How Ben Peeved Peter Purves; Quantum Physics' Loss Was Comedy's Gain. Alison Jones Meets Ben Miller, Currently Appearing in the Parole Officer I Had Never Really Thought of Going into Showbusiness When I Went to Cambridge. I'm from a Very Provincial Background. I Went to the Local Comp and It Took Me a Long Time to Build Up My Confidence Ben Miller
Byline: Alison Jones
It must be a feather in any comedian's cap to upset a Blue Peter presenter, although after the Richard Bacon/cocaine debacle the benchmark was lowered considerably.
But Ben Miller, the blond half of the comedy duo Armstrong and Miller, was genuinely thrown when he received an irate phone call from one of his childhood heroes, Peter Purves, who accused Ben of ruining his career.
The surreal incident happened when Ben, now 35, was struggling to establish his career.
He had put together a one-man show Gone with Noakes in tribute to the popular TV star, which won a Pick of the Fringe Award at the Edinburgh Festival in 1992.
'I was of the generation which had lived with the same presenters on Blue Peter for 12 years,' says Ben, over a light salad at Birmingham's Swallow Hotel.
'Interest in them was as intense as it was in Big Brother. These people are icons.
'I think Peter Purves and John Noakes were the first double act that I really connected with.
'They would start off doing these serious reports into swimming or something and it would just turn into this comedy sketch.'
Inspired by the memory Ben created his show with the affable Noakes as the star.
'For the sake of a villain I turned Peter into this demonic character and made him the bad guy.
'John came and saw the show and loved it. But one night I got this call at my student squat and someone said it was Peter Purves.
'I picked up the phone and Peter Purves went 'You b......! What are you doing to my career?' and had a real go at me. I was going 'Pete you were one of my favourites,' but he was convinced I was trying to sabotage his career.'
Ben's memories of the programme's token blonde, Lesley Judd, remain unsullied, however.
'She was one of the sexiest women I had ever seen. I remember a real moment of frisson when her skirt swished up on the beach in Tonga.
'They were all riding in on this boat and she got out and fell down in the water. Her skirt came off and I thought 'Mmm. Hello!',' he says with a lecherous chuckle.
Fortunately the wrath of Purves was not enough to persuade the Cambridge graduate to give up the career for which he had abandoned a PhD in quantum physics.
'I had never really thought of going into showbusiness when I went to Cambridge. I'm from a very provincial background. I went to the local comp and it took me a long time to build up my confidence.'
It was only when he got involved in Cambridge Footlights that he discovered a passion for acting.
'I didn't really feel I had got the most out of my university experience. That was why I started doing my PhD and that was when I got into drama.
'I was three years into the PhD when I gave up. I don't regret it for a second. It would have taken me another 18 months to complete and I was desperate to start in comedy.'
Since then he and Xander Armstrong seem to have over-compensated for Ben's early lack of confidence by frequently appearing naked on their Channel Four sketch show.
'I think that was due to my liberal upbringing,' laughs Ben. …