Alexei David Sayle (born 7 August 1952) is an English stand-up comedian, actor, author and former recording artist, and was a central figure in the alternative comedy movement in the 1980s. He was voted the 18th greatest stand-up comic on Channel 4's 100 Greatest Stand-ups in 2007. In the updated 2010 poll he came 72nd.
Sayle at a literary festival in the CUSU building, 2016
|Birth name||Alexei David Sayle|
|Born||7 August 1952|
Anfield, Liverpool, England
|Medium||Stand up, television, film, radio, print|
|Genres||Black comedy, physical comedy, surreal humour, parody, alternative comedy, character comedy|
Linda Rawsthorn (m. 1974)
|Notable works and roles||Alexei Sayle's Stuff, The Comic Strip Presents..., The Young Ones, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Gorky Park|
Much of Sayle's humour is in the tradition of Spike Milligan and Monty Python, with riffs based on absurd and surreal premises. His act is noted for its cynicism and political awareness, as well as physical comedy.
Sayle was born and brought up in Anfield, Liverpool, the son of Molly (Malka) Sayle (née Mendelson), a pools clerk, and Joseph Henry Sayle, a railway guard, both of whom were members of the Communist Party of Great Britain. Sayle's mother was of Lithuanian Jewish descent, and some members of his mother's family were very devout Jews, as he mentioned when he nominated Palestinian rights advocate Edward Said on the BBC Radio 4 programme Great Lives.
From 1964 to 1969 he attended Alsop High School in Walton, and was expelled halfway through sixth form. After that, Sayle took a foundation course in art at Southport, before attending Chelsea College of Art and Design in London. He attended Garnett College, Roehampton, a training college for teachers in further education.
Stand-up comedy and theatreEdit
When the Comedy Store opened in London in 1979, Sayle responded to an advert in Private Eye for would-be comedians and became its first master of ceremonies. In 1980, comedy producer Martin Lewis saw Sayle perform at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe and became his manager.
Sayle became the leading performer at the Comic Strip. He appeared on The Comic Strip Album (1981) and recorded Cak! (1982). He also appeared in the stage show, film and comedy album of The Secret Policeman's Other Ball (1981–1982). Sayle's material covered a broad range of topics, but one of his favourite subjects remained politics. His angry persona, coupled with his vociferous delivery, gave immense bite to his material. A typical example of Sayle's humour was his attack on American phrases: "If you travel to the States ... they have a lot of different words than like what we use. For instance: they say 'elevator', we say 'lift'; they say 'drapes', we say 'curtains'; they say 'president', we say 'seriously deranged git!"
In 1988, Sayle played the role of Trinculo in Shakespeare's The Tempest, directed by Jonathan Miller at the Old Vic theatre in London. Sixteen years on from his last stand-up comedy tour, Sayle returned in 2011 as an MC, compering the middle section of At Last! The 1981 Show, curated by Stewart Lee at the Royal Festival Hall. Although this was mainly a nostalgia night with comedians such as Nigel Planer and Norman Lovett revisiting their material from the 1980s, Sayle premiered some new material that was more anecdotal than his previous work. Sayle says of his old style: "What I was doing, which I hadn’t realised, was a comic persona. The guy in the tight suit was actually a creation. I thought it was me in a sense but it wasn’t."
Alongside artists such as Isy Suttie and Jim Bob, Sayle appeared at the fourth "Nine Lessons and Carols for Godless People" event at the Bloomsbury Theatre in December 2011. In January and February 2012, he compered four nights of stand-up comedy at the Soho Theatre. He completed a full UK stand-up tour in October and November 2012, and a sixteen-night residency at the Soho Theatre in January and February 2013, where he performed new material. He played a further ten nights at the Soho Theatre in April 2013. He continues to tour and performed at the 2013 Edinburgh Festival Fringe.
Sayle's early work included several performances for Capital London. In 1979 he wrote and performed the radio series, Alexei Sayle and the Fish People, for which he won a Pye Radio Award (later known as the Sony Radio Awards). Sayle later released an album based on the show – The Fish People Tapes. This was followed by Alexei Sayle and the Dutch Lieutenant's Trousers in 1980 – the name being a reference to John Fowles' book. He has since contributed to many other radio shows, including writing the five-part sitcom series, Sorry About Last Night (1999), in which he also played the leading role. On 3 November 2006 he presented Chopwell Soviet, a 30-minute programme on BBC Radio 4 that reviewed the Chopwell miners 80 years after the village of Chopwell became known as Little Moscow. Sayle returned to Radio 4 in 2016 with Alexei Sayle's Imaginary Sandwich Bar. In 2019, he narrated the dramatisation of four of his short stories in the series Alexei Sayle's The Absence of Normal, again on Radio 4.
