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INTERVIEW: Tom Allen - 1 Feb 2021

I’M so used to seeing Tom Allen in a smart suit and tie — on Bake Off: The Professionals, Extra Slice etc. — that I stupidly imagined he’d dress that way for this Zoom call.
Or not so stupidly, as it turns out. Because, yep, up he pops on my screen, dapper as ever, even when he’s just sat at home on his laptop.
Me? I look like I’ve raided one of those bags you see dumped outside the Oxfam shop.
“I’m sorry, Tom, I feel I’ve let the side down,” I sigh, ashamed of my shabby attire. “But then compared to you, doesn’t everyone?”
Tom chuckles. “That’s what I like people to think! But actually, between you and me, I’ve taken to sometimes wearing joggers around the house.
“Maybe that’s your headline right there, Mike.”
We’re actually not here to talk about Tom’s dress sense but about a new show starting on Monday, Mend It For Money, which Tom narrates.
It’s a restoration show with a twist. The clue is in the title. Whenever an item is brought in, two experts compete for the work. The owner hires the one who’s likely to make them the most profit, once the item is sold and the expert has taken their cut.
“It’s got that heartwarming, feelgood factor,” he says, “but with the added fun that comes from cold, hard capitalism!
“When someone finds out their item has fetched loads of dough, well, they’re thrilled. It means they can go on a Viking river cruise!”
Tom also likes the way the show celebrates specialist skills. Its experts will fix anything from a vintage bathtub to a bicycle, from a rocking horse to a record player.
“We get quite a lot of electrical items brought in,” he tells me. “Those can be particularly fiddly. But the experts always find a way.
“If it were me, I’d probably end up handing the owners back a bag of dismantled junk, and going, ‘Sorry, I haven’t mended it. And now it’s broken...’”
So, OK, it’s safe to say Tom’s talents lie elsewhere. But let’s not underestimate their value, especially right now. His performances on Bake Off: An Extra Slice, I tell him, were a lockdown comedy highlight — fantastically rude to the amateur cake-makers, shoving his 2-metre egg-whisk microphone in their faces, but always with a glint in his eye.
That glint is key. Because, keep it yourself, Tom Allen is actually a really nice guy.
“I seem like I’m being very caustic to people,” he says, “but I always want them to laugh with me.”

* Mend It For Money starts Monday Feb 1 at 5pm on Channel 4 and continues daily.
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INTERVIEW: Geoff Norcott 3 Aug 2020

ON Saturday July 4, the day England’s pubs reopened, comedian Geoff Norcott walked straight into his local and ordered himself a pint.
“Mike, it tasted unbelievable,” he assures me. “You know when you build up something in your mind and you’re worried it won’t deliver? Well, believe me, this did.
“It tasted better than I could have dreamt of.”
Posting a picture of it on Twitter, mind you, did earn him a bit of a ribbing. “People gave me stick because it was a Peroni! But hey, just because I’m a Brexiteer doesn’t mean I can’t reach out to other continental nations!”
Covid and its fallout have made this a tough time to be a stand-up comic, with venues forced to shut their doors and some unlikely to reopen.
But Geoff has been rising to the challenge on several fronts. He’s still doing his topical weekly podcast, What Most People Think, where his right-of-centre (but not mad or ranty) take on life has won him tens of thousands of fans. To this he’s now added another level, with extra material for fans who follow him on subscription service Patreon.
And now, would you believe, he’s about to perform his Edinburgh set.
Not at Edinburgh, obviously, but with a three-date online tour at the end of this week. Geoff Norcott's Front Room Fringe, he promises, will be “as much like the Edinburgh experience as possible.
“You know, drink whisky, eat loads of carbs, have an Irn-Bru.”
It’s been driven, Geoff tells me, by the success of his new material gigs. “I’ve been surprised how many people have wanted to talk about what’s been going on,” he tells me.
Geoff’s own views on what’s been going are not as clear-cut as some might expect. While he has no time for people talking about the Government “as though they’re this axe-wielding bunch of murderers,” he won’t let Boris’s bunch entirely off the hook. “They’ve done some things really well,” he says, “and some really badly.”
Still, for a comic it’s probably better that way. Take Geoff’s official take on face masks.
“It seems to me that if you’re happy wearing face masks you’re considered ‘a good person’ — and if you’re not then you’re like Thanos and you want to wipe out half of humanity.
“Personally, I think they’re a massive pain in the a**e. But I’m doing the British thing. I’m wearing one and then moaning and bitching about it the whole time.”
So does Geoff feel his comedy is helping us stay sane in this weird old time?
“Well, I’m very wary of comedians claiming to serve a greater purpose,” he says. “But I do think people appreciate hearing from one who’s more in the line with the majority of the population than most comedians are.
“Not only that, but doing this also helps my own sanity. It’s like therapy.”


