Here's Johnny come lately

How Vaughan's hoping to make the move into comedy

Johhny Vaughan is hoping to make the leap from likeable blokeish presenter to serious comedy writer with his new shpw 'orrible - in which he also plays the anti-hero, villainous cab driver and local fence Paul Clark.

The series represents everything that Vaughan and writing partner Ed Allen - son of comedian Dave - love and hate about the aspirational villain. Described by Vaughan as a hybrid of Billy Liar and Minder, the series chronicles the wayward path of a part-time minicab driver who peddles 'moody' toasters around his local - aided only by steroid-bloated sidekick Sean, played by Ricky Grover.

"Ed and I are obsessed with people lying to us and the lies we tell each other, so I suppose 'orrible come from there," says Vaughan. "It's based on people we know - and ourselves - particularly the more deluded people we've met along the way. All the world's a pseudo gangster at the moment. Everyone wants to be a semi-criminal."

And the 35-year-old Vaughan, whose impressive TV career flourished following a short spurt of small-time crime (for which he did his time), should know more than most about the slightly shady world of the petty crim.

"orrible is about people who promise things that they can't possibly deliver in order to ingratiate themselves - particularly dodgy things," says Vaughan. "It's based on people who lie to impress. My character really fools himself. And it's not as if he just wants to be a nice, ducker and diver like your classic Arthur Daley or Del Boy. He really wants to be a villain. He wants to deal in drugs and violence. He believes that he's about to make it big."

Barnet-born Vaughan - who was educated privately at Uppingham School in Leicestershire - left school at 18 and went on to develop a somewhat eclectic CV which includes periods spent working as a grill chef, jewel courier, sales assistant and surveying shoppers on the various merits of potato snacks.

It wasn't until 1994 that Vaughan's big TV break came in the shape of Moviewatch which led to a string of presenting roles, culminating in co-hosting The Big Breakfast and restoring flagging viewing figure.

"I'm naturally suited to presenting. Anyone who is a show-off would be," he says. "Just chatting away and showing off for a couple of hours every morning, live, comes easily. If you sat me down with a group of mates I'd probably have a laugh in a similar way. At the end of presenting a show, I have loads of energy but don't necessarily feel any great sense of achievement. Conversely, I find writing and acting really hard work, but I also find it very worthwhile."

Initially, Vaughan didn't intend to play 'orrible's small-time geezer and big-time loser himself.

"Originally, Paul was meant to be a big, fat bloke," says Vaughan. "He was meant to be this overweight bullshitter - this guy who sat and ate, constantly, and lied about villainy. He needed a whole sofa just to sit down! He was just like this fat, minicab driver. You'd say to him: 'How long have you been driving a minicab for?' And he'd say: 'What, that's what you think I do, is it? Yeah, well, you think what you think, mate, cause this is a very good cover!"'

But, during casting, Vaughan found himself reading the lead so often that he eventually decided to take on the role himself, opting to flesh out his character's barnet rather than his belly.

"It's such a specific character that it had to be pitched in exactly the right way and nobody really understood it better than me and Ed," he says.

But he thinks viewers will accept him playing a role. "I think people have seen me do quite a lot of character stuff. Anyone who's watched me presenting has seen me donning silly outfits for sketches. And I know I can do 'funny voices', as my mum says!

"I hope that I'm not totally compartmentalised as a presenter. People are used to seeing me muck about and I hope they won't just see me as Johnny Vaughan. I want them to really get into the character. And I've got really dramatic hair in the series which should throw them off the scent!"

Vaughan admits that he has bigger arguments with writing partner Allen - whom he met more than a decade ago - than he does with his wife of two years.

"I've written with Ed for years and he's one of my best mates. But you do fall out quite a lot - about words!" he laughs. "And then you realise that you're not really arguing about the line, it's just become a battle of pride. We have the most shocking arguments, but then we walk out of the room and we go for a drink together and it's forgotten. You've got to be very strong mates to do that. People say that you shouldn't work with your friends, but I've found that you don't actually know who your friends are until you've worked with them."

"I write things that I find funny and that's the only thing worrh concentrating on," he aadds. "Once you start trying to think: 'What will our audience find funny?' you're lost. How can you possibly know what a few million people's sense of humour is?

"I really think that comedy has got to come from somewhere. The things that I've enjoyed the most over the last couple of years - The League Of Gentlemen, I'm Alan Partridge and Big Train - all come from groups of people with a sense of humour that they remain true to. That's what's so nice. That kind of comedy isn't a nebulous load of rubbish, it has real personality."

First published: September 3, 2001

Published: 22 Mar 2009

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