The Tab meets: Bill Oddie

SAJEED ALI talks to Bill Oddie about comedy, depression and meeting the Queen


Bill Oddie is somewhat notorious for his grumpy demeanour, but on Tuesday Union-goers were treated to a dynamic talk from a man with a sharp wit and a wicked sense of humour.

Ranging from questions about his favourite bird to his experience with meeting the Queen upon being awarded his OBE, Oddie freely engaged with the audience, showing that he still had a clinical sense of humour and timing.

Regarding his OBE, he considered it ‘the most embarrassing thing ever’ – he wore a Hawaiian shirt when meeting the Queen. He called the experience a ‘fancy dress party without the depression.’

The only close-up we could get of Oddie (he is not as grumpy as he looks)

The only close-up we could get of Oddie (he is not as grumpy as he looks)

 

During his interview with the Union, Bill Oddie spoke of his difficulty with bipolar disorder. With the ever increasing awareness and presence of mental health issues here in Cambridge, Oddie offered the Tab his views regarding depression at the University.

‘Certainly when I was here, I wasn’t aware of depression, as a syndrome or an issue. There was a cliché that if you go to Cambridge or Oxford there was a good chance of suicide – it was received wisdom.’

He felt that ‘it’s worse now. The pressure is much greater, with exams and where you are going to go after university.’ It seemed like he wasn’t particularly sentimental about Cambridge.

Yet he smiled demurely as he recounted his experience of comedy with the Footlights. ”The fun is in the performing, that’s where you hear the audience laugh. There can be a lot of satisfaction in writing a script and thinking that really works, and there’s excitement and anticipation when waiting to try it out in front of an audience. At the same time, the reason we – that is John Cleese, Graham Chapman, Eric Idle, and the rest – were writer-performers, was because we never really trusted others to perform our stuff.’

And although he was very proud of his work with The Goodies and the shows he did with the Footlights, Bill Oddie did not discount the current comedy scene.

‘You will never hear me say ‘It’s not like it used to be’,’ he told us. ‘I hate that, there used to be so much crap comedy! What is most impressive now is the fact that stand-up has reclaimed the stage. Bill Bailey is someone I admire – I mean, he has so many things going for him, gimme a break! Eddie Izzard and Nina Conti are fantastic. Flight of the Concords – I loved it! The guys are so skilful and have the same taste as me, musically!’

A blurry Bill Oddie

A blurry Bill Oddie

 

Finally, Bill Oddie wryly gave us advice on how to handle the Cambridge workload: ‘Don’t go to lectures! Otherwise you regurgitate books the lecturer has read. No point – may as well just read them yourself!’

He admitted that the current generation of students mainly recognise him for his work with wildlife shows such as Autumnwatch and Springwatch. However, as well as being a pleasure to meet, Bill Oddie showed us that his surreal yet brutally incisive humour remained as hilarious as ever.