Cult Q & A: Toby Hadoke

❉ Comedian, actor, writer, walking IMDB and Whovian, Toby Hadoke.

Chortle Award Winner, Sony Nominee and BBC Audio Awards Finalist Toby Hadoke is a stand-up comedian, writer, and the regular compere at his own award winning XS Malarkey Comedy Club in Manchester. He has moderated many of the Doctor Who  DVD commentaries.

His first one-man show, Moths Ate My Doctor Who Scarf, toured the world and a full cast adaptation was broadcast on BBC7 in 2007, prior to a BBC Audiobooks CD release. Moths Ate My Doctor Who Scarf featured guest appearances from Doctor Who actors Colin Baker and Louise Jameson and was nominated as Best Drama in the 2008 Sony Awards.

In 2009, Hadoke collaborated with writer Rob Shearman to watch and comment on every episode of Doctor Who from the programme’s debut in 1963 to David Tennant’s final story. The resulting discussions are being published as Running Through Corridors: Rob and Toby’s Marathon Watch of Doctor Who, a three-volume series from Mad Norwegian Press. Running Through Corridors (Vol. 2: The 70s) was published in December 2016.

Toby Hadoke also presents Big Finish podcast and download Who’s Round, where he seeks to speak to someone connected with each of the stories from 53 years of Doctor Who.

His television appearances include Phoenix Nights, Coronation Street, Titanic – Birth Of A Legend, Shameless, A & E, Casualty 1907, The Royal Today, The Forsyte Saga, and a cameo appearance in An Adventure in Space and Time.

Toby is currently appearing in April in Paris, a comedy by John Godber.

What were you like at school?

Largely terrified. I hated the idea of getting into trouble. I was always putting on plays and things though – I spent much more time on extra curricular activities and then left homework and other stuff I was supposed to be doing to the last minute. A habit I continue to this day. But you know – stereotypical unsporty, slightly geeky kid who had to tell jokes to avoid getting punched. I wasn’t overweight or anything, I’d run as fast as I could on sports day but still languish behind everyone bar the large, the lame and the actually dead.

What did you want to be when you were growing up?

Originally a palaeontologist – the fact that I knew that word so young should tell you something about how irritating I must have been : but to be fair, it just means that I liked dinosaurs. I just liked them to the extent that I absolutely had to know what the name of someone who dug up their bones was. In much the same way as I like Doctor Who but have to know what the name of the person who played 2nd Guard was.

I soon realised that being a palaeontologist didn’t involve performing so then it was acting all the way (with a brief stint of deciding I should be a director because I couldn’t pronounce my “r”s and thought that that would make me pretty uncastable).

What advice would you give to your teenage self?

Relax. Enjoy this bit: the real shit kicks in later on. And – cider, really? Here, try this, it’s called Chablis.

What are your best and worst qualities?

Oh God. Best? Well, my ability to identify 1960s British character actors in the background of old films is second to none.

Worst? Take your pick – procrastination, grumpiness, pessimism, untidyness, incessant drivel, inability with almost anything practical, and an uncanny knack of just managing to miss out of any good opportunities whilst concurrently failing to capitalise on any marginal successes I might have had.

What’s the worst job you’ve ever had?

I’ve been pretty lucky, bar a stint working at a restaurant (which I quite enjoyed) I’ve learnt a living doing things I like – writing, acting and comedy. I mean, Christmas gigs for Jongleurs are pretty horrible but it’s all relative isn’t it? I’m luckier than many so don’t feel that I can complain.

Who were your heroes growing up?

In the most shocking answer of the day – Doctor Who.

What do you consider to be the single greatest piece of television ever?

Hmm. Difficult. I love Doctor Who but it’d be hard to identify a single story as the Greatest TV Ever because its brilliance is in the canon as a whole and the impression it has made on British culture. I’m tempted to say Quatermass and the Pit because it is superb science fiction but also well made television which had a cultural impact and clever things to say. But I think Our Friends in the North is pretty extraordinary as well. Oh, and Captain Zep – Space Detective.

Monty Python: Is it funny?

Yes – patchy now but that’s OK: time takes its toll. The fact that so much still works (Brian and Grail are damn near faultless even now) is astonishing and they are all superb performers.

What was the last film that you watched?

A thing called Triple 9 with Woody Harrelson and Chiwetel Ejiofor. Not quite the sum of its parts but it was a Netflix-lazy-day-on-the-sofa scenario so fair enough (and much better than our previous outing in such a scenario, the almost pathologically unlikeable London Has Fallen).

What film could you watch every day?

Probably 12 Angry Men. It’s a masterclass in acting but also, seeing as there wasn’t much scope for visual flourishes (it’s just 12 men in one room) every single shot is carefully balanced, framed and lit. It’s an extraordinary thing, full of good, big heavy actors getting grumpy with each other. I have seen LA Confidential hundreds of times too.

What’s your favourite film soundtrack?