Sayle's first high-profile television appearances were on Central Independent Television's late-night alternative cabaret show O.T.T. (1982). He left nine weeks into the show's run to tour Australia with the Comic Strip. He played various roles in the situation comedy The Young Ones (1982–1984), along with Adrian Edmondson, Rik Mayall, Nigel Planer and Christopher Ryan. In the programme Sayle portrayed several members of an Eastern European family; the Balowskis. In 1985, he appeared in the Doctor Who serial Revelation of the Daleks. In a column for a British tabloid newspaper around the same time, he indicated that he wanted to become the "first Socialist Doctor." He also appeared in several episodes of The Comic Strip Presents... between 1985 and 1993, most notably playing the two leading roles in "Didn't You Kill My Brother?" which he co-wrote with David Stafford and Pauline Melville. Sayle has co-written and starred in many other programmes, including three series of Alexei Sayle's Stuff (1988–1991), two series of The All New Alexei Sayle Show (1994–1995) and one series of Alexei Sayle's Merry-Go-Round (1998).
In 1989, Sayle was awarded an International Emmy for Stuff. In conversation with Mark Thomas on BBC Radio 4's informal chat-show Chain Reaction, Sayle revealed that the first he knew of the award was when he watched Channel 4 News and saw, to his amazement, Benny Hill collecting the award on his behalf. In 1990, Sayle had a fatwa proclaimed against him by a Muslim cleric from Syria after a joke on his BBC comedy show Stuff. This fatwa has never been withdrawn.
Sayle was signed in 1992 to a seven-year contract to play an Eastern European chef as a regular character on the American sitcom The Golden Palace, the sequel to The Golden Girls, but was fired and replaced by Cheech Marin before the pilot was shot. The series was cancelled after one season.
In 1994 he presented the miniseries Drive, which gave advice for safe driving through Sayle's signature form of humour interspersed with serious pieces. In 2008, he wrote and presented Alexei Sayle's Liverpool, a three-part television series in which he reconnected with his home town. He stated in the programmes that on first hearing that Liverpool was to be awarded the European Capital of Culture, he received much criticism for describing the city as "philistine". He now feels that he does not know whether or not his original statement was true, but as a result of making the series he does now consider Liverpool to be his home, and he has vowed to go back there more often in the future.
Sayle alternates his comedy work with performances as a character actor ranging from serious (Gorky Park, 1983) to humorous (Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, 1989). He appeared in the 1992 Carry On film, Carry On Columbus along with various modern comedians including Comic Strip founder Peter Richardson, as well as members of the original Carry On team.
Sayle has released five comedy singles with full musical backing. The most successful of these was "'Ullo John! Gotta New Motor?" which achieved Top 20 chart success in the UK upon re-release in 1984. Produced by Clive Langer and Alan Winstanley (who also produced for Madness and Elvis Costello), the record in its 12-inch version achieved notoriety owing to its extensive use of profane language. The two follow up singles, "Didn't You Kill My Brother?", and "Meanwhile", were taken from the album Panic, the cover of which parodies the cover of the Michael Jackson album Off the Wall.
Sayle has written two short story collections, five novels, including a graphic novel and a radio series spin-off book, as well as columns for various publications. His book Great Bus Journeys of the World, co-written with David Stafford, is mostly a collection of his columns for Time Out and the Sunday Mirror. He was one of eight contributory authors to the BBC Three competition End of Story, in which members of the public completed the second half of stories written by established authors. The winning entry to Sayle's story, Imitating Katherine Walker, was written by freelance writer Arthur Allan. Sayle's autobiography Stalin Ate My Homework, which deals with his early life and which he describes as a 'satirical memoir', was published in 2010. In 2012 he joined The Daily Telegraph as a motoring columnist. In early 2015 he toured giving readings from the second volume of his autobiography Thatcher Stole My Trousers, published in 2016.
