With his donnish demeanour, ecclesiastical upbringing and background in children’s television, Miles Jupp is a some￼what unlikely comedian. “I went to an audition the other day,” he says. “I needed to do a North West accent for it. The accent I did was really good, mainly because it sounded nothing like me. And the reason it sounded nothing like me was that I had attempted to drive my car into the NCP car park in Newport, forgetting that I still had a rooftop box on.
“Of course it got caught, and then I wanted to reverse, but then I was blocking a bus that wanted to turn left immediately before the car park. I got so cross that I ruined my vocal cords for about 48 hours. In the middle of that I had the audition. If I do get the job I’m going to have to get the roof box back on and drive up to Newport.”
Fortunately for Radio 4 listeners, Jupp’s voice has returned to its slightly nasal, über-middle-class drawl, just in time for him to begin his stint as the host of The News Quiz, becoming the fifth chair in the show’s 38-year history. Sandi Toksvig, the previous incumbent, managed nine years and 28 series, and Jupp is only too aware that he has been given the keys to one of the jewels in the BBC’s radio schedule.
“You’ve got the big shows on Radio 4,” he says, rather breathlessly. “I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue, Just a Minute and The News Quiz. It’s iconic, and that is what is both frightening and exciting. It’s like being told, ‘Here’s this beautiful thing we made – it’s your turn to hold it, don’t break it.’
Miles Jupp in Rev
“I think it matters. It has the potential to talk about news items that are otherwise discussed in a more reverential way. An item can go out on the Six o’Clock News and a decision might have been made that is blatantly harmful, but they have to say, ‘Some commentators wonder if this is in fact a very clever move.’ Whereas on The News Quiz you can say, ‘These people are definitely idiots.’ You can say the things that people think when they’re listening to the news.”
While he promises that any changes to the show – now entering its 88th series – will be gradual, he hopes to gently tweak the guest list, in a manner that would be likely to see the mix of contributors mirror Have I Got News for You.
“I would like to get some politicians on, particularly those who are capable of actual thought and speech. I want to make sure we keep having journalists on, too. They really go for the stories, whereas comedians tend to pick around the periphery of a news item and make jokes in the margin, which is valid. But journalists talk about news stories in a way that makes them more accessible.”
The son of a clergyman, Jupp studied divinity at Edinburgh University and had a regular part in Rev, the hit BBC2 sitcom, as hapless lay reader Nigel. Despite this triumvirate of ecclesiastical qualifications, he says he would not really describe himself as a person of faith, adding, “I’m quite pro-church really, as long as they’re sensible. We go to church on Sundays, because that’s when other people are about.” He says he “very much doubts” that Rev, which starred Tom Hollander and Olivia Colman, will return, despite public demand. “It seemed to me to be finished, although I thought the same after series two. I would be very surprised if there was more. I don’t see it.”
Having spent time in north London, home is now the Welsh valley town of Monmouth, with his wife and five children. A fixture on the comedy circuit, his showbiz breakthrough came via the short-lived but wildly popular children’s show, Balamory, which he joined as a 22-year-old undergraduate. A generation of children know him as Archie (above), a slightly rotund inventor who crafts his creations from yogurt pots and milk bottles. But not his own brood.
“I used to be worried about showing it to them because I thought that they would find it very odd. But I guess now children film themselves on an iPad and watch it back, so probably now being on screen, there’s nothing magic about it.”
He says that his children have seen bits of Balamory, but it isn’t a fixture in the Jupp household. “There’s lots of other stuff out there,” he says, sarcastically. “I’m not like, ‘Guys, why are you watching Despicable Me? Here’s some DVDs from ten years ago. This one’s got the Highway Code in it.’”
At 36, Jupp is a good deal younger than most Radio 4 listeners, and he is well aware that he is stepping into the kind of BBC radio job where tenure is measured in decades rather than years. “It’s open-ended,” he says, when asked how long he plans to stick around on The News Quiz. “Nicholas Parsons is what, 91? I’m just thinking about my first series, and doing the best job I can do. The news is different every week, so there’s no reason why it can’t feel fresh for quite a long time.”
The News Quiz returns tonight (Friday 18th September) at 6.30pm