Making an exhibition of themsleves The Museum Of Everything

In the new Radio 4 series The Museum Of Everything, Marcus Brigstocke, Dan Tetsell and Danny Robins examine every dusty, waxwork-populated museum they were ever dragged around as kids.

And the trio ­ collectively known as Club Seals ­ suffered through a lot: everywhere from Merlin's Cave in Tintagel (a bargain at just 60p), to the swankier-sounding Winchester Story, whose shop offers a charming collection of ornamental spoons.

"We did a research trip before we started writing and absolutely nothing has changed," says Brigstocke.

"Actually, I only went to the Natural History Museum and the Science Museum, which are great because you can do things there. But some of the smaller, regional museums that Dan and Danny visited were just dreadful and most of them have this mad obsession with Merlin. No matter what information is being presented, they seem to think that Merlin should be the one to convey it"

Brigstocke describes the series which started as an Edinburgh Fringe show in 2002, as "along the lines of We Are History", the cult BBC2 show in which he played clueless TV historian David Oxley.

"We've always had an interest in the way information is presented in various patronising and amusing ways, so museums just seemed like a fun thing to take on next. And we love them - well, Danny and Dan do ­ so it's hopefully an affectionate dig."

Aside from the omnipresent Merlin, the Club Seals museum also features historical re-enactors, the evil National Trust mansion owner, tacky educational films and even ads for an exciting new theme park, Badgerland.With a jingle that sounds suspiciously like the Toys R Us ad ("There's millions of badgers all under one roof").

"Badgerland has been a pleasant surprise," says Brigstocke. "It's one of those things that might have worked, might not have worked, but I think now we're going to do it every week.There may even be the appearance of a rival, stoat-based, attraction ­ but we're still working on that."

The three met at Bristol University in the mid-Nineties, when they were enrolled on the drama course. "There was a big opening at Bristol at the time," recalls Brigstocke."There wasn't really anybody doing comedy. Matt Lucas had left the year before to go and work with Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer. Dan was already there and, when Danny and I got together, we decided that comedy was what we wanted to do.

"It was great, we used to do two or three shows a term and ended up with our own dancers ­ the Sealettes ­ and pyrotechnics.We had an ambition to arrive on stage in a golf cart, but we never quite pulled that off."

Back then, Club Seals were seven young comics, but they had something of a cull, "ruthlessly getting rid of" four members and, reluctantly, the Sealettes. ("The problem was that the first sketch always seemed like something of a damp squib after their grandiose opening number...")

Since their university days,Tetsell and Robins have become comedy writers for TV and radio, while Brigstocke, right, has been carving out a solo career on the comedy circuit. But things didn't always look so bright for the Surrey-born son of a teacher and City worker.

From the age of seven to his late teens, Brigstocke went off the rails. His rebellious behaviour saw him expelled from two schools in quick succession and he ended up in an institution in Devon, which he has described as 'not a Borstal but an establishment where the doors were locked, so that pupils didn't get out. It was for kids who didn't fit in anywhere else.'

'I was a troubled child, terribly troubled," he says now.'I worked it all out, though ­ got it all out of the way."

After leaving school, Brigstocke spent nine months working on an offshore oil rig in Scotland and used his earnings to fund a gap year before starting his degree.

Could that be where he found his inspiration for Giles Wemmbley-Hogg - two Ms, two Gs - the globe-trotting stuident he has previously brought to Radio 4?

'Giles is, sadly, based on me," he admits. "I wandered around Thailand in a sarong for a year and then came back and wandered around London in a sarong for a year, quoting bits of half-remembered Buddhism. I really was Giles - and then realised that, actually, that was a very funny thing."

Wemmbley-Hogg is to return for a new series soon. "He has finally graduated from university and, armed with his degree in Canadian Studies, is going to do some work experience set up by his dad" said Marcus

Now 30, Brigstocke is married to his university sweetheart, film-maker Sophie Prideaux, and the couple have a 16-month-old son, Alfie. "It's great being a dad but I'm knackered," says Brigstocke, who played a dad to two toddlers in the BBC1 sitcom The Savages a couple of years ago."Did The Savages prepare me for fatherhood? I wish it had!

"It's a definite change of lifestyle. Going off to do stand-up a lot is getting difficult because he notices when I leave the house now ­ he knows what it means when Daddy goes to work. I think it's always difficult for mums and dads, trying to find a balance between being a parent and making sure you provide for your family but also pursing a career that's not going to leave you deeply embittered by the time your kids are 15!

"It's a balancing act and I doubt that anybody has ever got it quite right."

Brigstocke's balancing act currently also involves trying to break into straight acting.To that end, he recently took a blink-and-you-miss-it part as a DJ in the hit British romcom Love Actually, and has just returned from filming in Berlin for the American movie, Beyond The Sea. Starring and directed by Kevin Spacey, it tells the life of legendary Fifties crooner Bobby Darin.

"How exciting is that? Kevin Spacey is utterly brilliant and it turns out that he used to be a stand-up. I went to a casting and we just ended up having a lovely longchat about comedy. He's very funny, a brilliant impressionist," says Brigstocke. clearly overawed.

"He's playing Darin and John Goodman is playing his manager, which was a huge thrill. Because I was only filming for a short time ­ I play a DJ again ­ Kevin Spacey showed me round everything. During the scene we did together, every time I looked up, there he was ­ it was quite terrifying, really. My big hope is that when he eventually comes to direct stuff at the Old Vic, he'll remember the slightly startled-looking, hairy man from his film."

Next in Brigstocke's diary is a stand-up tour of Hong Kong and Thailand in March. "It's exciting because you get to tap into the culture but you're playing to expats who are desperate to be entertained, so it's pretty easy.You only have to mention Marmite to make them smile..."

Sophie will be joining Brigstocke on the tour, while Alfie stays with his doting grandparents, so the couple should be able to fit in some rest, too. Some shopping, relaxing on beaches maybe even time to check out the local museums? It's possible, concedes Brigstocke, but it's unlikely he'll be able to stock up on his favourite museum shop souvenir so far east of Winchester: "Fudge in the shape of Jane Austen ­ it's just a nice thing to have on your shelf."

The Museum Of Everything starts on March 18 at 11pm.

First published: February 29, 2004

Published: 22 Mar 2009

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