ad lib to the point ofdoing away with scriptwriters. ‘They’ll give you a script with four lines that are completely unfunny and you‘ll phone up and say “Is this supposed to be funny? Because I‘m afraid it isn‘t.“ And they say “Yeah. but you’ll think of something. . You just think ifyou want me to write somethingl want a writing credit and pay for it. I mean you wouldn‘t say to Michael Hordern “Right. Michael. come in the door, then do something dramatic and go out.“‘

He breaks into an accurate impression of Hordernesque indignation. “I mean where‘s the script dear boy? You‘ll have to talk to my agent." Ifthey think you are funny they think it just falls out of your arse. which ofcourse it does in a sense.‘

He‘s recently refused a scriptless approach from The Tube. who have been known to get him up there. then announce (in thick Geordie). ‘Right. we‘ll have Boy George. then Robbie‘ll do two minutes to camera‘. so inducing creative panic and some untranscribable noises from his ample rear end.

It‘s a high pressure life all right. and Coltrane‘s customary reaction after a working stint is ‘going on a bender and getting drunk for a fortnight. seeing m‘pals.‘ Recently. however. he decided to ‘clean myself up‘ and went to a spa in Guadalajara in Mexico. ‘The Americans. have they fucked up that place!‘ he says.

He‘s got plenty more to say about the states. Two minutes of conversation will let you know he‘s

not exactly a Reaganite. He‘s not too keen on Tories over here either. Or establishment. ‘Fucking Arts Council. they don‘t know. “What is a painting? Can you shoot it'.’“‘

Some irony then that his next role is as arch Tory Samuel Johnson in a play at the Lyric. Hammersmith. called Your ObedientServant. It‘s not on till the spring. but he‘s already perfected Johnson‘s clipped English accent: ‘Um-l-to-be-played-by-a-

‘I have to monkey about’

Scottish-person? A Scotsman!‘

Just thinking about Johnson makes him laugh. but he‘s developed a good deal of affection for him as well. ‘Despite being an arch-Tory. he had about six people in his house who he used to feed and look after because they had nowhere else to go. He also had a black servant who he put into private education. He was deeply anti-racist. When everyone was saying the blacks were cursed by God. he would say “Well. it is perfectly obvious. if you were white in Africa you would be burned to a crisp." Great isn‘t it. “To a crisp“. Great picture of all the white people with sores going round saying, “Oh God I wish I was black‘.“

And he admires Johnson‘s chameleon politics at parties: ‘If there were no Whigs but a lot of articulate Tories. he‘d be a Whig just go get a good argument. “Ah‘m a Whig this evening because you are boring me with your polemic. Straight in there!’

Coltrane talks with relish about the

prospect of taking on some three dimensional acting. playing Johnson as at once ‘deeply intelligent and a sweet man. as well as being the funniest man in England at the time.‘ Falstaff is the serious role which comes next to mind for the future. ‘You may say it’s a funny part but it‘s not. It‘s like Martin Scorsese talking about The King ofComedy - "It‘s very funny. but it‘s not a comedy.“ And that‘s what Tutti Frutti is like as well.

He‘d even enjoy ‘a crack at‘ King Lear. ‘I don‘t know whether I‘m capable ofit. all that five feet prose stuff. but it‘s the ultimate challenge. But then I think standing up in front of four thousand people and making them laugh is a bit of a challenge myself.‘

For the moment he‘s working on more projects with people like John Sessions they have got a script about class attitudes set in the 18th century. which Channel 4 has so far rejected. And he‘s also involved in a new film from the

Supergrass team. Eat The Rich. another class satire set in an absurd restaurant setting. Then there is the new Comic Strip film Five Go To Hell In South America. It used to be


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Brazil but now Robbie‘s thinking more in terms of Mexico.

None of this is the slapstick which prejudice dictates suitable for large funny people. It is more black comedy. ‘in the sense that nothing is sacred.‘ The Glasgow keelic in him has no truck with wishy-washy liberalism. He mocks the people who talk about Glaswegians as ‘marvellous people. terribly rough and tumble. but hearts ofgold.‘ He remembers a ‘famous bastard. who should have known better saying. ‘I was in Glasgow recently and no one stabbed me.‘ Says Robbie. ‘I don‘t know what was wrong with them. I‘d have stabbed him.‘

. course the Americans have none!‘

a feminist act in drag

But at the same time he‘s sensitive enough not to risk having his jokes misunderstood. ‘I thought ofdoing a feminist act in drag. There‘s a level of feminism that‘s so self-righteous and pious. as ifthe world would have been wonderful ifit wasn‘t for men - as ifwomen weren‘t part of the conspiracy. Bollocks to that. But

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then I though. well no. because you

could be adding fuel to the fire of people who hate feminists full stop. It is a pity that not many people have a highly developed sense of irony. Of

Now at the stage of having all but one of the cassettes neatly stacked in a case given to him by Emma Thompson. Coltrane finds a lot more to distract. anger and amuse him and me. while he playfully unravels the remaining tape ‘Revenge for all the times it has twisted itself.‘

We even talk about whether he would have wanted to be a doctor like his father. He says seriously that he might have enjoyed the priest/wise man role. but he remembers in time that he could never cope with science. ‘Was it five milligrams. or 500 nurse. I never can remember. My word he‘s gone white.‘

One gets the impression he‘s more familiar with the branches of arithmetic Lewis Carroll talked about in Alice In Wonderland— ‘Ambition. Distraction. Uglification and Derision‘. Which is just as well for all those last minute programme makers at this very minute sending him more job offers without scripts.

Tutti Frutti starts on BBC] on Tues3 March. A B BC book to accompany the series. written and illustrated by John Byrne. is published at £3. 95.

John Byme's illustration of Robbie Coltrane as Danny McGlone in Tutti Frutti, taken from Byrne’s bookthat accompanies the series (BBC Books, £3.95).

Left: Emma Thompson and Robbie Coltrane in a scene lrom Tutti Fruttl.

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The List 20 Feb 5 March 5