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Tim Key: ‘I’m more of a taverns man myself’

Actor, poet and performer Tim Key talks new BBC comedy The Witchfinder and whether he’ll be on the road with Alan Partridge.

From the writers behind – and sidekick beside – Alan Partridge, The Witchfinder is a hysterical comedy set in times of hysteria. It stars Tim Key as actually pretty despicable witch hunter Gideon Bannister who’s determined to take Daisy May Cooper’s Thomasine Gooch to trial. For crimes she could not, of course, be guilty of.

So we tracked down Tim Key to tell us about the show, the pros and cons of ye olde England versus the modern world and what characters like Gideon would be doing today.

The Big Issue: Can you write a summary of The Witchfinder to save me the trouble?

Tim Key: Easy. It’s Midnight Run but set in the 17th century, and it’s a witch rather than a felon, and it’s me and Daisy rather than De Niro and Grodin.

England 1645 or 2022?

Well, I guess I’d take 1645. I’m more of a taverns man myself and if I was fortunate enough to not be broke or plague-ridden and I managed to cobble together some family and friends, I like the idea of getting sloshed in a tavern and no one on their phones and no social media. Then again people hadn’t invented football at that stage and I do like some 2022 aspects such as wearing jeans and going to the pictures. Both perilous years in their own ways.

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Humour and tragedy are never far apart. How does The Witchfinder find laughs at such a dark period?

Well that’s the Gibbons [writers Rob and Neil] for you. They balance it well. Some of the best stuff, for me, is the moments where nonsense is happening in the foreground, while a body is hanging in the background. It’s an interesting canvas for them to create things on, and they do it very skilfully.

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By being so winningly winsome as Gideon, are you doing real witchfinders a favour? They didn’t just find the witches, you know.

I mean, winningly winsome is being kind on him. He’s pretty despicable. A wicked careerist. He’s ambitious, but ill-equipped, that’s his problem. Any better at his job and he’d certainly have much more blood on his hands, so in a way thank god he’s not.

What job would he be doing today?

Yes, interesting. He fancies himself as a public speaker, enjoys the limelight, loves power and is a bully and a suck-up. You tell me. You get these people in all walks of life. Whatever he found himself doing, he’d constantly tell people he was doing it well and would be pretty universally disliked by his colleagues. Roles I wouldn’t like to see him in would include head chef, teacher and director of a musical.

Gideon Bannister lives by three ‘scrs’ – scriptures, scruples and scrutiny. What alliterative words do you live by?

Strolling, stroking and struggling.

A witchdoctor says “ooh ee ooh ah ah” etc. What does a witchfinder say?

He does say maleficium a lot. That means sorcery. Looked that one up so I knew what my guy was saying. V important.

Would somebody saying that gobbledygook be enough evidence to make them a suspect?

I think not much was needed for them to be a suspect. The trouble is witchery has never existed, so always a bit difficult to pull together the old evidence when you want to accuse someone of it.

Favourite fictional witch?

No contest. Evil Edna, from Willo the Wisp. Basically a nasty telly.

Is Sidekick Simon accompanying Alan Partridge on his upcoming tour? Your own live dates seem to pause in early April…

Then there’s a gap! I don’t think SS is currently slated to tour with the big man, I think AP can handle this one on his own. If I’m still free I might see if I can just be in the same town as the show each night, drink near the theatre etc, meet the guys for breakfast.

It’s been over a decade since Partridge has been on stage – have you shared any tips about what modern audiences are like?

I think Steve can take care of business up there. He watches a lot of comedy so he knows the deal. Not sure how much the audience has changed over the past decade though, apart from a slight dip in numbers around 2020/21.

Did you miss performing to people during lockdowns?

God yeah. There was a BRIEF moment when the enforced break felt like a useful thing. To take a breath and recharge. But after that there was a longing. The moment when restrictions were lifted and everyone was rammed in once more was, frankly, amazing. The compere noted they were feral, and they were, to be fair to them. So much energy going back and forth.

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Was lockdown a good or bad thing for poetry?

I found it personally OK. It’s good to have some kind of purpose sometimes. Usually I’m writing apropos of nothing. Suddenly it was a case of writing about the madness around me. I’m sure a lot of people had a field day. Either by going with it or by taking a sharp turn away from it and ploughing their energies into creating escapism.

It’s hard using normal words to sum up the world of 2022, could you take a crack using poetic words?

Well, I mean, it’s difficult. Even last month that would seem like an opportunity to say something reflective about the past two years. Now it seems that we’re into something altogether more grim. So, no, no idea how to sum it up. Gash, I suppose.

The Witchfinder is on BBC Two on Tuesdays and is available on iPlayer. Tim Key live dates can be found here

This article is taken from The Big Issue magazine. If you cannot reach local your vendor, you can still click HERE to subscribe to The Big Issue today or give a gift subscription to a friend or family member. You can also purchase one-off issues from The Big Issue Shop or The Big Issue app, available now from the App Store or Google Play.

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