.” On a first date in Man Down, we see Dan ordering a pint of wine and downing it in one. Is that taken from life? “Oh yeah. When I was a teacher and went back to Shropshire to see my friends we’d start the night by drinking a bottle of sherry. Each. Just to get drunk quickly.”
Was he as immature as Dan? “Yeah. Painfully immature. In fact my mother said to me last night, ‘Well, you’ve always been ten years behind where you should be.’ And I hold my hands up. That’s exactly right.”
Was he as hopeless with women as Dan is? “Yes. As a young man I was an absolute idiot. I think my exes would say I was a likeable baby. I had a teenager’s bedroom when I was 32.”
He knows it sounds funny in retrospect, but it wasn’t. “There wasn’t a day passed when I thought, ‘When am I going to have a go at the thing I’ve always wanted?’ ” How did that make him feel about himself ? “Awful. Absolute self-loathing. I was furious with myself for 13 years.” He bored his friends with his frustrations. He’d spend his life trying to make them laugh to prove a point. It’s such a relief that he doesn’t have to do that now, he says. “Some friends think I’m dull now. But I think it’s great that I’m no longer trying to make everyone laugh in the pub.”
Davies started gigging on the stand-up circuit and within a couple of years was making enough money to give up the day job. I ask who his comic heroes are. This is where Mayall comes in again. “Rik was probably the first person who made me think, ‘Yeah, God, if I can get paid for that!’ ” What did he adore about him? “Just the absolute madness. As a young man, it blew my mind. I ran into school the day after every episode [of The Young Ones] to talk about it.”
Davies found it hard to write after Mayall died. He had already sketched out five episodes of Man Down and didn’t really know how to start again. “Rik was the dream casting for me. He was a childhood hero of mine, and I look like him. And he was beloved, as you saw when he died. The adoration poured out for him. So never for a second did I think, ‘That’s OK, we’ll just get another dad in.’”
Eventually he hit on the idea of substituting him with an eccentric aunt (played by Stephanie Cole). This time, though, she wasn’t based on a real relative. “I don’t have a battleaxe aunty, but I know some women in Shropshire who are that sort of stoic, get on with life even if your legs get chopped off, red-faced farmers’ wives…”