Comedian Roy Hudd has just turned 83 and says he’s half the man he used to be. Well, a bit over half actually… because he’s now tipping the scales at a trim 12 stone, not making them groan at 20.
“I’d put on so much weight it was ridiculous,” reveals the national treasure in that permanently-amused voice.
“I was up to 20st and I’d got diabetes so I really needed to slim down for health reasons. But my doctor looked me in the eye and said ‘Roy, you’re never going to diet that lot off are you?’ And I said ‘Probably not, doc.’
“So he told me I should have a ‘gastric sleeve’ fitted and I thought…”
I’m sure Roy’s going to say “where’s the ’arm in it?” but instead he goes on: “I thought ‘I’m not ready to snuff it yet’ so I had it done and it worked a treat.
“I feel like a million dollars. I can still eat things I like – especially seafood – but I don’t have much of an appetite now because my stomach is smaller.”
Roy’s appetite for life and laughter is as big as ever though.
He’s a walking, talking encyclopedia of comedy with an unrivalled knowledge of music hall and variety.
And, while it’s 60 years since he first hit the airwaves on the BBC’s Workers’ Playtime, he’s still a regular on TV and radio shows and an anecdote-rich interviewer’s dream.
Roy was recently called on to help pick Britain’s Greatest Comedians for a TV show. But while it proved a lovely nostalgic trip down comedy’s memory lane, he found it almost impossible.
“It was terribly hard,” he says. “How do you differentiate Doddy from Dawn French or Spike Milligan from Michael McIntyre?
“And then there’s Ronnie Barker, who I consider one of the greatest comic actors and writers of all time but not a ‘comedian’. He didn’t do a routine, like Ronnie Corbett did.”
And then there’s the ‘alternative comedians’. When they first appeared in the 1980s the old guard didn’t know what to make of them.
“I remember Tommy Trinder saying ‘isn’t the ‘alternative’ to comedy just straight acting?’”
Roy fell foul of changing tastes in comedy in 2001, when his hugely popular Radio 2 sketch show, The News Huddlines, was axed by the BBC after 26 years.
“The new comedy exec wanted to take me out to lunch,” recalls Rod. “That either means you’re getting another series or they’re giving you the chop.
“Anyway, we sat down and this bloke said to me ‘we’d like you to be more like Jonathan Ross’. Can you believe that? After 26 years I was expected to be flash and edgy.
“It was probably the greatest insult of my entire life. I said ‘Where’s me hat – I’m off’ and I walked out.
“OK, they wanted a different type of show, but don’t tell me that I have to change!
“I still get people asking me when they’re going to bring the Hudd-lines back.
“I’m also convinced that there’s still an appetite for more variety on TV – not all these reality shows and cooking programmes.”
Roy’s own love of variety was sparked by his gran, Alice, who brought him up after his mum died when he was just seven.
Roy always suspected she had committed suicide but only found out for sure when researching his autobiography in 2010.
He discovered a newspaper article from 1943 describing how she was found dead in her gas-filled bedroom.
“Suicide was a terrible disgrace at the time so my family never talked about it,” he says.
But Alice ensured young Roy had a laughter-filled childhood, with regular trips to the Croydon Empire to see acts like Max Miller, Harry Secombe and Max Bygraves.
Roy got a job delivering artwork to Fleet Street for an advertising agency and got into performing through a boys club who put on concert parties.
During his National Service he played banjo and sang with an RAF jazz band.
But his showbiz break came aged 22 when he became a Redcoat at Butlins in Clacton, Essex, alongside comic Dave Allen and a young Cliff Richard.
He was soon a regular on radio and broke into TV in the mid 1960s with sketch shows such as The Illustrated Weekly Hudd and The Roy Hudd Show.
He won acclaim for acting too – in Dennis Potter’s Lipstick on Your Collar in 1993, with David Jason in The Quest and more recently in the daytime TV show Missing with Pauline Quirke and in Broadchurch playing Olivia Colman’s dad.
Soap fans will also remember him as Corrie undertaker Archie Shuttleworth.
And, back in the Seventies he advertised Quick Brew tea. “That bought me a house,” he says, “every brick a tea-bag!”
He lived there with his first wife, Ann, and their son Max, now 55. The couple divorced and in 1988
Roy married Debbie, a dancer he met
in panto. They live in the beautiful Suffolk countryside.
“She’s 22 years younger than me,” he says, “but it’s never been an issue.
“We go to the gym together and she manages to keep up with me!”
Roy is in remarkably fine fettle and has rarely stopped working. But in 2017 he had to pull out of a tour of stage play Waiting For God due to exhaustion and anxiety.
“I just got cream crackered,” he says. “I was putting too much pressure on myself but in the end I knew I couldn’t do the job justice so I took a break.”
Given an OBE in 2004, he was the driving force behind the restoration of Wilton’s Music Hall in East London and is President of the British Music Hall Society.
And he still tours the country doing a one man show about his truly incredible career.
Roy has a special admiration for his dearly departed pals Sir Ken Dodd, who died last year aged 90, and Victoria Wood, who died aged in 2016 aged 62.
“They could really deliver a one liner,” he says. “I remember when Victoria gave the eulogy at Thora Hird’s memorial service and she climbed up the steps in the pulpit.
“When she reached the top she said, slightly out of breath: ‘What, no Stannah?’
“And Doddy was a one-off with those marathon shows. Our pal Eric Sykes told me a lovely story of how they were both waiting in the wings together at a charity show in Liverpool.
“By then Eric had lost practically all his sight and he couldn’t hear either. But he turned to Ken and said ‘What a pair we are. I don’t know when to go on and you don’t know when to come off!’.”
At 83 years of age, Roy Hudd shows no sign of coming off either – and he’s not half funny.