ANGUS Deayton has long intrigued. He's a unique talent, one of the first to straddle the twin towers of television presentation and acting at the same time, with Have I Got News For You and One Foot In The Grave. Yet he has never been a typical presenter. Deayton brought a writing and delivery style of topical gags into the business that was sharper than his Armani suits, alternating between lacerating and dryer than last week's laundry. And for from being a needy, luvvie actor, it transpires Deayton has never gone up for an acting audition in his entire life.

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When we meet, however, in an old pub in Islington’s Camden Passage, ostensibly to talk up his new Fringe show (more of later), Deayton doesn’t know I'm carrying a fan club membership card in the hip pocket. Will he be hedgehog prickly? Will he assume yet another writer determined to remind the world of his hubris, the circumstances leading to his ignominious departure from Have I Got News For You?

The madness of 2002 does come up, but we begin playfully enough. What’s this I hear about you having the hots for our First Minister, Angus? You are still the nation’s smoothest man, the thinking woman’s crumpet, a man once labelled TV’s Mr Sex by a Time Out reviewer... and you fancy the pants off the representative for Govan?

He explains: “I once played a stupid dinner game called Guilty Secrets and I was asked to name who I secretly fancied. And just for a laugh I said Nicola Sturgeon. And there was a huge reaction to this.” Can’t think why, Angus. “But from that point on I knew I’d be seen as the guy who fancied Nicola Sturgeon.”

He adds, with a chuckle: “She does remind me of one of my aunts in Scotland. And don’t you think she looks like an under-manager of Marks and Spencer?”

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Couldn’t possibly comment, Angus. Although yes, now you mention it. “Scary,” he adds, dryly.

Deayton's mother is from Dundee which makes him half-Scottish (“Summer holidays were about climbing mountains – I didn’t see a beach until I was around 25”) which gives him half a say in Scottish independence. Was he a Yes or a No?

“Rather perversely, I was a Yes,” he says. “That’s only because Scotland has been banging on about it for about five centuries. But I do think it’s a mindset thing, not an economic argument. If you don’t want to be governed by Westminster, or see England as an oppressor, then do it. It will be fine.”

Angus Deayton seems fine himself these days, looking younger than a 60th birthday would suggest and excited about bringing a show to the Edinburgh Fringe next month. Radio Active was a Radio Four topical news series he wrote and starred on in the 1980s, full of biting ideas and bits of nonsense. Now it has morphed into a stage show, with Deayton, Helen Atkinson-Wood, Michael Fenton Stevens and Philip Pope.

He explains how the idea came about. “At last year’s Edinburgh Festival I saw The Missing Hancocks, which I thought was wonderful,” he recalls of the two staged Tony Hancock radio shows. “Despite the fact the scripts referenced the likes of Anthony Eden and Jimmy Edwards, it didn’t make a difference. The audience loved them. [I can vouch for that.] It made me think comedy shows should be revived, whether TV or radio.”

Deayton and friends went through their back catalogue and came up with a couple of corkers. “It’s surprising how many things we parodied back then have come true,” he says. “For example, we did a 24-hour weather channel. And I believe there is one now. We used to have a running Brazilian soap opera. Now, there are Brazilian soap operas. And of course Edinburgh is our spiritual home, where the Oxford Revue first set foot on the stage.”

Deayton wasn’t a born luvvie. Young Gordon Angus Deayton grew up in Surrey, the youngest of three boys, the son of an insurance manager and a home economics teacher and once had a trial with Crystal Palace. But at school, one of the minor private variety, his exam results (and questioning of life and authority) suggested a career more connected to kicking ideas up and down a park. Deayton signed for New College, Oxford. “I studied French and German,” he says. “There’s not a lot you can do with that except teach.”

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Except he didn’t. In 1978, the 22 year old was lured into the Oxford Revue by a young writer called Richard Curtis (who would go on to make films such as Four Weddings and a Funeral) and the Edinburgh Fringe soon beckoned. What did his parents hope he would become? “I’ve absolutely no idea,” he shrugs. “I was in the fourth year of my course when I met Richard. I’d never done any drama at school. Pretty much the first time I set foot on stage was in Edinburgh with the Oxford Revue, and I don’t think I’ve ever been quite as terrified as I was on that stage.”

