Now Stanley Baxter and Alan Cumming have talked for the first time about their careers and their friendship for a new BBC documentary.
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When Alan Cumming Met Stanley Baxter, the first episode of a new series of ArtWorks, follows the stars as they meet at the old LWT studios where Baxter made many of his comedy specials.
Cumming, 45, has been a fan of Baxter, 83, since he was a child and the two talk about some of the similarities between them and some of the
differences, with Baxter confessing he regrets not taking the chance to go to Broadway as Cumming did.
Talking exclusively to The Herald ahead of the
programme, Cumming and Baxter explained how they met for the first time a year ago when they were invited to dinner by a mutual friend.
Cumming said he was nervous before the first meeting because he had always admired Baxter.
“He’s a legend and I remember he was such an occasion in our house; he’s like New Year,” said Cumming. “Stanley did something that no one did in his time, but everyone does now, and that was parody popular culture, like the clever Upstairs, Downstairs spoof. It was mocking, but at the same time a homage to it.”
In the programme, the two stars talk about Baxter’s mum, who famously encouraged him to do Mae West impersonations and introduced him to the stage.
“Stanley’s relationship with his mum was based round the fact she wanted him to be a star but I didn’t have that kind of relationship with my family,” Cumming told The Herald.
“Stanley’s mum shoved him round these little halls when he was a boy, although he wanted to do it too. My influences came later on, when I moved to Glasgow.”
Cumming said he was struck by other differences between him and Baxter.
“Stanley told me I was a lot freer than he could be in his time, and I understand what he means. It’s to do with times changing.
“Stanley and I are quite similar in the way we express ourselves and what we want to say but we come from different generations and it wasn’t always possible for him to say what he wanted to say and express himself in the way I can.”
Baxter said when he first met Cumming, he was torn between two emotions: admiration and jealousy.
“I admired him because I’d seen the Donmar Warehouse Cabaret that he did and he was marvellous. I was jealous because he has done all the things I would like to have done, having gone to the States and been a big success on Broadway. I only had one chance of going to Broadway and I turned it down, foolishly.
“I’d just seen Kenneth Williams do the part and his performance was so stamped in my mind I thought I would just think of Kenneth all the time. The other reason was my wife was not well and I didn’t want to go out of the country. I sometimes speculate on what might have been; it would have been a different life.”
Baxter said he thought Cumming belonged to a generation of stars who are much freer than he could be.
“There’s been a huge change to a point where I groan when I see some of the stuff comedians get away with. It goes beyond liberty and becomes licentious and gross. On Little Britain, when they started crapping on the floor of a supermarket, I gave up watching. I thought, that is too much, that is merely gross.”
Baxter says that it was indeed his mother who inspired much of his comedy.
“Alan hasn’t mentioned his mother to me, but my mother was the one that wanted me to go into showbusiness. Now I look back and think my mother must have been mad making a boy of seven do Mae West impersonations but even when we went on holiday, she would make us do a sketch about adultery or something. My comedy was directly linked to my mother.”