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A Brush with a National Treasure

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Sam Bennett
Screen Shot 2020 03 23 at 15.09.25

“Hello?” sounds the plummy voice at the other end of the phone before I introduce myself. “Oh hello Sam, Basil Brush here, how are you?”

We speak at the end of a “fabulous week” for the fox. “I’m just sitting here at the moment having a nice cup of tea and dunking a ginger nut, thinking about lots coming up.” At the time of speaking, the Easter panto production of Wizard of Oz – for which he joins Kerry Katona and Barney Harwood – has not been called off. Neither has May’s Wychwood Festival or Glastonbury, where he’s also booked in, as “a veteran of music festivals”. I’m one of six interviews he’s got this morning, ahead of a 250-mile drive to a holiday park gig in Scarborough. The performer reckons he’s busier now than he’s ever been, partly because of “this nostalgia audience, folks that grew up with me many years ago. There’s a certain security in people going, ‘ah, Basil Brush is still going.’” At music festivals, he looks out at crowds comprising children who might have only seen him on YouTube, “then you’ve got the 20-year-olds that grew up with me on CBBC, and then this whole bunch of parents and grandparents who grew up with me in the 70s and 80s. It’s remarkable. I feel rather humbled and thrilled by that.”

He also does a grown-up show, Basil Brush: Unleashed, which is supposed to tour this year, with a week at Edinburgh. The “Crackerjack-meets-Graham Norton” offering isn’t blue, he tells me, but is a tad smuttier than pantomime. He reads from his book, 50 Shades of Orange, and discusses dating apps, having set up two himself – Furry Friends (“Sooty might be getting himself on that”) and Highland Fling. “I put myself on Grindr for a while,” he says, “people kept asking me for a brush pic – I’ve got no idea what they were wanting.” The show will also grant an audience member an onstage date with the presenter, “a bit like Celebrity Love Island”. He was asked to appear on Love Island last year, he claims, but turned it down due to “all that meat on display – more than in a butchers – and I wasn’t going to have a Brazilian.” He’s more likely to go on I’m A Celebrity... Get Me Out Of Here! “Now you’re talking, because Biggins was able to win it and I beat him in The Weakest Link, so I think I’d survive in the jungle.”

He’s also taken part in The Celebrity Chase, beating The Vixen Jenny Ryan in a head-to-head. Sam Quek, Charlie Higson and he then went on to bag £23,000 for their chosen charities – “absolutely marvellous”. One of his favourite chat shows to do was The Last Leg, on which “you can be slightly more risqué.” People don’t do that sort of material so much nowadays, he says, for they think it’s dated. But audiences “love it when you’re a little bit naughty, little bit saucy, so I still do a little bit of that. Of course you’ve got to be politically correct, careful what you say, and that’s ok too. It’s all about being humorous in the right environment and in context.”

When not working, he might be found at Richmond Golf Club, where he plays with “actor buddies” as part of the Stage Golfing Society. Peter Alliss – “that lovely commentator of golf” – has also invited the 5-handicapper to a number of charity golf days. I talk about businesspeople striking deals on the green, wondering if he’s ever secured any show business during a round. “I’m not on there working, we’re socialising,” he says, “most of us don’t carry our CVs down the fairway saying, ‘can you give us a job?’” It’s quite an expensive hobby, isn’t it? “Well, it depends where you spend your money. I’m one of these clean foxes – I don’t drink, I don’t indulge – and I like to spend it on a physical activity. I choose where I spend my hard-earned Jelly Babies – I get paid in Jelly Babies, you see.”

What’s the most extravagant thing he’s ever purchased? “Oh my word, that’s a very difficult question,” he says, then settling on his Rolls-Royce. “It’s called a Rolls-Canardly. It rolls down the hill and can’ardly roll up the other side.” His signature laugh and boom boom follow. “You set them up and I’ll knock ‘em down.”

Britain knows how to laugh, he says, “and we all stick together. When the chips are down, we help each other and I think that makes Britain great.” We can sing too, he points out, “we’re good at entertaining and we know how to have a good time.” On that note, I wish him well with the festivals, and he voices hope for their happening. “We’re all going to need a bit of entertainment shortly. Thank you for helping us,” he adds with a sincerity I really wasn’t expecting. “Bye, bye.”

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