I’ve been thinking about heroes a lot recently. Having seen a Ronnie Corbett show on tv last night with glowing tributes about Ronnie from the newer generation of comedians detailing how he was a comedy hero, and then reading Good Morning Nantwich by Phill Jupitus where he names John Peel as being a massive influence in his life, it has led me to think of who my heroes are.
I’ve never been one to idolise people. If pushed, I’d argue that when you put people on a pedestal, they tend to let you down. This country is a prime example of this, through its tendency to build people up only to knock them down just as quickly. I also think that to have a hero means you need to be passionate about something, which is an emotion I sorely lack.
When I was younger (“about your age” as I would say to anyone aged 11-14 that was listening to me. Have you noticed that when you were a kid and adults were telling you something about their dim and distant past, they always say that the story occurred when they were ‘about your age’?)
I remember watching Blackadder the Second. This must have been about 1985, so I was 7. At the time, mum took in students to help pay the rent, and they watched the tv in the kitchen. Being surrounded by people 12 years older than me – a boy without siblings – meant that I naturally took a big interest in what they did, what they listened to and what they watched on tv.
Blackadder 2 was the Blackadder series with Queen Elizabeth, and though I don’t suppose I understood many of the jokes, I know that I enjoyed it, and the seed of love was planted. As I got older, I watched Blackadder Goes Forth, when came out when I was 11. From there I bought the box set on VHS and any time I was ill from school I remember watching the videos over and over again.
I can trace back mannerisms, my sense of humour, and even certain pronunciations back to Blackadder (God forbid I should ever get introduced to anyone called Bob, as I will enunciate the second “b” and more often than not, slap my thigh in vague recollection of a scene in the second series.
Blackadder introduced me to, of course, Rowan Atkinson. I was too young to remember his work on Not The Nine O ‘ Clock News, which was on in the very early Eighties, but somewhere along the line I was given a video of his tour that he had done with Angus Deayton. It proved to be another video that was played over and over again. The man has a sense of comic timing that rivals anyone, and I would play the tape back time and again, revelling in the slightest detail.
Adding Mr Bean to his collection (and re-using some of the material from his tour ten years previously in some episodes) and then generally staying out of the public eye has given him hero status in my eyes. A man who is infinitely funny, can write his own material, but can act the material of others in such a hilarious way, if I ever found myself working in comedy and having to cite my main influence growing up, Rowan Atkinson would be the one person I would eulogise about. He is due to release a film soon, Johnny English 2, which I hope does justice to his talent.
As I got older I started to get more into football. Having always been a West Ham fan, it wasn’t until the age of about 14 that I really started taking an interest in them. Watching them on tv and then seeing them live for the first time a couple of years later, I fell in love with a team that were perennial strugglers, who flitted between the top two divisions before finally staying in the Premier League, punching above their weight for many seasons.
Although I’d always been a fan of Tony Cottee, who had left the club when I was just ten, my admiration of him stretched as far as pretending to be him in the school playground (something for which I apologise now – my footballing talents are non-existent. Never has a name been so abused by it’s protagonist, as I ran through the commentary in my head as I played with my school friends in the playground in 1st-year juniors. – “Cottee loses his man… he’s found space. Cotte gets the ball, strikes it! … And has kicked it over the fence. Again….”
It wasn’t until I started watching the team that I realised a striker was the glamour position in a team. A striker could miss a dozen shots, but if he scored one he was a hero. A keeper, on the other hand, could save a dozen shots, but if he conceded one he was a villain.
Although West Ham had the marvellous Phil Parkes, and then Ludek Miklosko in goal, I was smitten with the left back. A seemingly anonymous position of the team, West Ham had the mighty Julian Dicks playing there. A man unfairly remembered for his temper and penchant for yellow and red cards. Dicks was, and remains, a hero to me. Never before had I seen one man drag a team on through a game, kicking and screaming.
I don’t think it’s something you see with bigger teams, as the Manchester Uniteds and Arsenals of this world will always have a team of players with ability. In the early to mid-nineties, West Ham were a poor team. Much as they are today, in fact. And whereas today Scott Parker is the man to pick the team up and drive them on, Dicks did it first for me, and never before or since have I seen a man influence so many games for 90 minutes from a full back position as I did with Dicks. It’s a shame that, in real life, he is meant to be a bit of a pratt.
The last hero that I can think of is one that, unlike the previous two, is still very much in the public eye. Chris Evans, who hosts the Radio 2 breakfast show and appears on The One Show burst onto the scene with The Big Breakfast in the early Nineties.
Although I wasn’t a massive fan of his work on that, or his subsequent show Don’t Forget Your Toothbrush, there was no doubting his energy and focus. It wasn’t until he went to Radio One and then Virgin Radio that I fell in love with him. His energy and drive meant that he achieved his goals, and when TFI Friday came about, he was a man at the top of his game.
He’s slowed down in recent years, as you would expect, and although I don’t listen to his radio show too much (as for me it will never reach the pinnacle he had in the 90s), I am glad that he seems to have come through his “insane” years in one piece. I read the first part of his autobiography absolutely transfixed from one page to the next. It was the first time I had read an autobiography where I remembered first hand much of the stuff that had happened, and could barely put the book down.
Evans’ story was an inspirational one and one that I could read again and again. I’m not a huge fan of his recent stuff, but seeing his meteoric rise and subsequent fall was exhilarating, and I’m pleased that he has managed to get back to winning ways.
That’s all I could think of hero-wise. Three people in 32 years. One of whom, Dicks, was naturally talented but ultimately flawed and probably not worthy of idolisation above and beyond any other footballer.