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Unlikely story of a one man show.

Byline: By David Whetstone

The first thing Rodney Bewes does, after picking up the phone in his hotel room in a "very pretty" corner of Suffolk, is to send wife Daphne off on an errand. Dutifully, and perhaps thankfully, she trots off.

But not before she is heard to remark: "I am an honest person."

"I tell such lies in interviews that she gets embarrassed," says Rodney shamelessly.

I suppose you should take what follows in the light of this opening exchange.

Looking forward to his trip to the North-East next week, Rodney says: "I feel I have a pretend freedom of the city of Newcastle. That's because of The Likely Lads."

A pretend freedom of the city of Newcastle? The Likely Lads was one of the best sitcoms ever made. If it didn't put Newcastle on the map exactly ( then it did cast a warm glow over the place.

OK, so you might not have trusted Terry Collier (played by James Bolam) with your car keys or your girlfriend, but you would have had good crack with him about the footie in a pub. And Bob Ferris (Bewes) was a fine upstanding example of Geordie youth, even if the accent and the hair style might have been a bit suspect.

Still a Likely Lad at heart, Rodney agrees that this is a "ridiculous" state of affairs. "We should have a campaign," he urges.

I agree wholeheartedly. So I'll start it here by saying that if any man deserves to have a cow on the Town Moor, then it is Rodney Bewes, who has brought pleasure to millions.

Rodney Bewes expresses his grievances in such deadpan fashion that you can't be entirely sure if he's joking or not.

But grievance number two is that episodes of the famous series haven't been repeated by the BBC recently, or at least to his knowledge. "Can't you find out why?" says Rodney. "Use the Freedom of Information Act."

Actually, Rodney says he's feeling "up" at the moment. Another journalist has just called him a national treasure, to which he couldn't help adding that he is actually a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is also listed.

Pooterishly, he points out a glowing reference to himself on page 40 of the current edition of the Radio Times. "It says something rude about Jimmy Bolam, which I'm thrilled about, but then it says Rodney Bewes as Bob Ferris is one of the great comic turns of our time."

He says he's chuffed, but in the same breath wryly notes that he has become a comic turn, evidently something of a relegation in status. "I think it's because I'm not on the television all the time," he says.

The Radio Times accolade is because the BBC is to release The Likely Lads in its entirety as a DVD box set on October 16. A few episodes screened on the telly, feels the sitcom's co-star, would help to publicise this.

With his autobiography, A Likely Story, due out in paperback, the name Rodney Bewes is back in the spotlight.

But it is as Charles Pooter in The Diary of a Nobody that he returns to the North-East next week. Written by George and Weedon Grossmith, the comic adventures of Mr Pooter appeared in instalments in Punch magazine in 1892 and have since become a classic, with that word "Pooterish" entering the language as an adjective meaning self-important, though amusingly so.

For several years, Rodney toured the length and breadth of the country with his one-man version of Three Men In A Boat. It was an enormous success and saw him on the road ( and on the river ( for many days each year.

It was after a performance in Edinburgh in 2000 that an audience member suggested he should tackle Mr Pooter. "I loved it that it was given me by a member of the audience. I re-read it and thought it was great, and I gave the first performance at Live Theatre in 2001."

Since then the family Mondeo has clocked up many more miles, dragging the trailer that contains the sets, props and other paraphernalia.

This truly is a one-man theatre operation. Rodney says that without a director he is free to be "naughty" and address the audience and ad lib and do exactly what he wants. The show was a sell-out during this year's Edinburgh Festival, so the approach must work.

But while it is a one-man show, there is a woman behind the scenes: Daphne. She is to Rodney what "dear wife" Carrie is to Pooter in 19th Century London.

"I never mention Daphne, ever, but I certainly couldn't do it without her," says Rodney.

She has contributed in other ways too. In 1976 she presented him with triplets, Joe, Tom and Bill, brothers to Daisy who was born three years earlier. "We expected twins," says Rodney. "No-one was prepared for Billy Bewes."

Rodney Bewes has never required much prompting to talk about The Likely Lads but the opposite is the case of co-star James Bolam. Rodney says he can't understand his reticence, suggesting (perhaps a mite mischievously): "It was the best thing he ever did."

He says he sometimes lies to journalists that the two Likely Lads and their wives meet regularly to reminisce.

But given his opening admission, and the fact that I am a journalist too, where exactly does the truth lie?

Not one to miss a trick, he says it's in the autobiography, published by Random House. Before nipping off to erect the set in his Suffolk venue, Rodney has a request to make of Journal readers. "I would love another book to do, something of the same era as the others (late 19th Century).

"Perhaps people could come up with some suggestions." Any ideas can be passed on in the bar after the show.

* The Diary of a Nobody is at the Customs House, South Shields, on Wednesday; Darlington Arts Centre on Thursday; Middlesbrough Theatre on Friday; Alnwick Playhouse on Saturday and the Gala Theatre, Durham, on October 7.
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Publication:The Journal (Newcastle, England)
Date:Sep 23, 2006
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