If he hadn’t met Curtis would he have found his performing way? “No, I don’t think so. The first two years at Oxford I was surrounded by people who only did college Shakespeare and played Fourth Man Behind Pillar. And I’d never been near comedy. But I’d always been a comedy junkie, listening to the likes of Python and Peter Cook and Dudley Moore. What the Revue did was unlock the experience of listening to it. And with Richard I had a pretty good writing tutor.”

Edinburgh became a calling card which lead to the BBC and in 1980 Radio Four offered a home for their clever idea for a local radio parody. It ran for seven years with Deayton and Geoffrey Perkins writing most of the material. What was Angus Deayton like back then? Was he ambitious? “Mmm. I knew what I wanted to do, but I was also doing voiceovers to make a living. There was a long period, years, of not knowing if all this would lead to anything professionally worthwhile.”

He hung in there and the show transferred to television as KYTV in 1989. Then in 1990, Deayton’s career went into overdrive. Not only did he land the best presentation job on the telly, Have I Got News For You, he was cast as the Meldrew's neighbour Patrick Trench in the sitcom One Foot In The Grave. We’ll come to this duality but first, how did this success sit with the disbanded Radio Active team?

“That question reminds me of what John Cleese said when the Pythons split up,” he says, with a very knowing grin. “He said they wished each other well. Not that well. Yes, there was definitely an element of that. And yes, there was a degree of skulduggery and backstabbing. But nothing long-lasting.”

Deayton was now both an actor and a presenter. No one had gone from sketch TV to presenting before on British television, apart from Michael Palin. Which did he consider himself to be? “I think what I always wanted to do was to write and perform. That’s where you get your biggest kick. You record it and it goes out. It’s fun doing sitcoms because the pressure is on someone else, but your own material being performed gives you the most satisfaction.

“However, I don’t remember having a game plan. You may think to yourself, ‘Right, I’ll do a quiz show and then a sitcom...then I’ll do a drama and become a movie star.’ But that’s not what happens. You have to go with what’s on offer. And if a good sitcom comes along it’s a good idea. It’s about choosing quality rather than genre.”

Deayton however played out the role of TV Presenter. “It was really weird starting Have I Got News For You as a presenter when I had spent the previous 10 years parodying presenters. So my natural inclination was to sort of offer a parody. It was about being slightly more cynical, with more attitude.”

He wrote his own links. “But as soon as you start talking to the panel you’re off in free-form.” For 12 years, Deayton delivered his delicious put-downs but then in 2002 the News of the World splashed the story of his dalliance with a working girl - a honey trap was later revealed – and detailed the Class A drug of their choice.

As a result, Deayton’s job was deemed ‘untenable’ by the BBC and producers Hat Trick. Why? The public hadn’t complained. Sure, he’d been a very naughty boy, but the only person really hurt by the story was Deayton’s long-term partner Lise Mayer. A week later the story was chip paper.

His team captains Ian Hislop and Paul Merton, however, were less than supportive of their colleague (“I didn’t stab him in the back, I stabbed him in the front,” Merton said at the time) But Deayton refuses to do likewise. “Yes, I’ve heard this and (his comment) is a way of not answering the question. But it’s such a tangled web to describe what happened. And Merton and Hislop probably don’t know what was happening in the background.” He releases an exasperated sigh. “God, it’s been 14 years. I can barely remember.”

He takes a sip of coffee and continues. “What it’s left me with most is a cynicism as to how things are reported. If I see a story now I wonder what the truth was.”

Deayton had to read newspaper reports of his career being over, yet meanwhile he continued to work for the BBC, he fronted the Baftas, he landed a range of TV acting roles. “I never really stopped, although that never really tied in with the tabloid impression. Everything I did for the next 15 years has been labelled My Comeback. And in fact it still is.”

Are public figures fair game? Should you simply suck it up? “No, I don’t think so. I always take the view that if people tell jokes about you it sort of helps dispel tension. If all you are doing is poking fun, then people aren’t standing in judgement. But if people tell lies about you that is something they may never get over and can ruin people’s lives.”

