Paul Mayhew-Archer: 'I had to write Vicar of Dibley jokes to feed my family'

Paul is photographed in his home in Oxford
Paul Mayhew-Archer: ‘In terms of life, you just don’t know what is around the corner’ Credit: Paul Groom

Paul Mayhew-Archer is a comedy writer, performer and presenter. He is known for his work as co-writer on BBC1’s The Vicar of Dibley.

He has also worked as a script editor on shows including Mrs Brown’s Boys, Spitting Image and Two Pints of Lager and a Packet of Crisps.

Paul, 65, and his wife, Julie, live in Abingdon, Oxfordshire. They have one son, Simon, 34.

How did your childhood affect your attitude towards money?

My dad ran a hardware store and worked all the hours, while my mum was ill through my childhood. It made me very cautious. I was aware that my parents scraped together their savings in order to send me to Eastbourne College.

I was very driven to write, as I was an only child. I started off by writing puppet shows during my school days, and forced my friends to sit through them.

Eventually I wrote a one-act play when I was at sixth form and my English teacher, who was very inspirational, encouraged me to stage it. Hearing an audience laugh at my jokes was truly transformational.

I joined the Cambridge University Light Entertainment Society. We took a couple of shows to the Edinburgh Festival, but I wasn’t “discovered”. So I applied to do a teacher training course. I got a job in Abingdon but we couldn’t afford to live there.

When I got a job at the BBC, my salary doubled. That was 1979. Leaving teaching to take on a short-term BBC contract of one year seemed a bit of a leap in the dark at the time.

Paul Mayhew-Archer has a philosophical approach to money

What was the best-paid part of your career?

When I was working in telly and co-writing The Vicar of Dibley一本道理不卡一二三区. I received a proportion of the script fee and a percentage of repeat fees, overseas sales and DVD sales. I am very lucky that it has been successful and continues to be shown.

Some of the other work I did in television, like script editing Two Pints of Lager and a Packet of Crisps一本道理不卡一二三区, was paid more on a salary basis.

Dibley co-writer Richard Curtis went on to write film scripts. Did you try to do that?

I had a brief flirtation with Hollywood when Richard was offered a project and couldn’t do it, so recommended me. They wanted me to fly to LA and rewrite the movie in three weeks – rather terrifying. In the end, I just worked on it on spec from the UK. I worked on Roald Dahl’s Esio Trot with Richard some years later. That was a joyous experience.

Has there been a time in your life when you didn’t know how you were going to pay the bills?

一本道理不卡一二三区No, I have never been in that position, thank goodness. My parents taught me never to spend more than you have got, and never take anything out on hire purchase.

What was your best buy?

一本道理不卡一二三区My house in Abingdon. I love it. I’ve no idea whether it has increased in value.

What do you think has been your best business decision?

My boss at the BBC encouraged me to get an agent, as he didn’t think I was being paid enough, and so I did. It was a very good idea indeed.

And your worst business decision?

Not realising that I love doing stand-up comedy, which I’ve only just discovered at the age of 65. It has been living with Parkinson’s, which I was diagnosed with in 2011, that has given me my story. So if I had tried doing stand-up before, my life might have been a much different experience.

Working on The Vicar of Dibley was the best-paid part of Paul's career Credit: Tiger Aspect/Richard Kendal

Have you had to take many risks in your career?

Yes, strangely, for someone who is naturally cautious, I did. Leaving teaching to join the BBC at the start was a risk. I also left a full-time job in radio when I got a couple of short-term contracts. One was to script-edit Spitting Image and the other was to script-edit a sketch show for ITV.

At the age of 42, I left Channel 4, where I had been working part-time, to fulfil my ambition of becoming a full-time writer. I remember leaving on a Friday afternoon full of excitement and enthusiasm and then waking up on Monday thinking, if I don’t write some jokes today, I won’t be able to feed my family.

I wrote a second series of Nelson’s Column and a couple of Dibley episodes. Being at home all the time didn’t suit me, so I took on some part-time work again at the BBC to get out of the house.

Do you see yourself as more of a saver or a spender?

I’m a saver and have savings accounts and Isas, although I do feel increasingly frustrated that interest rates are so low.

I bought a lovely Jaguar in the Nineties, which I owned for about seven or eight years. That was my big indulgence. I enjoy going to the theatre and to see concerts, so that can be expensive if you go regularly.

Are you naturally good with money or do you find you have to work at it?

I have to work at it; I am not naturally good at all. I have been very lucky in that I have never been out of work, as I always had some script editing to do. I always say to people, try to do as many different things as possible.

I remember during my first year of full-time writing, I wrote An Actor’s Life For Me and it was axed after one series on BBC One. It was a bit like being made redundant. If Dibley 一本道理不卡一二三区hadn’t come along about then I wouldn’t have known what to do.

What has been the most difficult lesson you have learned about money or business?

I一本道理不卡一二三区n terms of life, you don’t know what is around the corner.

How do you invest?

I own a property, which is rented out, and we have money in stocks and shares, and a bit in cash savings.

Do you give regularly to charity?

I do. I give money, although not as much as I should, but I give a lot of time to support Parkinson’s UK and Maggie’s Oxford, the cancer charity.

I took my stand-up comedy show, Incurable Optimist, to Edinburgh this summer, primarily for the experience and to help improve awareness about Parkinson’s. I raised £5,500 in bucket collections after the shows for those charities, and £2,500 during the previews.

Does money make you happy?

Yes, in the sense that the lack of it is going to make you very miserable. But it doesn’t necessarily make you happy. Comedy makes you happy.

Paul is performing at two fundraisers for Parkinson’s UK: the Big Comedy Shake-up on Sept 27 and Shake With Laughter on Oct 15 (parkinsons.org.uk)