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INTERVIEW: Ian McMillan - 11 Jan 2021

WHEN they finally let us back to the football, Yorkshire poet Ian McMillan has one grand ambition he'd like to see fulfilled.
“I’d love one of my poems to become a chant!” he chuckles. “So far it’s never happened.”
It's not such a barmy idea, given that Ian holds the honorary post of poet in residence at his beloved Barnsley FC (“I’ve never got paid, it’s more like a life peerage…”), musing on their ups and downs via the medium of verse.
To date, however, the crowd’s acknowledgment has mostly amounted to random fans turning to him at various points in a match and yelling: “Put THAT in a poem!”
“I remember in our Premier League season,” says Ian, “we’d lost to a disputed late penalty at Coventry, and this angry fella grabbed me by the neck and held me up against the supporters’ bus, shouting that in my face!”
The idea that football and poetry can play nicely together is one Ian has championed for years, having taken on his residency when Barnsley reached the top flight in 1997.
“I think every club should have its own poet,” he tells me. “They could be like mascots.”
Well, yes, or maybe combine those two roles, I suggest — recite the poems while dressed as a giant bear, dog, donkey or suchlike…?
“Oh, that’s a great idea, Mike!” he cries. “I love that!”
Of course, there’s more to Ian McMillan than just footie verse. There are countless books of his assorted work, dating back 40 years, plus regular telly and radio slots.
And he’s forever in demand for voiceovers, thanks to his rich Barnsley accent.
It’s Ian’s distinctive voice you can hear narrating The Yorkshire Dales And The Lakes, the More4 documentary series returning tonight. And it suits the tone perfectly. Not that it hasn’t aroused the odd bit of scepticism.“Some people think I put it on!” he tells me.
“They think I talk like Prince Charles when I'm at home.
“I tell them it’s the opposite: Prince Charles really talks like me.”
The success of The Dales And Lakes, Ian believes, is in the way it celebrates real people, living and grafting in real communities — picture-postcard beautiful places but challengingly remote.
“There’s a kind of stoicism to their outlook,” he says. “They just get on with things.”
For Ian McMillan, “getting on with things” means continuing to explore new ways to make poetry accessible. With this in mind, Barnsley Council recently made him their Poet In Lockdown.
Not that this is likely to go to his head. “Just the other day,” he tells me, “some bloke in car shouted, ‘Lockdown?! You should be locked up!’”

* The Yorkshire Dales And The Lakes is on More4.


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INTERVIEW: BOSH! vegan chef duo Henry Firth and Ian Theasby - 27 April 2020