Hmm. I’m not very educated in music. I do like the score for The Untouchables, a film my good friend Jon introduced me to when we were teenagers, but I suppose for listening to for pleasure it’d be The Blues Brothers.

Which four actors would you like to see in a film together and which genre?

Richard Wattis, Brian Murphy, Cyril Shaps and Graham Crowden in a Gladiator movie.

Which film, book or record last disappointed you the most?

Well, I wasn’t expecting to think London is Falling was good but I thought it might be action packed and disposable fluff. But it was vile, crude and witless: with perhaps the most unlikeable action hero ever committed to celluloid.

Which record would you recommend and lend to a friend?

Oh, I listen to any old thing to be honest. So I’ll say the Genesis of the Daleks LP. When you say record, you see, I only picture vinyl – I don’t know why – so I’ve automatically discounted anything I have on CD (which is largely The Beautiful South).

Which record wouldn’t you let out of your sight?

See above. Although I only have it on cassette. Does that count?

Which book would you save if your house was on fire?

One of my big hardback Doctor Who ones with autographs in. The Doctor Who File, I think.

What’s your definition of what makes something cult?

Something good quality that has something slightly unusual about it which means that idiot critics can’t quite understand why intelligent people like it.

What are you reading at present?

Shouting in the Evenings by James Hayes – a cheery memoir from a busy character actor. My meat and drink really.

Can you tell us a little about your comedy club XS Malarkey? 

It is a not for profit comedy club in Manchester which is on every Tuesday. We put on the very best headline comics who get warm up from a grumpy compere (me) and some of the more interesting and eclectic newer acts on the circuit. And all for less than a fiver. It’s been running 20 years and has won countless awards – despite that, it’s still an effort to fill the place because when you’re not a big business with advertising dollars to spend even the local media really need a kick to give you coverage (even though in the past year we’ve had Johnny Vegas, Joe Lycett, Mark Watson and all sorts on).

We don’t let in stag dos or office parties – it’s a comedy night for people who don’t want to get hammered and shout rubbish (heckling is fine, we’re not babies, but there are ways of doing these things). I’m lucky to have a support network of committed folk who do the boring things like the door and the tech stuff and (now) the booking of the acts. This frees me up a bit to concentrate on stuff that pays the bills (it used to all be done by me which was fine 20 years ago but I don’t think i’d manage now).

With your show Moths Ate My Dr Who Scarf, you combined your stand-up career with your lifelong love of Dr Who. How did that come about?

Moths came about through the encouragement of my friend Mark Attwood who, when I told him I had a title for a book (moths had eaten my Doctor Who scarf and I thought it a poignant and bittersweet image/title), said that instead I should do it as an Edinburgh show, which he directed. Its success staggered me, and I was lucky enough to have it picked up by the BBC.

How surreal was it having Doctor Who’s actual Leela play your mum?

When it came to casting Louise was top of my list and as luck would have it she was touring a play at the time which was in the vicinity when we recorded the series. I’d never met her before but she’s now someone I class as friend (I’ve been to her house!)

She’s a very nice person and a brilliant actress: I sometimes need to pinch myself as a reminder about how lucky I am – meeting your heroes is one thing but having them appear in your work is quite another (especially as it was BBC 7 – the money was awful!).

Splendid Shaps – all of them.

Talking of Doctor Who, you appeared in Adventures In Space & Time. What was it like to be involved in such an evocative dramatisation of Dr Who’s beginnings?

It was very nice. And the result of a series of ridiculous incidents which I have recounted on stage many times (it’ll be my eyepatch anecdote I think). Mark Gatiss, whom I didn’t know then, was very kind and really went out of his way to make it a memorable experience for me (even going so far as to change my character’s name from “Barman” to “Cyril’ – my suggestion as a homage to Cyril Shaps whom I adore – because it would look better on IMDB).

David Bradley was so nice (I bumped into him a few times afterwards and he even remembered that I ran a gig in Manchester and came to XS Malarkey on his birthday!). At that time the William Hartnell interview on the Tenth Planet DVD hadn’t been released. David had it on his iPad so I had the surreal experience of a having a man dressed as William Hartnell holding a futuristic TV-screen-device-thing to show me the actual William Hartnell being interviewed whilst we both stood outside the entrance to TV Centre.

How did Who’s Round start and who have been the most memorable subjects so far?

Who’s Round started because I was ill and miserable near New Year 2012 and a random man on Twitter said his wish for the anniversary year was that I interviewed everyone from Doctor Who. In a moment of madness I suggested that I get an anecdote from every story and pitched the idea to Big Finish who said yes. As I embarked upon it I got more excited at the prospect of interviewing people who had not been interviewed before or who had fascinating work lives beyond the confines of the TARDIS. I’m very proud of it, but looking back, I have no idea how I managed to do it and certainly wouldn’t even contemplate starting it now! I always cite Kevin McNally as the turning point – a genuinely well known actor with an impressive career who was really into the project and showed me what its potential was. William Hurndell from The Gunfighters was very memorable – not least the nudist island that he bought that was infected with nuclear waste, and the time Errol Flynn played chopsticks on the piano with his cock.

