Camilla's delightful so I have to stick up for her: Alexander Armstrong on why there's one public figure he won't ridicule
Last updated at 10:40 AM on 13th August 2010
Even at public school, Alexander Armstrong found himself accused of being posh.
‘I was unlike everyone else at Durham School. It was like a country club for the children of rich, Northern industrialists, so an awful lot of big hairstyles on high stiletto heels climbed out of sports cars.
‘I was the only one there who didn’t speak with
a Geordie accent and was quite mercilessly
teased for being posh.’
The son of a Northumbrian country GP, Alexander says: ‘That’s how we spoke at home and I’m suspicious of people who shed accents, but I was about the poorest person there.
Royal favourite: Alexander Armstrong, with his wife Hannah, is a popular guest host of Have I Got News For You
upbringing was ridiculously threadbare: Until I
was about 15 I don’t think I owned a pair of
trousers without a ladder of letdown marks where
people before me had worn them.
‘There wasn’t a yoghurt pot in our house that didn’t have to be washed up and reused. My mother was an environmentalist long before anyone else.’
Alexander will reveal more of his background
when he investigates his family tree in BBC1’s
Who Do You Think You Are? on August 23.
He agrees he has used his posh image to
advantage. ‘Oh I’m not complaining,’ he says with
a sniff and swirl of the wine which will accompany
As an aperitif, he has ordered a spicy
bloody Mary. He loves Pimms but, since he played
the Hooray Henry character in the lucrative TV
ads, no longer orders one in public in case some
wit shrieks: ‘It’s Pimms o’clock!’
He put a ‘substantial’ amount of his Pimms
money —‘not seven figures but six’ — into a
restaurant chain set up by his friend Henry
Dimbleby, the son of Question Time’s David.
Alexander, 40, might have been brought up in
Northumberland, a county he says that’s ‘remote
and on a completely different weather system’ to
the rest of the country’, but one way or another,
he has an impressive set of connections,
stretching from the Prince of Wales to chancellor
George Osborne and culinary One Fat Lady
Clarissa Dickson Wright.
Double act: Armstrong and Ben Miller as the two WWII pilots they play in their live show
And though he might have to poke fun at friends
as guest host of Have I Got News For You, he
always protects the Duchess of Cornwall from
The admiration runs both ways as Charles and
Camilla have declared themselves aficionados of
The Armstrong And Miller Show, which returns
to BBC1 in October.
The Royals are particularly fond of the World War II pilots who speak with clipped accents but in today’s street slang.
did them in the Royal Variety Show and Prince
Charles told us afterwards that he’s a great fan.’
Alexander ‘bumped into’ Ben Miller at Cambridge,
where he was reading English and Ben
Contemporaries included Sacha
Baron Cohen, Sue Perkins and Mel Giedroyc.
After graduating in 1992, Alexander met Ben
again at a comedy club each trying out sketches.
The format seemed dead in the water at the time. Harry Hill told them: ‘You’re like two gentlemen tailors making clothes no one wears any more.’ But then came The Fast Show and sketches were back in fashion.
Miller did four series for Channel 4
between 1997 and 2001.
‘Then we had a bit of a falling out.
We’d only ever been a double act and
thought we had no career apart. We
were joined at the hip out of friendship
I had such a yearning
for fresh air, and, thank goodness,
because we’ve both built up rather
nice careers for ourselves.’
Following a bit of breathing
space, they revived
their double act on BBC1
in 2007 and this September
they start a 60-date live
But their solo careers continue. In the latter half of 2009, Alexander fronted a documentary on the British holiday, appeared on Have I Got News For You (with 16 appearances he holds the record as guest host) and played Sir Clive Sinclair in a drama about the battle for the home computer market.
‘I won’t do anything I don’t think I
can do well. I was lucky that my role
on HIGNFY and on Life Begins (the
family drama, with Caroline Quentin)
began at about the same time and I
was allowed to do both.’
Two years ago he turned down the job as host of Channel 4’s Countdown also being subjected to much teasing on HIGNFY when news broke that he was about to sign the contract with C4. ‘I had a long talk with Ian Hislop and he said: “Don’t for God’s sake do it, because you won’t be able to do anything else.” ’
Popular: The Duchess of York is a fan of the Armstrong and Miller show
Jay Hunt, controller of BBC1 apparently ‘hit the roof’ at the idea of him going to Channel 4. Yet he has cause to feel let down by the BBC which had all but offered him the permanent role of host of HIGNFY. ‘We had contracts ready to go, then the David Kelly affair happened.’
BBC was enveloped in controversy
over its coverage of the death of the
weapons expert and the top echelon
of executives left. By the time
things settled the practice of having
different guest hosts had proved a
‘I’d still love that job and would give
up other things to do it,’ he says.
Does he ever worry that there might
be a clash between people he knows
socially and those who are the butt of
the show’s jokes?
‘Entirely,’ he sighs. ‘And it’s a tough one. ‘The father of a lovely old friend of mine was one of the MPs who made himself conspicuous in the expenses scandal and I had to be rude about him. If you’re in the public eye, you have to accept it.
‘At home they named the village
hall after my father, Angus Armstrong,
when he retired, as he was
the eighth generation of his family to
be a GP there.
‘When he was a young houseman in London, Dad shared a flat with a friend who went on to become the Prince of Wales’ Private Secretary. He arranged for Charles and Camilla to open the village hall for Dad.
was away filming but we heard
the best possible things about
them, and she was particularly
‘It’s become part of the unimaginative
building blocks of
comedy that you have to have a pop
at them if they’re in the news. It sticks
in my craw and I tone down jokes
about them on HIGNFY as it’s all
part of that bizarre post-Diana
‘I know George Osborne a bit
through his wife Frances. He’s bright
but before he became Chancellor I
was beginning to wish he’d grow out
of that class prankster thing. There
was a joke about autism at one stage
and he waded in and said: “I’ll come
to Gordon Brown later.” ’
Perhaps Alexander can flaunt his
own ‘poshness’ due to the political
shift which has seen David Cameron
mix Notting Hill smartness with
popular appeal. Although Alexander
lives in West London, he says he was
never part of the Cameron set — or
any set as he and his wife, Hannah,
six years his junior, are constantly
exhausted by the demands of their
Rex, three, and one-year-old Patrick
were joined on June 25 by Edwin.
Alexander is very happy in his
marriage. ‘I am stupidly romantic
and I’ve had my heart broken many
times. But I don’t think I’ve ever
laughed a women into bed. My
humour is polished and honed.
Women don’t like “try hard” and I
have a particular brand of unctuousness
that’s absolutely revolting.
‘Hannah, an events organiser at Harvey Nichols when we met, was out of my league and I pursued her. She appreciates my jokes in an “Mmm” kind of way.
‘I believe strongly in marriage and think family is the point of everything. She doesn’t need to worry about my loyalty when I’m away working —- I’m a bit predictable.’
Not that predictable. On his stag
weekend in 2004, Alexander invited
Clarissa Dickson Wright, related by
marriage, along. ‘She’s a hoot. She
had made our wedding cake and on
the Saturday morning she led some
hungover stags in an icing and fluting
Some of the more filthy
things had to be taken off the cake
before the wedding.’
For information and tickets for The Armstrong And Miller Live show go to www.mickperrin.com Alexander Armstrong’s Who Do You Think You Are? will be shown on BBC1, Monday August 23, 9pm.
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