In 1990 I had a full-time job in insurance and a weekly music show on BBC Radio Merseyside. I was always looking for guests and some kind soul, probably Neil Innes, gave me Viv Stanshall’s number in Muswell Hill.
I called him and told him when I would be in London. He gave me his address and said I could come round at 2pm on October 23. In the morning, dressed in my suit and tie and carrying my briefcase, I went to my insurance meeting and in the afternoon, I took the tube to Kilburn and walked through the Edwardian streets to 21 Hillfield Road, where Viv lived on the top floor.
I rang his bell and waited. And waited. I rang again. And waited. I didn’t want a wasted journey so I rang again and after five minutes, he answered. “I was expecting someone from the BBC,” he said, “but you look like a bloody insurance salesman.” “I am from the BBC,” I replied. “Doesn’t matter, come in, I need those eyes,” he said. I wondered why.
Viv led me up the stairs to the chaos of his living room. He showed me a half-completed painting, reminiscent of The Scream by Edvard Munch. The face did not have any eyes. “Yours will be fine,” he said, “just what I want”, although I hardly regarded this as flattery. He asked if he could paint them. I said yes, but could we do the interview first?
We talked for an hour, although most of the time, the conversation veered off the subject. You could not ask Viv a direct question, or rather you could, but he wouldn’t answer it. As a result, I felt that the interview was unsuitable for broadcast. When I put on the tape just now after 16 years, I thought that the machine was playing slow, but as my voice sounds normal, I can only conclude that the slow speech was the result of his medication. At times, he almost nods off and I had probably woken him.