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Miles Jupp on discovering his Sussex roots, his latest show and appearing in Watership Down

15:17 30 January 2017

Miles Jupp © Steve Ullathorne

Miles Jupp © Steve Ullathorne

(C)2013 steve ullathorne, all rights reserved

Comedian, actor and The News Quiz host Miles Jupp found out he was a son of Sussex in his mid-30s. Now, writes Jenny Mark-Bell, he is returning to the ancestral soil for a gig

Miles Jupp is a Sussex man. It’s a fact that came as something of a surprise to him.

“I was labouring under the wild misapprehension that I was Belgian, but I couldn’t be less Belgian, which is a pretty crushing thing to discover in your mid-30s. But it turns out I was living quite the most dreadful lie.”

The revelation came while actor, comedian and Radio 4’s News Quiz host Miles was researching a documentary about his Belgian Huguenot roots, and the discovery that he was actually the descendent of generations of Sussex farmers led to the abandonment of the project. “It’s changed everything,” he says. “That Belgian swagger that I’d adopted, I’ve had to lose.” On the plus side, it means that when he performs his stand-up show, Songs of Freedom, at Brighton Dome this month he’ll practically be on home turf.

With typical self-deprecation, he describes his current show as “just me complaining wordily about stuff” and by the time he plays here he will have toured it for several months. That means it will have evolved: “It’s alive, like yeast.”

The new show is less political than his previous stand-up, which he describes as an antidote to hosting The News Quiz (he took over from Sandi Toksvig in September 2015). On balancing his work for the BBC his comedy, he says: “You shouldn’t allow yourself to be neutered too much, but there is the constant agonising and people always want the BBC to be balanced. The news needs to be balanced but I don’t think we do, we’re only making jokes.”

Also this year Miles will appear as Blackberry the rabbit in a four-episode of Watership Down, a BBC One/Netflix co-production. It’s a stellar cast also starring John Boyega and Gemma Arterton.

In common with many of his generation, he has slightly unhappy memories of the 1970s film. “I did start watching [the old one] but it was a bit much for me. Some friends of my parents put it on and I don’t think we ever trusted them again.” Miles will be in the unusual position of having a rabbit alter-ego, as the CGI animation will reflect the actors’ appearances. “They use the tapes they have of you to inform the animation,” he says. “It’s not motion capture but it influences it.”

The series also sees Miles reunite with Olivia Colman, with whom he worked on Rev, the beloved BBC sitcom about life in a modern church parish. Asked to explain its popularity, he ponders: “There’s a lot of characters in it that you just like spending time with, really. Tom [Hollander] and Olivia are beautifully naturalistic, and I think it’s very real, their relationship.

“My own parents are a clergyman and a solicitor and they were saying ‘Gosh, it’s very realistic, the vicarage stuff.’ And you’d think ‘I don’t know how much about that I want to know.’”

As well as drawing upon his memories of life in a clergyman’s household, Miles studied theology at university – but says that knowledge was “absolutely no use whatsoever. If someone asked ‘How do we make this funny?’ then maybe I was in the position to offer some silly advice, but if I was asked questions specifically about religion then I would look rather blank.”

He grew a bad moustache for a role in detective series Father Brown, in which he appears alongside Mark Williams (interviewed in last month’s Sussex Life). “I would go home and bump into people and they would be staring at this thing on my lip, thinking, why would anyone do this? Is it a cry for help?’” Asked to describe his character, he considers before deciding to preserve his mystique: “No, I can’t give spoilers.

“He’s just a very attractive man who’s learnt all his lines.”

Miles Jupp plays Brighton Dome Concert Hall on Friday 3 February 2017. Tickets are £19.

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