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Interview: Marcus Brigstocke - Savage past of Marcus; Marcus Brigstocke of The Savages on his misspent youth and how he got back on the straight and narrow.

Byline: Tim Oglethorpe

Tipped to be the next big comedy star and about to marry the love of his life, Marcus Brigstocke has a bright future ahead of him. But at one time he thought he would never escape his dark, rebellious past, when he behaved like a "nutter".

From the age of seven to his late teens Marcus, who stars in new BBC1 sitcom The Savages, went off the rails. He dabbled in booze and drugs, and his bad attitude and acts of vandalism resulted in him being kicked out of school and eventually, a spell locked up.

Marcus's first act of rebellion was as a seven-year-old at St Edmunds School in Hindhead, Surrey.

"I set fire to some goalposts on the playing field," says stand-up comedian Marcus, 27. "I creosoted them in the hope that they'd burn more, only to discover that this actually reduced the chances of them burning well. But I still got a reasonably good fire going with my little box of matches.

"I loathed football. I still do. Football reminds me of a ball being kicked against big, fat, cold thighs on a winter's day - of being the last one picked for the team during a games lesson, which I frequently was."

This incident got Marcus expelled for the first, but sadly not the last, time.

"I wouldn't go to classes, I'd smoke, I'd drink, I'd take drugs... I'd just break all the rules," he recalls. "I was a nutter, really. And I'd lie constantly. I'd tell one teacher that I'd missed his maths class because I'd had to have an English lesson, and I'd tell the English teacher that I'd missed his class because I'd been doing maths. And I have this rather romantic memory of myself sitting by a river reading HE Bates novels, near one of the schools I was attending, smoking French cigarettes, while all the other kids were working away in class."

He couldn't even blame his behaviour on his background. He comes from a prosperous, middle class family - his father works in the City and his mother is a teacher.

"I had my fair share of teenage rows with them, but I would never blame them for what happened to me and I get on fine with them now," he says. "For some reason, I was just fascinated by how people would react to what I was doing. What, I wondered, would be the response if I did such and such? How far could I go?"

His exasperated parents finally sent him to a private boarding school and when they also booted him out Marcus washed up at an institution in Devon. His three years there were a turning point in his life.

"The place, which is no longer there, was not a Borstal but an establishment where the doors were locked, so that the pupils didn't get out. It was for kids who didn't fit in anywhere else," he explains. "I realised there that my life was quite blessed.

"The weeping and wailing I did and the poor-little-rich-kid routine I tried on seemed irrelevant in comparison to what a lot of the other kids had gone through or were going through. These were boys who, on leaving the school, wouldn't know whether they were going to see their parents. They were kids from seriously broken homes, who couldn't be sure their parents would still be living in the same place as when they'd gone into the school. The contrast between their lives and mine was considerable."

Marcus left there older and wiser, and set about rebuilding his life. At 19 he was a deckhand on an oil rig in Cromerty Firth, Scotland. He used his earnings to travel, which in turn gave him the inspiration for Giles, the smug, self-satisfied student traveller who became part of Marcus's current stand-up routine.

Later, studying drama at Bristol University, he met Sophie Prideaux, now a film-maker. The couple, who live together in London, are engaged and due to marry later this year. Marcus can't wait to start a family. "I'm hopelessly clucky," he admits.

Now with The Savages, which starts on Tuesday, Marcus is about to become a household name. Although he's appeared on television many times and even starred in adverts for Crunchie bars, it's a big leap to make from stand-up to mainstream comedy, but Marcus has every reason to be confident.

Written by Men Behaving Badly's Simon Nye, The Savages revolves around a couple coming to terms with modern life and parenthood. Marcus plays young dad Adam, Victoria Hamilton his wife Jessica, and veteran sitcom star Geoffrey Palmer his father. Despite the show's pedigree, Marcus feels sure that some of his chums on the stand-up circuit may think he's sold out.

"If something is funny, then do it - and The Savages is funny," he says. "But I'm sure the working-class, warrior types will think it's ghastly, middle-class stuff and I'm sure Mark Thomas will be furious about it."

Marcus is also planning a spoof of the kind of shows that dominate daytime TV.

"So many of these programmes are just freak shows, the kind where you get 30-stone, 14-year-olds with two kids. People like that, who clearly have serious problems in their lives, shouldn't be paraded in front of the cameras for the entertainment of those watching at home," he says. "There's something deeply distasteful about it."

Time was when Marcus might have been a candidate for just such a show. But, thankfully, not any more.

"I bounced off the walls a lot as a teenager, but then I worked out where the walls were. So now I don't do drugs and I don't drink and I'm happily settled. I'm actually quite boring."

Co-star Geoffrey Palmer would disagree with that last statement. "Marcus is bound to be a big star. Watching him film The Savages has been a revelation," he says. "He has charm, a wonderful sense of comedy and great timing."

And, he might have added, no traces of his savage past.

l The Savages, Tuesday, BBC1, 9pm.
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Apr 21, 2001
Words:1012
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