THE comedian Les Dennis is to appear in a new production of HMS Pinafore for English National Opera in October as part of ENO’s 2021/22 season. He has now spoken about his new role which was announced earlier this month.

Did I read that right? Les Dennis?

Yes, the comedian-turned-actor will make his operatic debut at the age of 67 in the Gilbert and Sullivan opera, playing Sir Joseph Porter. The ENO’s artistic director Annilese Miskimmon said that Dennis “completely blew us away in the audition process.” He was given the job the same day.

This isn’t for Comic Relief, is it?

No. You are such a cynic.

Are we talking about the same Les Dennis? The guy from The Russ Abbot Show? The presenter of Family Fortunes?

One and the same. But you’ve clearly not been paying attention. Dennis has long shown an ability for reinvention that extends far beyond sending himself up in Ricky Gervais’s sitcom Extras. He’s tuned up in soaps (Brookside and Coronation Street), performed at the Edinburgh Fringe, appeared in musicals in London’s West End and been part of such touring shows as Hairspray, Yasmina Reza’s play Art and The Addams Family, in which he played Uncle Fester.

In 2019 he even performed with the Royal Shakespeare Comedy in Restoration plays The Provoked Wife and Venice Preserved, winning rave reviews in the process.

OK, I clearly haven’t been paying attention. What has the man himself got to say about all this?

“It’s good to take people by surprise and take myself equally by surprise,” Dennis has told the Guardian.

“If I’d been doing the cabaret circuit or the club circuit or the Saturday night telly that was around in the eighties, I wouldn’t be around anymore, because those shows have fallen by the wayside. So, I have had to keep changing.”

He is not the first comedian to have altered course over the years, though.

Of course not. Max Wall, the famous music hall clown ended up performing plays by Samuel Beckett. Les Dawson wrote novels and Rikki Fulton turned up in the 1982 film version of the thriller Gorky Park playing a KGB officer. Fulton, along with Denise Coffey, also co-wrote A Wee Touch O’ Class, a Scottish adaptation of Moliere’s Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme for the Fringe. He even performed the lead role.

Whoopi Goldberg was nominated for an Oscar for her role in Steven Spielberg’s film version of Alice Walker’s novel The Colour Purple back in 1985. “We lost a serious actress when Goldberg started playing nuns and "Star Trek" characters,” the late film critic Roger Ebert once said.

Does Bill Bailey winning Strictly count?

Possibly not. But, then again, Bailey is a classically-trained musician with an Associate Diploma from London College of Music.