Deayton took the comedy abuse from the likes of Merton and Hislop on the show. He knew that’s the script. Yet what’s interesting about the experience is it didn’t render him anodyne. The verbal gunslinger wasn’t ready to get out of Dodge, as was evidenced when he appeared on ITV’s Hell’s Kitchen with Marco Pierre White. Sadly, the mercurial chef didn’t quite get Deayton’s acerbic sense of humour. “I always said that Gordon Ramsay used to act mad. Marco really was mad. As a brush. It started with the opening line of the show when I introduced him. ‘He’s called Marco Pierre. . . because he’s from Leeds.’ A genuinely straightforward joke. And he said ‘I’ll thank you not to be rude about my mother who died when I was six.’ That’s the logic we’re talking about. He fell out with me but we did another 20 shows.”

Did Deayton then contain his sense of humour for the sake of the comically challenged? “No, I went for the jugular,” he says, laughing. “It doesn’t work with me to hold back.”

Deayton isn’t one to hold back, which is why in November 2007 he was censured by the BBC as a result for making a "pungently personal" joke about Jimmy Saville and his mother on a show. (It’s hard to imagine how you could make a pungent remark about Saville.)

But it’s not hard to appreciate that Angus Deayton still loves a little edge of excitement in life. In fact, one of the pluses in being ejected from the HIGNY lot (not the loss of the reported £500k a year salary however) was that it allowed for new adventures. “Stephen Fry made the point that if I had carried on I wouldn’t have done all the things I have since. And as Paul Merton once said, the show can make you a bit lazy. You know the rent is being paid.”

To pay the rent, (and for the house in Italy) Deayton has done his share of corporates, the after-dinner speaking circuit. “That’s the closest I get to stand up,” he says with a mock shudder. “You’re out there on your own.” What’s been his worst corporate experience? “Oh, there are so many,” he laughs. “Well, every industry has its own award ceremony, and the Heating and Ventilation Awards stick in my mind.” Could he feel a draughty opprobrium breeze around the room? “The thing is, you can’t mock the business, because they are all in it. This is their big night.” So where do you get the laughs? “They have to be deftly chosen,” he says. “And it can be hard. I can vividly remember myself saying the words ‘And Loss Adjustor Of The Year is . . . ’ and thinking ‘It’s come to this.’ But of course corporates are very well paid, which makes up for the jobs which aren’t, such as working for Radio Four.”

His HIGNFY exit also opened up the doors to Julia Davis comedy, Nighty, Nighty and he really enjoyed BBC2 series Pramface. But what of Waterloo Road, the school drama set in Rochdale, which was then beamed up by a giant space ship and set down in Greenock. Or something equally plausible.

“I’m not sure the producers ever gave a reason,” he says, grinning of the town shift.” Nonsense? “Yes, but probably my first dramatic role. And I love Scotland and living in Glasgow really appealed to me. I really enjoyed it.”

There’s a sense Deayton has never been quite content, despite the success and wealth. (He split with Lise Mayer three years ago. “The papers say it happened last year.”) But does greater happiness come with age? “Yes, I think I’ve become happier. I remember the Radio Active writing days in my twenties as being quite fraught and nerve-wracking and uncertain. That element settles down in your thirties, as you think ‘OK, I have got a career in this business,’ and that sort of contentment continues as you get older.”

As an actor does he look over his shoulder? “Most actors do constantly look over their shoulders and say ‘I could have done that.’ But I’m not really an actor-actor in that sense. My agent doesn’t put me up for roles. People know what I do and tend to find me. I’ve never had an agent say to me ‘You would be great in this part.’”

What roles will he play in year ahead? Sitcom actor? Presenter? “I really don’t know,” he says, grinning. “Someone said to me recently that I was ‘semi-retired’. I laughed and said ‘You’re semi-retired the moment you enter this business.”

His tone reverts to his default – as dry as a bone. “At least I’m only semi-retired.”

Radio Active, the Pleasance One, August 3-28 (not 16) at 4.20pm. The show is dedicated to the late Geoffrey Perkins.