What’s the best bit of advice anyone has given you?

My friend Mark (who later directed Moths…) once saw me at a comedy gig which was very quiet and had all the ingredients to be a disaster. I just threw caution to the wind, dropped my usual defences and went for it. And as he said “you’re much funnier when you’re yourself” and a lot of artifice that had been present in my stand up started to fall away.

Who has had the biggest influence on your career, and how has that person changed your life?

Mark again I would say. I’d have never done Moths without him suggesting it and then pushing me when I had doubts and dragged my feet. He also stripped away a lot of good material that we needed to jettison – rightly identifying that the show wasn’t really about Doctor Who but was about a lonely kid who didn’t have a dad who became a grown-up who despite his faults wanted to be as good a dad as he could be.

It was that human element that stopped the show from being a geek fest and that is what was a pleasant surprise for the critics who were then very positive as a result. That led to the tour, the West End, the radio series and me meeting and working with all sorts of people I never would have had I continued along the path I was on – being a stand-up and actor who didn’t really mention Doctor Who much in his working life and whose passion for the show was very much a solo hobby.

Do you think it’s true that you should never meet your heroes?

Nope. Unless your hero is [REDACTED] – he’s a twat.

What would you like to be your epitaph?

He finished that Quatermass book he kept promising us.

We are at a bar, what are you drinking?

If the other half is away, a very old, peaty whisky (with a drop of water – thanks to the much missed Bernard Kay for that tip). If she isn’t (as it makes me – in my words – “a bit maudlin” or – in her words – “a twat”) then gin and tonic. Probably Bathtub gin, or Williams Chase (with a slice of orange and a sliver of stem ginger) with Fever Tree tonic. Or a nice cold Chablis. I suppose the short answer to the question is “a lot”.

What are your three favourite cities?

Oooh. I’m quite happy wherever I am really – I love London and I love Manchester for different reasons. But I’m no Little Englander, so shall we throw in anywhere in Italy?

What do you do to chill out?

I travel a lot so I just love it when I get a chance to do nothing at home. We’ve been building and decorating for a year too, and there’s still lots to be done, so it’s nice to sometimes down tools and indulge myself with indolence. A bottle of wine, some nice food, and an episode of The Plane Makers or something else I’ve bought in the Network Sale will do me very nicely indeed thank you.

What has been the most rewarding project in your professional career so far – and why?

Moths Ate My Doctor Who Scarf because it changed my life irrevocably and for the better in every way, Who’s Round because it was just so ridiculous and went far beyond my expectations, and also, because I really consider myself to be an actor first and foremost – the Royal Exchange production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream in which I played Tom Snout as I loved the job and the people and acting in Shakespeare is my favourite thing to do bar none. Oh, and my Radio 4 play The Dad Who Fell To Earth – an achievement beyond my wildest dreams. I’m lucky, lucky, lucky. (So why can I never quite shake off those nagging feelings of underachievement, failure and disappointment: answers on a postcard please!)

Paris has an ethos…like a good wine, it has a bouquet.

You’re currently touring in John Godber’s April in Paris with Little Diamond Theatre Company. Can you tell us a little about it?

I’ve reined in the stand-up this year – to my surprise I realised that I’d been doing it for 21 years on the 5th of December just gone. I’ve actively looked instead for acting opportunities so when I was offered this brilliant part in a play that is both funny but emotionally real I jumped at it. Godber’s writing is so spare and economical but it’s also perceptive and witty and honest and it’s a fabulous piece to do. My fellow actor Sarah Burill is great – which is necessary because there’s nowhere to hide in a two hander. It’s about a couple in the doldrums who have their eyes opened when they win a day trip to Paris in a competition. It’s sad and yet life affirming, poignant yet angry, and funny and heartbreaking.

Do you have any upcoming projects? 

Yeah, five books on the go – Quatermass, Whos’ Round, a biography of an actor, a project with my other half and the third volume of Running Through Corridors. Yikes. I am currently writing another play for Radio 4 – called Grand Designs of the Third Kind – which will be on in September, and have another couple of writing projects in the works. And I’m still gigging – I’m doing a few festivals this year.

How can our readers discover more about you and your work?

I have a website which is pretty comprehensive.

Thank you for taking time out of your schedule to talk to us!

My pleasure!

❉ The Little Diamond Theatre Company are touring their production of “April in Paris”, a comedy by John Godber, directed by Andy Pope. You can catch it at Blackburn (March 21/22/23), Oldham (April 6) and Rhyl (April 11).

❉  ‘Running Through Corridors 2’ by Toby Hadoke and Robert Shearman (with a Foreword by Louise Jameson) was published by Mad Norwegian Press on December 6 2016; the ebook will go on sale in May 2017. ISBN: 9781935234074. Retail price: $29.95.

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