Chorley Little Theatre
Friday May 24
Tomorrow night, for supposedly the last time, Chorley Little Theatre’s stage plays host to a familiar face – lots of them, in fact!
Chorley own comedy star, rubber–faced former TV star Phil Cool, brings his last ever full comedy tour, to the town where he was born and the theatre which helped to win him his television fame on shows like his own series, Cool It.
Now aged 65 and having had a quadruple heart bypass last year, Cool is sick of the endless driving. So this tour is his final outing before he steps off the merry-go-round of motorways and motels.
He says: “It’s called the Final Curtain Tour – and it really is. I’m 65, I’m fed up of travelling. The traffic is just bad and they are shutting motorways all the time at night now which makes it even worse. So this is the last tour.”
But Cool, born Phil Martin, insists his heart bypass wasn’t behind his decision, saying: “I’ve had heart problems for the last 12 years but I’m fixed now, I’m alright.”
His heart problems first emerged in 2000 when severe chest pains in the middle of the night ended in his wife rushing him to Royal Preston Hospital.
Exercise helped but 10 years went by and the pains returned. Cool says: “So I told my specialist and he said, ‘Oh, you might as well just go and have it done’.”
Cool was operated on by surgeon Russell Milner at Blackpool Victoria and says the surgery left him needing major recuperation. But he says: “I was back on stage after nine weeks. I went and did a gig, I think it was Cambridgeshire.” In his retirement, he won’t be idle. He’s already written his autobiography, entitled Phil Cool: Stand Up Chameleon, which should be out as an e-book very soon.
And he aims to make headway on another long-held ambition – songwriting. He says: “I started off writing songs when I was 16 and I’ve never stopped really.
“I shall be writing and playing guitar and perhaps do a couple of local gigs if anybody will have me. It’s been a long time coming.”
It is fitting that the last tour should contain a completely sold-out date at his home venue of Chorley Little Theatre, which played a vital role in his original rise to fame.
In 1984, when Cool’s impressionist talents had already found him work on TV comedy classic Spitting Image, the BBC had tentatively signed him for his own series – but wanted to see him in action.
So Cool booked Chorley Little Theatre – and sold it out, with the home audience cheering him all the way as the two BBC men who were to become the producer and director of Phil’s debut series, Cool It, looked on.
Phil still smiles as he recalls: “Chorley Little Theatre has a special place in my memory. My television series was imminent and the director and the producer came to see me before I did my pilot show for the BBC.
“That’s where I chose for them to see me – and it was full. The deal was already clinched but they just wanted to see me performing in a decent place. And it was good, it was very good.”
A few years ago, the chance came for him to help repay a bit of the favour the theatre had done him. Its owners, Chorley Amateur Dramatic and Operatic Society, had belatedly discovered a calamitous leak in the roof which, undetected, had caused serious damage to the roof’s structural supports.
The chairman of the theatre was a comedy fan, and hit on the idea of staging comedy shows in front of the stage curtain to raise the thousands needed to repair the awful damage hidden behind it.
And, to get it off the ground, he turned to local comics including Phoenix Nights star Dave Spikey, ex- Camelot Jester Steve Royle and, of course, Phil Cool.
As luck would have it though, Cool called him first.
He says: “I’d asked them about doing shows before but it was mainly just plays, they didn’t do anything but am dram stuff.
“But then they wanted to make a bit of money to knock it back into shape. And they’ve got this young lad there, Ian Robinson, and he’s in charge of it. He’s booking loads of comedy stuff there.
“So I got in touch with him just over two years ago and he said, ‘Oh, that’s strange, I was trying to get in touch with you to do a gig!’”
Shows by Cool, Spikey and Royle helped kick-start the theatre’s now blossoming comedy stream which has not only fixed the roof but has pulled in huge stars including Dave Gorman, Russell Howard and Jack Dee.
Cool himself may even be back – as a singer. He grins: “I might tap up Ian to see if I can do a music show there.”
And he isn’t the only member of the family to perform there. His son Joe Martin is now a singer and brought his own show, Swinging the Beatles, there last year.
Phil says the show was “great” but admits he had doubts about his son following him into the tough world of show business.
But he says: “His real passion is songwriting. And I’ve told him right from the start that, if you’re a little bit depressed, you get the guitar and you sing a few songs and it lifts you out of that.
“But I’ve told Joe not to bother with the comedy. If you get known for comedy, people wont take your songs seriously, they always want you to be fooling around.
“That’s the dilemma that I’m in really. If I start singing straight songs, they keep thinking, Come on, when are you going to do something funny?”
Phil Cool plays Chorley Little Theatre tomorrow. Tickets are sold out.