HOW much does Stanley Baxter love radio? Well, the fact he recorded his latest Stanley Baxter Playhouse series on his 90th birthday is a clue.

“It’s the only thing I do now by way of profession,” says the comedy legend over coffee in the kitchen of his north London home. “But it’s appropriate because my radio career began when I was fourteen and now I’m ending my career on radio. It’s the way it should be.”

Baxter adds: “I’ve been lucky. The last lot of plays have been better and better. I really don’t want to stop.”

His first in the new series particularly delights the Glasgow-born actor. “I play an old boy, a former circus trapeze artist, who is looking out of his Glasgow tenement window and sees this young man on a window ledge.

“I wonder what he’s doing. Is he about to commit suicide? So I demand ‘What the hell are you doing up there?’”

The pair begin to talk about their lives and the young man, played by Scott Hoatson, talks of how the world is against him. We learn what the young man really means by "the world" is his father.

“What we discover is that the young man is gay,” says Baxter. “He says he likes boys. Then we get to hear the story of the old man’s life, whose father was a bully and made him go into his circus act. And threatened to drop him regularly. Literally. It’s a very poignant tale.”

Baxter’s radio career began as a 14 year-old schoolboy. From the age of seven his mother had him perform at church competitions across the West of Scotland. During one such performance young Stanley was spotted by Kathleen Garscadden, a producer of the hugely successful Children's Hour radio programmes.

“Auntie Kathleen, as she was called by the kids in her series, figured I might make a boy actor. Up until this time she had been using a very small and very nice lady called Elsie Payne, who specialised in playing small boys. I guess Auntie Kathleen figured it was time to replace Elsie with a real boy.”

Baxter became a professional actor. “I was offered a whole series of roles – at a guinea for each one. And although I often found myself playing an excited idiot, ‘Look, up at that tree . . .’ I had great fun and it was great knowing the kids in my class knew I was on radio.”

However his actuary dad, Fred Baxter, was uncomfortable, initially, with Stanley's new radio work; even the hint of an entertainment career for his son worried the man. But gradually, the radio performances drew respect.

"Radio was in, a new-fangled thing and my father would listen to the big name of the time, Jimmy McKechnie. Then one day my father actually said to me 'You'll soon be a James McKechnie'. And I glowed for about a week.

"He was sort of proud of hearing me on radio; at least he was thankful he wasn't being dragged to the church halls and made to listen to fat sopranos.”

Baxter completed more than a hundred performances, until aged 18 he was dragged off to become a Bevan Boy. “The producers at the BBC wanted me to continue, and the scripts were very good. But I was so ashamed at the time.”

Why, in the name of Marconi would you be ashamed? “Working at the mines meant your hands were permanently black with the soot,” he says of his stint at Shotts Colliery, breaking up huge lumps of coal. “You couldn’t get the dirt out of your nails and it was engrained,” he says with a shudder, then grinning; “I couldn’t be seen like that.”

The radio stint however confirmed Baxter’s belief he should become a professional actor. And when he left the mines (courtesy of a medical certificate and an infected eardrum) he landed work with Unity Theatre in Glasgow.

“I was set to appear in a terrific straight play,” he recalls. “It featured a young man who was called up, went abroad and was shot and blinded. The play featured his return to his family and girlfriend and how they coped with his illness. It was a real womb trembler. Tears all round.”

But Baxter didn’t get to play the role of the Blinded Soldier. “I was called up to the army and I couldn’t play the part. Instead, it went to an actor who wasn’t called up, and working in a reserved occupation, Russell Hunter.”

Baxter found himself in Combined Services Entertainment in the Far East, and appearing in comedy. And he had found his world, returning to become a variety star, moving onto TV satire in the early Sixties, creating his TV spectaculars in the Seventies and Eighties. Yet he says now he regrets how comedy limited him. Baxter was never offered the chance to play straight roles, except for one occasion in the Sixties when he appeared on television in a Galton and Simpson half hour pilot.

But Baxter didn’t have the financial luxury of getting off the comedy carousel to chase the straight roles. His TV specials were fabulous, but the pay was anything but. And because they were so intermittent he couldn’t manage to accumulate a nest egg.

That’s not to say the actor was poverty stricken. The lovely art deco house in London and the villa in Cyprus negate thoughts of penury, but he certainly couldn’t have afforded the luxury of working in touring theatre, appearing in an Ibsen or a Stoppard for £400 a week.

“What could I have done to make the money I had once made in variety in Scotland?” he muses.

Comedy actors also found it harder at the time to move to the darker side. These days the likes of Jack Dee or Lenny Henry can play straight roles. But a generation ago – it was highly unlikely.

“When television companies see how successful you are with comedy they don’t want you to stop doing it. But what’s ironic is that there are many who can do drama, but not so many who can get laughs.”

It’s true. Olivier was a great actor but couldn’t make The Entertainer work. He couldn’t tell a joke. “Yes, that’s true,” he agrees. “But someone like Cicely Courtneidge was a great comedy actress who could also play drama.”

Radio however has offered Stanley Baxter the chance to play out the drama roles he has hankered after. “I love it,” he says, grinning. “And at least I can go along to the studios these days with clean fingernails.”

•The Stanley Baxter Playhouse, BBC Radio 4 today at 11.30am