PRESS ARCHIVE: Peter's long and winding road to comedy success
First published in The Western Mail, 3 March 1997
Peter's long and winding road to comedy success
Cardiff-born comedian who is beginning to enjoy the fruits of his labour


One could say that Peter Baynham has taken the scenic route to becoming a comedian. While most aspiring comics throw themselves into gigs and stand-up shows in seedy, backstreet clubs as early as their teens, Baynham has reached the top almost by accident.

The 33-year-old from Cardiff has arrived on our television screens via the Merchant Navy, a summer yachting job in Monte Carlo and depressing telesales work in London.

"I got quite excited about a move to London but I got lonely and it's an even bigger place to be in when you've got no friends," he recalls.

He was drawn to a career in comedy in 1987 after seeing adverts for an improvised comedy workshop in Time Out magazine.

"I was there with Julian Clarey [sic] and Paul Merton - this was well before they were famous. They were about six months ahead of me," he recalls.

"I went to the workshop every Saturday and that's how I found out about the London comedy circuit."

"He was selling advertising space for The Guardian newspaper at the time.

"I did stand-up in various comedy clubs across the city. I was supposed to have a five-minute spot in The Tunnel which was a notorious club in Greenwich. It's closed down now.

"I only lasted 30 seconds. The punters were shouting, 'Your cab's arrived' and, 'Burn the witch' and started throwing fruit at me. It was a terrible place."

He gave up his telesales job to become a self-employed stand-up comic under the Enterprise Allowance Scheme.

"I did this teacher character called Mr Buckstead who talked about the terrible things he did to his pupils. Looking back it was a pretty tasteless and grim act.

"I used to get £20 a gig. In my first year I made £4,500 but I got by somehow."

To boost his income he wrote scripts for the Radio Four satirical show Weekending.

"You used to get paid £18 for every minute's worth of material. I managed to get two minutes each week," he recalls.

But after four years he gave up stand-up comedy to concentrate on writing for radio.

"I'd had enough of seeing my contemporaries like Jack Dee and Sean Hughes do so well on the circuit and make it to television. I hadn't really progressed so I sort of abandoned ship and did radio.

"My ambition was to make it on TV but I didn't know how I was going to do it."

He was asked to write Terry Wogan's off-the-cuff jokes for his TV show Friday Night With Wogan.

"I'll be diplomatic, Terry's all right. But he's not fantastic at cracking the gags." says the Welsh comedian.

Baynham's big break came courtesy of Glasgow-born Armando Iannucci, the satirical brain behind The Day Today and the Steve Coogan vehicle Knowing Me, Knowing You with Alan Partridge.

"He wanted me to help out with his show, Friday Night Armistice. We share the same sort of surreal humour."

Baynham ended up writing and presenting Friday Night Armistice and The Day Today along with Iannucci.

"Armando is very talented and has been instrumental in a lot of people's careers. It's Armando who has made Steve Coogan."

Peter Baynham was born in the now-derelict St David's Hospital in Canton, Cardiff, the second of four children. He has a brother Charles, who is 40, a sister Trudie, 28, and another brother Karl, 25.

"I grew up in Canton, Llanedeyrn and Lisvane. If I'm after street cred I just say I grew up in Canton," he remarks.

He was educated at St Mary's primary school in Canton before attending Lady Mary RC comprehensive school in Cyncoed, which has since been renamed Corpus Christi High School and has relocated to Lisvane.

"I hated school and I hated all the teachers," he says. "I was too shy for school. they said you ought to make bullies laugh to stop them beating you up but with me they used to laugh while they were beating me up.

"I never felt part of school. I was weedy. I wasn't one of the popular boys. I'm sure those who went to school with me wouldn't remember me.

"I wasn't one of the rugby lads. My dad wanted me to play for Wales but I hated rugby. As far as I was concerned all it meant was getting dirty and getting punched."

However he left St Mary with eight O Levels to his name, four of them A grades. Despite this academic achievement he spurned further education for five years with the Merchant Navy.

"I decided when I was 14 I wanted to see the world. I knew I wasn't the typical sailor type but I wanted to travel. I was still shy, the longest I'd been away from home was for a double maths lesson and I'd never been beyond Newport."

In his first six months he had been to South Africa, Japan, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Malaysia.

"I sort of grew up in the Merchant Navy. I was with men who drank beer for breakfast. A lot of them were fascist, and I mean really fascist. They say travel should broaden the mind but these blokes would have been kicked out of the Ku Klux Klan for being too extreme.

"It was a man's world - lots of drinking, lots of fighting and lots of swearing."

His career in the Merchant Navy came to an end because of Government defence cutbacks.

"I was made redundant but after five years I'd had enough of it. I realised it wasn't for me.

"I don't think I would have quit though - I was too scared of the unemployment situation."

He returned home to Cardiff and took a summer job in Monte Carlo.

"I was second mate on this yacht which was hired out - I lived in a tiny cabin. It was a case of getting up at 8am, scrub the deck and then take some millionaire waterskiing.

"The captain of the yacht was a South African, a horrible man. He was a bit of a megalomaniac. We all resigned en masse but at least by then we all knew what Bollinger tasted like."

He continued to drift, moving to London to live with his brother Charles where he "gradually blew away the Merchant Navy redundancy cheque".

"I did a number of telesales jobs and I did this theatre course. I don't know why I did it. I think it was probably to meet people.

"I got a bank loan as well to buy a car but ended up using it to live off."

However, there are no money problems for Baynham these days. He has just finished scripting the controversial Channel Four satirical show Brass Eye which is presented by Chris Morris and is doing another round of Pot Noodle adverts in which he stars as Terry from Pontypridd.

Talking of Morris, he and Baynham, who also work together on the Chris Morris Radio Show on Radio One, were recently in a spot of bother with Radio One controller Matthew Bannister.

"We implied on radio that Michael Heseltine had died and that was deemed too morbid," says Baynham with a devilish chuckle.

"I thought it up with Chris. It was just a stupid thing to do but the show was suspended for two weeks and we had to apologise to Heseltine."

He is also in the early stages of writing his own sit-com called The Small Businessman.

Baynham is also one of a rare breed. He has broken into the Oxbridge-dominated alternative comedy clique yet never attended university.

"Being surrounded by people who went to Oxford or Cambridge can be intimidating at times but it doesn't bother me so much now. Just because you went to Oxford or Cambridge doesn't mean you are funny.

"I haven't got a chip on my shoulder. I used to have but not now. The Oxbridge thing ceases to be relevant, although I have to admit I'd sometimes like people to know I'm from the streets of Cardiff shall we say."

Baynham now wants to make his mark in sit-coms with The Small Businessman in which he hopes to play the main character, a self-employed businessman "who is to personal organisation what Frank Spencer is to DIY".

He says, "I've seen a lot of sit-coms and they are always about middle-class people in their 30s. I want something which centres on one individual like Leonard Rossiter's The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin."

SUCCESS: After working in the Merchant Navy and selling newspaper advertising space, comedian Peter Baynham has finally made the big time