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JAN
30

INTERVIEW: Tom Allen - 1 Feb 2021

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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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JAN
30

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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