In the aftermath of the May 1968 French uprising, he joined the Communist Party of Britain (Marxist–Leninist). In later years he has said that, while no longer active in left politics, "I still would adhere to those philosophical and economic ideas of Marxism that I got when I was sixteen. ... it's seemed to me as true now as it did then".
Sayle is a critic of fox hunting and was among more than 20 high-profile people who signed a letter to Members of Parliament in 2015 to oppose Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron's plan to amend the Hunting Act 2004.
In February 2016, Sayle said of Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn; "He's ascetic and morally incorruptible. The propaganda that's thrown against him is disgraceful. Until he appeared, you had to vote for one kind of Oxbridge twat or another, people who all go to the same dinner parties, people like the Ed Ballses and George Osbornes. Jeremy has shown that, within a democratic tradition, other things are possible." In 2016, he wrote a comment piece for The Guardian saying that he was happy to mock New Labour in his act but now that Corbyn was about to "reform the party in his own image – ascetic, socialist, kindly and ethical" he would stop making jokes about Labour.
In May 2018, regarding the expulsion of Marc Wadsworth from the Labour Party, Sayle commented: "The Party should walk over broken glass to beg people of Marc's calibre to work with them - they are very few and Marc is one of the best. There is a battle going on to destroy and reverse the unexpected and amazing gains the left has made in the last three years. Marc is a casualty in that battle and I am joining the fight to see him re-instated to the front line."
- Repeater (1980) – 2nd Detective
- The Secret Policeman's Other Ball (1982)
- Gorky Park (1983) – Golodkin
- The Bride (1985) – Magar
- The Supergrass (1985) – Motorbike Cop
- Whoops Apocalypse (1986)
- Solarbabies (1986)
- Siesta (1987)
- The Love Child (1987)
- Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989) – Sultan of the Hatay State
- Carry On Columbus (1992)
- Reckless Kelly (1993)
- Rhinoceros Hunting in Budapest (1997)
- Swing (1999)
- Arabian Nights (2000)
- Don't Walk (2001)
- The Tale of Tarquin Slant (2004)
- Upstaged (2005)
- The Thief Lord (2006) – Ernesto Barbarossa
- Boom Boom, Out Go the Lights (1980–1981) – Himself
- Wolcott (1981) – Speaker in market
- O.T.T. (1982) – Himself
- The Young Ones (1982–1984) – Jerzy Balowski / Brian Damage / Jester Balowski / Harry the Bastard / Police Recruiter / Train Driver
- Comic Roots (1982) – Himself
- The Private Life of the Ford Cortina (1982)
- Whoops Apocalypse (1982) – Commisar Solzhenitsyn
- Revelation of the Daleks (Doctor Who) (1985) – D.J.
- The Comic Strip Presents... (1985–1993) – Inspector / Dad / Bride's Father / Mog / Carl Moss / Sterling Moss / Paul
- Up Line (1987) – Melvin Coombes
- Alexei Sayle's Stuff (1988–1991) – Himself
- The Gravy Train (1990) – Vlad Milcic
- Selling Hitler (1991) – Konrad 'Conny' Fischer
- Rubbish, King of the Jumble (1993–1994)
- Sex, Drugs & Dinner (1993)
- Paris (1994) – Alain Degout
- Drive (1994) – Himself – Host
- The All New Alexei Sayle Show (1994–1995) – Himself
- Great Railway Journeys (Aleppo to Aqaba) (1996) – Himself
- Alexei Sayle's Comedy Hour (1997) – Himself
- Alexei Sayle's Merry-Go-Round (1998) – Himself
- Tipping the Velvet (2002) – Charles Frobisher
- Keen Eddie (2003–2004) – Rudy Alexander
- End Of Story (2004)
- Dawn French's Boys Who Do Comedy (2007) – Himself
- Alexei Sayle's Liverpool (2008) – Himself – Presenter
- Horrible Histories (2010) – Dr Ushma
