Comedian Bobby Davro - from Weybridge to Walford
PUBLISHED: 19:04 11 April 2012 | UPDATED: 15:01 20 February 2013
Since joining the cast of EastEnders as loveable rogue Vince Monks, Weybridge resident Bobby Davro has been well and truly back in the limelight.
Originally published in Surrey Life magazine, December 2007
Since joining the cast of EastEnders as lovable rogue Vince Monks, Weybridge resident Bobby Davro has been well and truly back in the limelight. Now looking forward to starring in the Wimbledon panto, he told Alan Tovey why life is better than ever
Fame's a fickle thing. One minute you're everywhere, then nowhere. Just ask Bobby Davro - constantly on TV hosting his own shows during the eighties and early nineties, then nothing...
"Fame's not fickle, it's fleeting," says the 47-year-old funnyman, who found stardom with his sharp impressions. "Somehow, I fell down the back of the showbiz sofa."
By the mid-nineties, the Weybridge resident had seen his Saturday night prime-time career pretty much evaporate.
"I was one of a new wave of entertainers following closely behind the likes of Des O'Connor and Bruce Forsyth," he says. "Us new guys were knocking on the door to take over when they passed the crown down, but it didn't quite go the way I planned.
"I came into TV doing impressions, and Mike Yarwood - who also lives in Weybridge - gave me some advice when I was just starting out at 17. He said: 'Bobby, be as original as you can.' So I went from being like a parrot who could do anyone to doing my own stuff. That got me noticed and served me well with my own shows.
"But then the style of comedy on Saturday nights changed and the more adult shows came on - Saturday Night Live, people like Ben Elton and French & Saunders - and they were doing much edgier stuff. People like myself and Russ Abbot couldn't really compete, so we were phased out."
It wasn't the death of variety, says Bobby, pointing to The X Factor as a contemporary form of the genre, but the change put paid to his TV career. He kept working, particularly in panto, where his frenetic impressions were a hit, but his plan to become king of the small screen seemed to be over.
He kept his sense of humour, however, over what was undeniably a huge blow, even recording a spoof Kleenex advert for Comic Relief 2007 where he lamented how "I'm never on the telly any more, never. It isn't fair", before sobbing into a tissue.
His career downturn also coincided with a troubled personal life. His 10-year marriage to now ex-wife Trudi broke up after she had an affair, partly because Bobby was so busy working on getting back into fame's first division.
The next Alfie Moon...
But the man who couldn't get back on TV now looks set to become the man who can't get off it after landing a part in EastEnders - and it's due to his panto work.
"Barbara Windsor, who plays Peggy Mitchell, is a friend and she was always threatening me with an audition," says Bobby. "I was working for her husband, who's a theatrical director, and they were saying, 'You'd be a great soap actor'. I said, 'We'll see, we'll see', but of course they put in a word for me.
"Then I was on holiday in Florida and out of the blue one Friday I got a call, flew home, auditioned on Monday at 11am and was told I'd got the part at 2pm. On Tuesday, I was in the Queen Vic saying, 'Ello Peggy!'. How weird is that?"
Bobby plays Vince Monks, a loveable rogue who romances barmaid Shirley Carter after knocking her down with his car - a scriptwriter's idea of bowling someone over. Despite his on-stage confidence, Bobby says he's a very "nervy" person and the step from comedian to serious acting is a challenge.
"I've still got to settle in and a fair bit to learn. It's multi-camera shoots whereas before my TV work was all single camera and I was looking down the lens doing lines to it most of the time. Now it's like everyday life and you get on and act it, while hoping the camera is picking up on it.
"It is very enjoyable; it's finding the character, finding out things about him and ways of acting it, how he would react to things and being different from Bobby Davro."
Apparently, during his initial film takes, the director told him he was standing too much like Bobby Davro, to which he pointed out: "I am Bobby Davro."
Bobby's character looks likely to fill the gap left by the departure of Alfie Moon, played by Shane Ritchie, who is a friend of his. "I've known Shane for over 20 years and he called me after I'd first appeared and wished me nothing but good things," says Bobby, adding that his pal's success in the show puts pressure on him to do as well. "Shane also told me to learn my lines, do my best and said if I did that, I wouldn't go far wrong."
Another friend who was an EastEnders stalwart was Mike Reid, who played Frank Butcher until his death in July. Bobby likes to think of Reid, one of the generation of entertainers he originally hoped to take over from, looking down on him as he struts his stuff around Walford Square. "If I can achieve half of what Mike did in the show then I will be delighted; I've dedicated my performance to him."
Although it's only a few weeks since Bobby joined the cast, he says he is already feeling the effects of fame - and that's fine with him.
"I was on a train to London yesterday and people were saying hello because they recognised me already. I like being famous because you can talk to people so easily because of it. I'm a people person so that's great."
A return to panto...
He's still getting used to the idea of seeing himself on EastEnders, but whatever Bobby thinks about his performance, his character looks set to be introduced gradually, mainly because of his pantomime commitment at the New Wimbledon Theatre, which will see him disappear for eight weeks.
"I'm playing Muddles in Snow White and the Seven Vertically Challenged - you can't say dwarves, can you?" he says.
He's also looking forward to being joined on stage by ex-EastEnder Ross Kemp. "I've done panto with him before," continues Bobby. "He makes a great villain - not an old queen as one paper said he was playing..."
Despite it being a favourite with panto audiences, Bobby says his legendary impression of George and Zippy from children's show Rainbow will be replaced this year. "My favourite impression now is Ozzy Osbourne so I'll be doing him. The worrying thing is, stick a pair of glasses and a wig on me and I look just like him."
Back in demand...
From being a man whose phone never rung, Bobby is now inundated with invitations to glitzy showbiz bashes. He adds that the power of fame means he can also use his celebrity to do charity work - he currently supports an organisation fighting children's cancer.
"I like to support children's charities because I've been blessed with three wonderful daughters [Brittany, 12, Tierney, 10, and Marnie, seven]. If I'm available, I'll go along to charity events for children."
Bobby and Trudi share custody of their children. Bobby has built a pool and set up a trampoline in the garden of his house for when the youngsters are there, but lives alone otherwise.
"Well, except for the au pair," he jokes. "And the closest we've been to getting up to anything naughty was when she put on some rubber gloves to clean the loo!"
When he gets time in his now packed schedule, Bobby likes to relax playing golf at nearby Wisley but finds fishing at Frimley Lakes particularly restful. "I use liquorice as bait; I catch all sorts," he quips.
Reflecting on life, Bobby now has a philosophical outlook.
"You can strive too hard to have these material things and I'm a good example of that. I was too busy working, my wife got a little bit neglected and she didn't like it and went off with someone else.
"People can take their eye off the things in life that really are important - family and health. You've got to stay healthy and have the love of your family."
With an attitude like that, it's a good job that TV bosses had a look down the back of the showbiz sofa, because they've found a lost star who looks set to shine again.