Whitgift’s gifted wit

Whitgift’s gifted wit

Steve Punt with Hugh Dennis

Steve Punt with Hugh Dennis

First published in News by

As a Whitgift schoolboy on an outing to the Ashcroft Theatre, Fairfield, Steve Punt saw Rowan Atkinson, post-Not The Nine O'clock News, performing his one man-show.

"That was very influential. He was great and that made me want to pursue a career as a writer and performer," says Steve.

With Huge Dennis, the other half of the double act, he will be in town again at the Ashcroft on January 20.

As a Reigate lad, his dad still lives in the town; Steve can recall many hours waiting on a draughty East Croydon station for his train home.

"I spent many, many of my teenage years at East Croydon station. It has marked me deeply. I can still, tragically, recite the entire routes of trains passing through!" he laughs.

He spent seven years at the South Croydon school and is full of praise for their drama section.

"It's only in retrospect that I realised that the school always had this fantastic thing about drama.

"In the post-war 50s the school would perform a school play for mums and dads and then they'd take it on tour to Germany.

"It was a tradition still going when I was there. I went on four trips to Germany Berlin, Cologne, Munich and Nuremberg.

"Yes, I remember Nuremberg that's where we had an exciting exchange with a girls' school! I can remember being astonished by the audiences we attracted in Germany.

"At home it was all parents and family, but in Germany we were in proper theatres and sold out our shows.

"In Munich we sold out the performance and we were asked to do a morning one just for schoolchildren.

"We thought it would be a nightmare playing to pupils but I was stunned by their reaction. They clearly really enjoyed it. It was usually a Shakespeare play on offer and the Germans are very respectful of culture," he adds.

Steve Punt is a writer, performer, actor and script editor.

Punt and Dennis are a double act that started when they both worked together as one half of The Mary Whitehouse Experience which ran on Radio 1 for two years (1988-1990) before transferring to BBC2 where it gained a cult following. The two are stars of BBC Radio 4's The Now Show and BBC Radio 2's It's Been A Bad Week.

Having had a trial run on a short tour last spring, they take the new stage show Grown Men. In Public' out on the road.

Now a dad-of-two, Steve found his way into the performing arts world via school reviews, Cambridge footlights and the meeting of minds with Dennis.

"If I hadn't had the experience from Whitgift school I would not have had the nerve for Footlights or to go to the Fringe with Hugh.

"He was always more academic. I graduated but not with the degree I might have got if I hadn't been writing jokes and scripts all the time!" he admits. The essential ingredient in their act is their friendship.

"It really couldn't work if we did not like each other. Obviously we've changed over the years but the bond remains. We've both got young children now and, to use a horrible phrase, we have to have work-life balance'. But with parenthood has come a whole new source of material.

"A new raft of ideas, experiencing diseases like chickenpox again!"

When we spoke Steve had just returned from his son's nativity play at school. As a Wimbledon resident he is going to see Aladdin starring Claire Sweeney at the New Wimbledon Theatre.

"It's Spiderman that got my son all keen to go," he says. "I don't usually go to pantos."

"Having children changes the quality of Christmas," he reflects.

"Before we had children my partner and I wanted to hire children for Christmas.

"It could be a business like Easykid.com. Rent out cherubic little ones for Christmas Day and hand them back over on Boxing Day so you can nurse your hangover!" he quips.

He enjoys being on tour "sowing the seeds of his destruction" as he puts it.

"The show develops as we go and it's continuously evolving. It accelerates in front of an audience and improves, literally, overnight," he explains.

And Steve is looking forward to meeting his Croydon audience. Tickets for the show in the Ashcroft Theatre, on January 20, at 7.45pm, are £13 and £11 from the Fairfield box office on 020 8688 9291.

The tour also visits the Epsom Playhouse on January 26. Call 01372 742555.

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