- New Tricks (2012) – Anthony Marshall
- Olive the Ostrich (2013) – Narrator
- Tate Liverpool at 30 (2017) - Himself - Presenter
- Capital London (1979–1981) (various performances)
- Alexei Sayle and the Fish People (1979)
- Alexei Sayle and the Dutch Lieutenant's Trousers (1980)
- Lenin of the Rovers (1988)
- Sorry About Last Night (1999)
- Chopwell Soviet (2006)
- Alexei Sayle's Alternative Take (2007)
- Where Did All the Money Go? (2008)
- Migrant Music (2008)
- Alexei Sayle's Imaginary Sandwich Bar (2016–2019)
- Alexei Sayle's The Absence of Normal (2019)
- The Alexei Sayle Pirate Video (Springtime, 1983)
- Alexei Sayle's Stuff (Paradox, 1995)
- Alexei Sayle's Stuff Series One (BBC, 2005)
- Alexei Sayle's Stuff Series Two (BBC, 2006)
- Alexei Sayle's Stuff Series Three (BBC, 2006)
- Train To Hell (Methuen, 9 February 1984; hardcover ISBN 0-413-52460-4, paperback ISBN 0-413-52470-1) – novel co-written by David Stafford
- Geoffrey The Tube Train And The Fat Comedian (Methuen, 1987; paperback) – graphic novel, illustrated by Oscar Zárate
- Alexei Sayle's Great Bus Journeys Of The World (Methuen, October 1989; paperback ISBN 0-413-62670-9) – collected columns from Time Out and the Sunday Mirror
- Barcelona Plates (Sceptre, 17 February 2000; hardcover ISBN 0-340-76752-9, paperback ISBN 0-340-76753-7) – short story collection
- The Dog Catcher (Sceptre, 19 July 2001; hardcover ISBN 0-340-81868-9, paperback ISBN 0-340-81944-8) – short story collection
- Overtaken (Sceptre, 1 September 2003; hardcover ISBN 0-340-76768-5) – despite Train To Hell, this was publicised as being Sayle's first novel
- The Weeping Women Hotel (Sceptre, 27 February 2006; hardcover ISBN 0-340-83121-9) – novel
- Mister Roberts (Sceptre, 16 October 2008; hardcover ISBN 9780-340-96155-1, paperback ISBN 0-340-96156-2) – Sayle's latest novel
- Stalin Ate My Homework (Sceptre, 2 September 2010; hardcover ISBN 9780-340-91957-6, paperback ISBN 978-0-340-91958-3) – autobiography
- Thatcher Stole My Trousers (Bloomsbury, 10 March 2016; hardcover ISBN 9781-408-86453-1) – autobiography (second volume)
- Alexei Sayle's Imaginary Sandwich Bar (Bloomsbury, 19 October 2017; hardcover ISBN 9781-408-89582-5) - radio series spin-off
- Night Voice (1990)
- 'Itch (1990)
- Sorry About Last Night (1995)
- Two Minutes (1996)
- Lose Weight... Ask Me How (2001)
- "Alexei Sayle – About Me". Alexeisayle.me. 7 August 1952. Retrieved 24 January 2013.
- "The 100 Greatest Stand-Ups - Episode 1.1. The 100 Greatest Stand-Ups 2007 - British Comedy Guide". Comedy.co.uk. 18 March 2007. Retrieved 21 July 2012.
- "The 100 Greatest Stand-Ups – Announcements – Greatest Stand-Ups of All Time!". Channel 4. 11 April 2010. Retrieved 21 July 2012.
- "Comedy – Alexei Sayle's Stuff". BBC. Retrieved 21 July 2012.
- Matt Trueman (17 November 2011). "Alexei Sayle returns to standup after 16-year break". Guardian. London. Retrieved 21 July 2012.
- "Sayle, Alexei (1952–) Biography". screenonline. Archived from the original on 25 May 2011. Retrieved 12 April 2011.
- Neilan, Catherine (22 July 2010). "'Ullo Alexei! Gotta new memoir?". theBookseller.com. Retrieved 17 September 2010.
- Wilmut, Roger (1989). Didn't You Kill My Mother In Law?- the story of alternative comedy in Britain from the Comedy Store to Saturday Night Live. UK: Methuen. pp. 22–24. ISBN 0-413-17390-9.
- "How the bland and the posh failed alternative comedy : News 2014 : Chortle : The UK Comedy Guide". Chortle. 19 February 2014. Retrieved 6 September 2015.
- Johnson, David (1 January 1981). "Something Funny is Happening in Stripland". Over21, page 36, republished at Shapersofthe80s. London. Retrieved 7 April 2018.
