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Mark Addy on playing Les Dawson: 'He was a comedy legend!'

Mark Addy as Les Dawson in Urban Myths
(Image credit: Andrea Southam)

Mark Addy on playing much-loved comedian and presenter Les Dawson in a new series of Sky Arts’ comedy anthology Urban Myths 

When Mark Addy walks into a basement bar in East London last winter, we had to do a double take.

Wearing a dated tuxedo and sporting bushy sideburns and a cheeky grin, the actor looks the image of the late, great Les Dawson, whose adventures in Paris in the 1950s are wryly re-imagined in the new fourth series of Sky Arts’ comedy anthology Urban Myths.

Written by Inside No.9 star Steve Pemberton, the first of four episodes sees Mark playing Les in his later years, while Mark’s Game of Thrones co-star, John Bradley, portrays Les in his early 20s, before he found fame.

The half-hour story follows young Les as he leaves his home in Manchester in 1953 to chase his dream of becoming a serious novelist in Paris. But when things don’t go to plan, Les finds himself working as a pianist in a brothel owned by a business-savvy madam (former Call the Midwife star Pam Ferris).

During a break in filming, Mark Addy, 56, who also starred in White House Farm and Trollied, tells us about playing comedy icon Les Dawson…

What are your memories of Les growing up?

Mark Addy: "He’s one of the funniest people I’ve ever seen; a comedy legend. He was on telly a lot, and you always felt you were in safe hands with his style of deadpan, self-deprecating humour because it was suitable for all audiences."

How did you transform yourself into him?

MA: "It’s largely from my memory of him and his very specific delivery of jokes. Plus watching lots of YouTube clips has been useful. It’s tricky mastering his famous facial expressions, though – you’d have to have teeth removed to get it right!"

Do you feel pressure playing such an icon?

MA: "Yes, you feel like you have a duty of care to him. He's so loved by everybody, me included, that you want it to be as right as possible. But it’s about trying to capture the essence of him rather than trying to look exactly like him. You have to get his voice right, plus his hangdog delivery of lines."

Are you also wearing some of his jewellery?

MA: "Yes, Les’s wife Tracy and daughter Charlotte visited the set and brought some of his belongings. I didn’t get to meet them because I wasn’t here, but they left me his ring and a Grand Order of Water Rats [a British entertainment industry fraternity] badge."

John Bradley as a young Les Dawson in Urban Myths

John Bradley as a young Les Dawson in Urban Myths

How is it being reunited with your Game of Thrones co-star, John Bradley?

MA: "Well, we didn’t shoot any scenes together in Game of Thrones and we haven’t in this, either! Do you know, I was only in the first series and I still get recognised as Robert Baratheon, even without the beard!"

So, are you playing Les as a narrator looking back on his life?

MA: "Yes, you see Les in a TV studio rehearsing for An Audience with Les Dawson, which never happened because he died of a heart attack [aged 62] two weeks before the recording in 1993. So it shows what the audience would have seen in a way, and as he talks about his time in Paris, it cuts to scenes with John [Bradley]."

Have you learnt anything new about Les during filming?

MA: "Well, I didn't know he spent time in Paris trying to start a career as a wordsmith. But what’s fascinating is that he had a very good relationship with his mother-in-law, in spite of all the jokes!"

All four episodes of Urban Myths will be released as a box set on Sky Box Sets and NOW TV from Wed 7 Oct. Plus there’ll be a weekly showing on free-to-air Sky Arts (see our TV Guide for more shows to enjoy).