Interview: Julian Clary’s Murder Most Fab
Comedian Julian Clary’s debut as a novelist is a funny, farcical tale of a gay boy who falls in love, suffers a broken heart, moves to London, works as an escort and eventually ends up as TV star with a guilty secret.
Murder Most Fab could only have been written by Julian, and his unique sense of humour and absurd but amusing plot make it one of the lightest and most pleasurable reads of the year.
The Teddington-born entertainer, who looks about a decade younger than his 48 years, first shot to fame in the early 1980s as an outrageous stand-up comedian.
While the Ben Eltons and Harry Enfields of this world had acts consisting mostly of shouting BOLLOCKS and THATCHER in a loud and obnoxious fashion, Julian was dressed in outrageous leather costumes and sporting full make-up.
He brought a bit of polite middle-class campery to the alternative comedy world, delighting audiences with his wit and glamour.
Nobody quite knew what to make of him, but with his sharp tongue, outrageous double entendres and undoubted stage presence he became a much-loved star in the comedy firmament.
Numerous TV series followed, many co-starring his beloved pet Fanny the Wonderdog.
Julian hit the career buffers at the 1993 British Comedy Awards with a joke too shocking to repeat on a family website such as PinkNews.co.uk involving Hampstead Heath, Chancellor Norman Lamont and a red box.
Despite tabloid outrage, Julian survived the fallout to become a national institution, starring in Strictly Come Dancing, presenting a lottery show, voicing a children’s cartoon series, hosting Have I Got News For You, appearing as a panellist on QI and even finding time for a cameo in Australian soap Neighbours.
His 2006 autobiographical work A Young Man’s Passage was well-received, and Murder Most Fab is his first work of fiction.
Its protagonist is top TV light entertainer Johnny Debonair, who announces he is to write a novel, the story of a young man very like JD, as he prefers to be known.
As the novel unfolds, we slowly realise that JD’s tale of an upmarket rentboy who carries out mercy killings is not quite a work of fiction …
Julian Clary spoke to PinkNews.co.uk about Murder Most Fab, his time as a stand-up comic, and why he is glad that Peter Tatchell exists.
The book has a very light tone – who were you literary inspirations?
I re-read Amistead Maupin’s Tales of the City books before I started writing and I also re-read all of EF Benson’s Mapp and Lucia books.
I wanted that kind of page-turning quality where you are caught up in a slightly ridiculous plot but you don’t care. That was the tone I was aiming for.
In Murder Most Fab the theme of male prostitution comes across quite heavily. Why did you choose that path for your lead character?
The first idea I had was … do you remember that case in Germany where that man had met someone on the internet who wanted his penis cut off?
I was thinking about someone who wants to be murdered and it’s perfectly understandable that you then help them do it – you are doing them a favour, kind of a victimless crime – and to achieve that is where the idea of prostitution came from.
I just started writing the book without knowing where I was going or what was going to happen and I didn’t have any great points to make about prostitution or anything else!
You do not seem to be a very political person – are you politically gay?
I don’t think I am. I am very glad there are people around such as Peter Tatchell and Ian McKellen who do all that hard slog for us. My heart would never be in it really.
I used to go on marches and blow whistles and things but I decided quite early on to lead quite a trivial lightweight life and that’s what I have done.
You write a column for the New Statesman – how did that come about?
Yes i was so bemused to be asked to write for the New Statesman.
I asked ‘does that mean I have to write about the Prime Minister all the time?’ and they said no, you can write about anything, so I just talk about the weather mainly.
At one point you said you thought Foreign Secretary David Miliband is a bit of rough!
I think he has got a certain charm and I don’t think I am alone in that!
Gay people are seemingly everywhere on TV – lots of so-called ‘role models’- but does that make life for gay kids any easier?
I am very dubious about all this talk of role models. I don’t think they are important. I never wanted to be a role model and I never looked for a role model – they are a bit of an urban myth.
I used to watch you on TV when I was a child – who were the gay people you remember watching?
I used to watch Larry Grayson. I am talking about when I was 11 or 12 and I liked him.
I thought he was very funny, but I wasn’t thinking, you know, I wasn’t sexualising Larry Grayson! Though he is very obviously gay in retrospect.
Was dressing up in your early career for shock value?
My sister was a Tiller girl and a glamour dancer – I always like glamour for its own sake, dressing up.
So you might as well dress up if you are going on stage and everyone is looking at you – I just wanted to give them something to look at. Plus I was quite shy and I could put on a bit of a mask.
Many of your fans have warm memories of the lovely Fanny the Wonderdog, your onstage companion for so many years. I imagine she is no longer with us?
Fanny died seven years ago after a long and eventful life.
She was your beloved pet and not just a stage dog?
No, she was mine, she was with me long before I got on TV. She only started performing with me because she was always there and some of the venues in the early days there was no dressing room, so I took the dog on with me and one thing led to another.
Did she give you courage? It must be very nerve-wracking on stage.
She did because she was very protective of me and she would eyeball hecklers and stare them out.
Some of those venues, the midnight shows at the Comedy Store, everyone would be very drunk and rowdy. It was quite an intimidating atmosphere and I was glad to have her.
Black divas are the sort of music you like to listen to around the house. What do you make of Gloria Gaynor’s recent comments that having a big gay fan base means she can lead the gays to Jesus?
Well you can lead a gay to Jesus, but you can’t make him stay there!
The problem when you become really iconic like that is you think you can change the world, and really we just want her to sing and then shut up.
Do fans confer that icon status on you?
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No! I am further down the scale. I am a light entertainer, and that is fine by me.
Can we expect more novels?
Yes I hope so, no one has actually asked me to write anymore but I have got another one gurgling away inside and I miss having the book to write.
It was sort of like having a secret lover for about two years, I would disappear into my private world and now it’s gone I am feeling slightly bereft.
Murder Most Fab by Julian Clary is on sale now.