Henry Winkler on being a Peaky Blinders fanboy, starstruck by John Lennon and wanting to be a Strictly judge

The Fonz turns on the TV for Cillian Murphy and loses two notches on his belt every time he does panto...

Henry Winkler talks Peaky Blinders, panto and why he’d like to join the Strictly judging panel…

Who makes you turn on the telly?

Cillian Murphy in Peaky Blinders. He has never been better. I adore everything about that show – the setting, the drama, the romance.

What other programmes can’t you live without?

I love Banshee [Sky Atlantic], about a man who has served time in prison and comes back to Banshee, a small town in Pennsylvania, to find that his girlfriend is now married to the district attorney and his best friend is a cross-dressing hairdresser-cum- assassin. I also can’t wait for the return of Strictly. Would I appear on it? Only as a judge – I know my limitations. It would break my heart to be voted off in week three.

Would you ever appear on I’m a Celebrity… ?

No. It’s fun to watch, but I’d never go on it. I need to wash. Also,  I know that cockroach would get caught in my throat. It would not go down like filet mignon.

What’s your perfect night in?

It would involve hot tea and shortbread cookies and the box set of Episodes. That show is so funny. Tamsin Greig and Stephen Mangan are brilliant. They’re like Lucy and Desi [from I Love Lucy]. Episodes is a very accurate portrayal of Hollywood, which is pretty scary.

Has anyone left you starstruck?

John Lennon came to a recording of Happy Days with his son Julian in 1974. John was very quiet and shy. I didn’t know how to engage him in conversation till I started talking about how much I loved his first solo album. Then he opened up like a flower.

Do you ever meet up with the cast of Happy Days?

No, but I call Marion Ross [who played Marion Cunningham] and our guru Garry Marshall [the series creator] all the time. And I see a lot of Ron Howard [who played Richie Cunningham and is now a successful Hollywood director].

You’ve done a lot of panto in the UK. How do you find it?

It’s one of the most difficult jobs I’ve ever done. Broadway is eight performances a week – panto is 12! I call it my “panto diet” – I lose at least two notches on my belt every year. But for all that, I love it. The interaction with the audience is so joyful. I love the sound of a three- year-old yelling,“He’s behind you!”

Is that why you wrote children’s books?

[Winkler’s stories about Hank Zipzer, a smart 14-year-old boy with dyslexia, have been turned into a CBBC series.] When my kids were younger, I’d take them to the movies and think, “Oh my God, when will this be over?” But Hank Zipzer has jokes for kids and their parents. I was in a restaurant last night and a gentleman came up to me and said, “My daughter has dyslexia, and she has just graduated. She read Hank Zipzer when she was younger and it helped her enormously to know that she wasn’t alone.” 

Is it autobiographical?

Yes. I took the same high-school course in geometry for four years. Finally, I got a D and was able to graduate. But I haven’t used a single thing from geometry since! Mr Rock is also based on my old music teacher. He was the one who said to me, “Winkler, if you ever do get out of high school, you’re going to be OK.” I’m telling you, I’ve held on to that sentence forever!

Hank Zipzer is on Thursday 27th August at 4.30pm on CBBC

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