I’VE been telling Henry and Ian about my rather unusual porridge recipe. I make it for my breakfast several times a week.
To a pan of oats, I add soya milk, sliced mushrooms, crushed garlic and (optionally) a handful of frozen peas. Oh, and sometimes spinach. And then I actually eat it.
“That sounds cool,” says Ian.
“I’d quite enjoy that,” agrees Henry.
Oh, bless them.
This vegan chef duo, known as BOSH!, stars of ITV’s Living On The Veg, are the first people I’ve told about this concoction of mine (I’ve not made it up, by the way) who haven’t responded with gagging sounds.
Which suggest they’re either properly impressed (“It’s a very healthy breakfast,” Henry is insisting) or they’re remarkably polite.
Or possibly both, I guess.
Pals since they met at school in Sheffield, Henry Firth and Ian Theasby are not the sort to ram their ideology down your throat. Veganism, which opposes the consumption of any animal-derived product, may have attracted some extremist, confrontational types but that’s clearly not what these two are about.
“We do agree with people who are fighting for more awareness of environmental and animal issues,” Henry points out. “It’s just that we’re better at cooking really tasty food, at showing people how to do it rather than telling them why.”
It has to be said, they’ve made a pretty fine job of that in a fairly short time. Hugely tech-savvy, they’ve built up a massive online presence via Instagram, YouTube etc., where their quick, slick videos make their food look tempting even to hardened carnivores.
Five years ago they were both still meat-eaters, but then Ian felt compelled to make the switch. “My last supper, as I like to call it,” he reflects, “was fish and chips from a place on Upper Street in Islington.”
“At first I thought it was ridiculous,” Henry admits of his pal’s conversion, “but then we watched this film together called Cowspiracy, and I went vegan as well.
“I honestly haven’t missed meat. And if ever we’re missing its flavour, we just find a way to recreate that.”
Rather like the four physical cookbooks they’ve had published, making a terrestrial telly series must have seemed rather quaint for these guys. But they’re canny enough to know the value of cross-the-board appeal.
“TV may be old-fashioned but it’s still extremely powerful,” Ian points out. “There’s a lot of people watching.”
Besides which, they’ve been inspired by some of the finest telly chefs. “Jamie Oliver is a legend,” says Ian. “Gordon Ramsay is really entertaining.
“And, well, let’s throw Nigella Lawson in there as well, for obvious reasons…”
The BOSH! boys insist they’re not out to convert anyone. Lots of their mates are still meat-eaters. Ian even comes from a family of farmers. “We recognise the amazing things farmers do,” says Henry. “They’re not intentionally trying to damage people’s health or harm the planet. We get that.”
“It’s not about being combative or militant,” Ian adds. “Just be pleasant to people. Everyone’s got their own opinion. Everyone’s on their own journey.”

CLICK here for the BOSH! YouTube channel





FILM: Interstellar

TV SHOW: This Morning

ACTOR: Joaquin Phoenix

COMEDIAN: The Impractical Jokers

SPORTSPERSON: Jessica Ennis-Hill

SPORTS TEAM: Sheffield Wednesday

SPORTING EVENT: Snooker at Sheffield’s Crucible Theatre

SONG: Highwayman, by The Highwaymen


BAND: Daft Punk

MEAL: A good vegan lasagne

SNACK: BOSH! Hoi Sin Mushroom Pancakes


DRINK: Watermelon Jägerbomb

CITY: London

HOLIDAY DESTINATION: At the moment? My roof!

BUILDING: Tower Bridge

GADGET: Canon EOS R camera

APP: Waking Up (meditation app)







FILM: Drive

TV SHOW: Living On The Veg

ACTOR: Natalie Portman

COMEDIAN: Kweku Ackom-Mensah


SPORTS TEAM: England Rugby Union team


SONG: Bring It On Down, by Oasis

SINGER: Bob Dylan

BAND: Arctic Monkeys

MEAL: Stir Fry

SNACK: Popcorn


DRINK: Water

CITY: London


BUILDING: Natural History Museum

GADGET: iPhone

APP: Instagram


FIGURE FROM HISTORY: Martin Luther King Jr.





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Welcome to the Mike Ward Blog

​Welcome to the website for Mike Ward Limited and to our blog. Here's where we'll post an assortment of material, including archive TV reviews, additional interviews and the occasional mild rant or random reflection. Please feel free to get in touch at any time with thoughts or suggestions, or if you feel we can be of use to you.

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