- "Git Quotes". BrainyQuote. Retrieved 21 July 2012.
- Davis, Laura (11 April 2013). "INTERVIEW: Alexei Sayle on Thatcher, his film and stand-up careers and appearing at Clapperboard Presents at FACT – Liverpool Arts – Culture". Liverpool Daily Post. Retrieved 24 June 2013.
- "Nine Lessons and Carols for Godless People". Bloomsbury Theatre. The Bloomsbury Theatre. December 2011. Retrieved 10 June 2013.
- Cavendish, Dominic (26 January 2012). "Alexei Sayle Presents, Soho Theatre, review". Telegraph. London. Retrieved 21 July 2012.
- "Alexei Sayle". Edinburgh Fringe Festival. EFFS Registered Charity SC. 25 August 2013. Archived from the original on 26 October 2013. Retrieved 18 September 2013.
- "Radio 4 – History – Chopwell Soviet". BBC. 3 November 2006. Retrieved 12 April 2011.
- "'Old geezer' Alexei wants to be the next Doctor Who – News". lep.co.uk. 4 November 2008. Retrieved 12 April 2011.
- "FATWA ON ALEXEI; Comic facing death threat". Free Online Library. Retrieved 12 April 2011.
- "Dictionary – Definition of Alexei Sayle". Websters-dictionary-online.net. 7 August 1952. Archived from the original on 20 March 2012. Retrieved 24 April 2012.
- "3 Golden Girls Moving From Their House On Nbc To Cbs` `Palace`". Articles.chicagotribune.com. Retrieved 30 October 2017.
- "Alexei Sayle - Home - Blog 74". Alexeisayle.me. Retrieved 30 October 2017.
- "| What's Hot | Capital Of Culture | ALEXEI SAYLE'S LIVERPOOL". Liverpool.com. Retrieved 12 April 2011.
- Alexei Sayle (13 June 2013). "Blog 73". Alexei Sayle dot ME. Alexei Sayle. Retrieved 13 June 2013.
- "Alexei Sayle's Great Bus Journeys of the World by Alexei Sayle". Fantasticfiction.co.uk. Retrieved 24 June 2013.
- "End of Story – Authors – Alexei Sayle". BBC. Retrieved 21 July 2012.
- Ian Sansom (16 October 2010). "Stalin Ate My Homework by Alexei Sayle – review | Books". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 21 July 2012.
- Columnists (3 March 2012). "Alexei Sayle: understanding the Austin Montego". Telegraph. London. Retrieved 21 July 2012.
- "Comedian Alexei Sayle brings tour to Exeter Phoenix tonight". Exeter Express and Echo. Exeter. 9 March 2015. Archived from the original on 24 September 2015. Retrieved 4 August 2015.
- Sayle, Alexei (26 November 2014). "Blog 83". Alexeisayle.me. Alexei Sayle. Retrieved 4 August 2015.
I’ve also booked a small book reading tour for next year… I’ll mostly be reading from the new memoir "Thatcher Stole My Trousers". I’ve moved publishers from Sceptre to Bloomsbury and they want to publish that in March 2016.
- "Alexei Sayle, Personal Reminiscence". Imperial War Museum. 2009. Retrieved 29 October 2011.
- "SNP to vote against Tories on fox hunting ban in England and Wales". STV. 13 July 2015. Archived from the original on 15 July 2015. Retrieved 17 July 2015.
- Walsh, John (27 February 2016). "Why I've decided to join the Labour party then immediately resign". The Independent. Retrieved 1 June 2018.
- Sayle, Alexei (16 March 2016). "Why I've decided to join the Labour party then immediately resign". The Guardian. Retrieved 1 June 2018.
- "Labour Party chiefs spark backlash over Wadsworth expulsion". The Voice. 15 May 2018. Retrieved 1 June 2018.
- Alexei Sayle (8 October 2013). "Alexei Sayle: Bloomsbury by bike – video" (Video upload). The Guardian. Retrieved 8 October 2013.
- Sayle, Alexei (27 June 2010). "Watch it, mate!: Alexei Sayle looks back on his 30 years of two-wheeling around London". The Independent. Retrieved 8 October 2013.
- "Review Books: Mister Roberts by Alexei Sayle is published by Sceptre on November 13,£12.99". Thecnj.com. 13 November 2008. Retrieved 6 September 2015.