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Gyles Brandreth reveals why he turned down Strictly Come Dancing

The One Show presenter and former MP on his friendship with Nicholas Parsons and why he doesn't watch the news

Published: Monday, 28th August 2017 at 7:01 am

We hear you on Radio 4’s Just a Minute, Gyles, but what do you watch on TV at home?


OK, I’m going to try to tell you in 60 seconds, without hesitation, repetition or deviation...

Go on, then.

I always watch The One Show – if I’m not on. If I am on, my wife [writer and publisher Michele Brown] watches from behind the sofa with the sound turned down. She’s not listening to what I’m saying, she’s just going, “Oh stand up straight! Pull your stomach in! Oh why are you still wearing that old anorak, for goodness’ sake. Get your hair cut!” People remember what they see on TV much more than what they hear. People sometimes ask about the colourful knitwear I used to wear on television. I haven’t worn one of those sweaters on TV since 1990, yet just today someone asked, “Where’s your woolly jumper?”

Thirty seconds left…

I can’t watch television in the day without feeling guilty, although I appear in a lot of daytime programmes. And I’m often out in the evening working. At the moment I’m playing Hamlet Senior on stage [at the Park Theatre in London]. I wanted to play Hamlet Junior but my son Benet is playing him and my daughter-in-law Kosha [Engler] is playing both Ophelia and Gertrude. My machine works overtime recording programmes, but I have to delete more than I watch. War and Peace was shown two years ago and I still haven’t seen it.

What do you always record?

I love Celebrity Antiques Roadshow, which I’ve been on myself. I said I wanted to do it with Nicholas Parsons, whom I’ve now known for 50 years. He insisted, in his 90s, on doing all the driving. I have to tell you, it was quite exciting, particularly reversing round corners. Nicholas, like my father, did not take a driving test. He didn’t think it was funny when I told him we were doing Antiques Roadshow because we were the antiques. He’s immortal.

What I don’t watch much is the news. Having been a full-time politician, I’ve had enough news and I don’t think we need to watch any for the next couple of years. Two years from now Trump will still be tweeting and the Brexit negotiations will just be getting under way.

You’ve got seven grandchildren. How do you entertain them?

At the moment my wife and I are watching all the Carry On films with our grandchildren, who are aged one to 13. Kenneth Williams was a great friend of ours and we are also friends with Barbara Windsor so we feel a family relationship with the films. We’ve got a big room that’s half-kitchen and half-living room that has a big sofa with those buttons you press at the side that makes the legs go up.

The grandchildren, uninvited, take the comfy sofa and lounge about while my wife and I have to drag over upright kitchen chairs. We do it like the cinema. The grandchildren make tickets and stand by the door as we arrive and we hand over a little bit of money, they tear the tickets in half and show us to our seats. We have an interval when ice cream, popcorn and crisps are served, too.

What else do you do watch or listen to?

I have radios in the bathroom and kitchen permanently tuned to Radio 4. I think the Today programme is brilliant and I’m a friend and great admirer of John Humphrys. My life revolves around words so I don’t listen to much music. I’ve been asked to go on Strictly, but I always say no because though in my head I’m Fred Astaire, in fact I’m Fred Flintstone. Also the older people who do well on Strictly are always round, whether it’s John Sergeant or Ann Widdecombe or Russell Grant. I’m just not round enough.


Just a Minute is on Sunday 12.04pm and Monday 6.30pm Radio 4


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