Swapping a successful thirty year career as a Chief Biomedical Scientist in haematology at the Royal Bolton Hospital to become one of Britain’s most versatile comedy stars, writer, actor and comedian discovered his flare for entertainment in 1987 when he auditioned for ITV’s Stairway To The Stars. Whilst working at the hospital, Dave involved himself with the annual pantomime and realised that this was something that he was reasonably good at and following persuasion from his colleagues, Dave decided to audition. Meeting head judge the great Larry Grayson was a complete revelation for the upcoming entertainer who had grown up with the northern working men’s club sense of humour and made him realise his true calling. Despite merely being a runner up on the series, this was pivotal to the direction of Dave’s career and gave him the platform to hone his craft.
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It was here that Dave created a whole surreal routine surrounding juggling on a motorbike which proved popular and helped him become a favourite on the club circuit. For over a decade, he was able to straddle both comedy and biomedical science as his following within the club scene generated momentum thanks in part to such material. Therefore in 2017 when he celebrated thirty years in showbussiness with a nationwide tour, there was only one title that was suitable. Juggling On a Motorbike became a sell out and Dave found himself sharing venues with his old friend Peter Kay which added to the sense of synergy surrounding his career.
Leaving the biomedical department in September 2000, Dave found himself within a writing partnership alongside Neil Fitzmaurice and a little known comedian named Peter Kay. Meeting Peter Kay when compèring a new comedy gala in 1996, Dave clearly remembers introducing the young comic as the last act of the show when the audience was growing a little impatient with the dubious contenders. On the bill that evening were many comics who would go on to dominate the next decade of British comedy including Johnny Vegas, but by the end Dave sensed that the audience had had their fill. Yet as soon as Peter Kay entered the stage and uttered the opening line, the audience was in the palm of his hand and thus began a friendship between Dave and Peter which survives to this day.
Despite an age difference, Dave and Peter quickly realised that they had a lot in common as a result of being brought up in working class communities in the north. They both had frequented working men’s clubs and bore witness to the hidden, forgotten world in which social clubs created. Such a quintessential English tradition was something which had strangely disappeared from our television screens with the outdated comedy of Bernard Manning during the 1970s. Yet together with writer Neil Fitzmaurice, Dave and Peter were looking to shine a light on this forgotten art form. Being on the northern circuit for over a decade, Dave had firsthand experience of what it was like to play the working men’s clubs and knew that he could use such an opportunity as inspiration for Phoenix Nights. Yet the concept for a series still seemed a million miles away.
Adhering to the similar structure of popular BBC series Comedy Playhouse and Ronnie Barker’s 1970’s series Seven of One, That Peter Kay Thing featured six separate sitcom pilots set around six different situations. The episode In The Club proved popular and a series was commissioned entitled Phoenix Nights. Phoenix Nights was first broadcast on the 14th January 2001 to rave reviews as the nation fell in love with the frequently bizarre antics of the tight-fisted club owner Brian Potter. Potter’s nemesis was club entertainer Jerry Sinclair: the failed showman with illusions of grandure who was based on a mixture of performers who Peter and Dave had worked alongside during their early years in showbusiness. Having never acted before, Dave was forced to audition for the part of Jerry and was treated like any other actor. Yet with his total understanding of the role, it was clear to see that there was only one man for the job.
Peter Kay’s Phoenix Nights proved a runaway success and propelled the major contributions into the showbiz spotlight. Over two series and twelve episodes, the sitcom provided a testing ground for figures who would become some of Britain’s best loved faces including; Paddy McGuinness, Neil Fitzmaurice and Sian Gibson to name just a few. Dave too was able to benefit from such success as he used Phoenix Nights as the perfect springboard to bigger and better things. For the biomedical scientist with a flare for comedy, Dave had now achieved his dream and in the space of three years, had gone from working in a hospital to becoming one of Britain’s biggest comedy stars.
Such fame put Dave on the radar of the day’s top TV executive and in 2005 secured the role of team captain on Channel Four’s new panel show Eight Out of Ten Cats alongside fellow captain Sean Lock and host Jimmy Carr. With the quick witted acerbic tone of Carr and Lock, Dave realised that he couldn’t compete with the comic repertoire of his counterparts. Yet instead developed a reliability of gags which the show required and was always on hand to help steer the show in the right direction. Dave remained on the series for two series until 2007 when he was replaced by Jason Manford and then subsequently Jon Richardson but by the way he talks so fondly of the show, Eight Out of Ten Cats shall forever hold a significant role in the direction of his career.
2005 was a big year for Dave. Not only had he secured a role on one of the brightest panel shows around but this was also the year that he achieved a lifetime ambition to pen and star in a comedy drama. Dead Man’s Weds told the story of local newspaper acting editor, Lewis Donat (played by Vegas), is convinced that he should have been made editor himself but is under the control of new editor Gordon Garden who is determined to shake up the company. Dave’s portrayal of the Fleet Street car salesman Gordon Garden is a million miles away from the glamour and showmanship of Jerry St Clair. However Dead Man’s Weds remains significant for Dave and over fifteen years after its initial broadcast, is something which he holds very dear.
Dave was now a star and a booking on the legendary chat show Parkinson cemented this. Appearing alongside the iconic Sir Paul McCartney was a dream come true for the boy who had been bred on the Merseybeat sound. Obviously nervous, Dave was reassured by the king of chat who instantly put him at ease and even a suspect joke given to him by Peter Kay couldn’t spoil this very special occasion. To think that the biomedical engineer from Bolton was now duetting with Sir Paul McCartney was astonishing and definitely a highlight in a glittering career which has spawned so many. It was a great pleasure to interview the great Dave Spikey and wish him well for the rest of his remarkable career.