Micky Flanagan: Interview

As he starts his first solo show, Micky Flanagan tells Time Out about his fishy and nefarious path to stand-up success

  • Micky Flanagan: Interview

    Micky Flanagan loves that just stepped out of the salon feeling (photography: Rob Greig)

  • Micky Flanagan was born at the London Hospital in Whitechapel and brought up on a council estate in Bethnal Green. ‘I like to think I was rather a melancholic child,’ he reveals. ‘I appear to have spent most of my early years staring out of a window. Or lying on the grass looking up at the sky. My mum reckons I was a thoughtful and sensitive boy. My dad said I was a miserable little bastard.’ Flanagan, now 42, remembers watching a TV programme called ‘Police Five’ when he was still a youngster. ‘A sort of early version of 'Crimewatch'.

    Shaw Taylor would show some recently stolen goods and he’d ask people to inform the police if they’d seen them. I was a confused eight-year-old. The stuff was up in my bedroom. My dad was looking after them for a friend. The house was always like that. Like an episode of “Only Fools and Horses”. It seems he always hoped I’d be as easy with criminal activity as he was.’ But Micky turned out to be a disappointment: ‘The thought didn’t even occur to me. Sorry dad.’ School, however, rapidly became ‘a cocktail of truancy and detentions’. The Halfway House pub in Hackney Road started serving Flanagan and his under-age mates with pints of lager. ‘That was the beginning of the end. Booze and sex. A girl had hinted that she’d wank me if I bought her a Wimpy and chips. I left school when I’d just turned 15 with a bronze swimming medal and an ashtray I’d made in the metalwork class.’

    He’d already been bunking off lessons to work in a furniture factory. His first full-time job was as a stand boy in Billingsgate fish market. ‘It involved boiling and measuring various shellfish.’ That led in time to a much-prized fish porter’s licence. ‘I was earning £250 a week in 1981. That was a footballer’s wages! At the age of 17, I’d peaked in terms of my career!’

    By now Flanagan was thoroughly disaffected. ‘It was all a bit bleak. Getting up at 4.30 in the morning. Pulling fish up a hill in the pouring rain. Going home and watching that film 'Saturday Night and Sunday Morning'. I had that working-class anger in me. I wanted more from my life.’

    A market porter suggested he went away to New York for a year. ‘He gave me the name of a guy who ran a restaurant and bar on Fire Island, a seaside resort close to Long Island. When I got there, it turned out he’d arrived there 20 years earlier from Bethnal Green on the run from the police.’ Flanagan worked as a dishwasher and then a prep chef. It gave him the chance to clear his head. ‘More than that. It made me realise I must take action to improve things. It changed my life forever.’

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