Peter Kay: ‘I was offered a job for £1 an hour – if I’d accepted, I might never have done stand-up’

Peter Kay
Peter Kay: ‘Getting into TV felt like a hard choice for many years. I didn’t have any links to the industry’ - Peter Byrne/PA

Growing up, I was obsessed with TV. It mesmerised me, this wooden box in the corner, bursting with images and sound. It would transfix me and could transport me anywhere and everywhere. A bit like the Tardis.

I was a fan of Doctor Who and hearing the theme now immediately transports me back to Saturday tea times. My dad would always be filling in his coupon as Grandstand ended. My mum would be cooking us all a breakfast for tea.

Then I’d hear the haunting theme from Doctor Who and see the psychedelic transition into Tom Baker’s face (he was my Doctor). There was no hiding behind the couch for me, not with bacon and egg on the table.

Then, ending with a gripping cliff-hanger, the episode would be over and it’d be time for either The Dukes of Hazzard or The Pink Panther Show.

The comfort came from how it would bring us all together as a family: laughter, anger, fear, so many emotions evoked. I remember when we used to watch a big film in the front room and my dad would casually lean over and turn off the lamp, plunging the room into darkness.

All in an effort to try and make it more like being at the cinema. Hilarious, especially when I think back to the c--- telly we had on hire from Radio Rentals. Then our neighbour, Miss Wild, died and so we got her telly. Then we won a black-and-white portable – it was the star prize at the school Christmas Fayre – and suddenly we had three TVs.

We felt like that family off the Imperial Leather soap advert. They were that posh they had a bath each on a train. Which is probably not a reference a lot of people can remember.

I never thought, back then, that I’d work in TV but I knew I wanted to have something to do with it – I don’t think you can be consumed by something so much and not want to somehow make it your livelihood or it be a part of your life in some way.

Peter Kay
Comedian Peter Kay was consumed by television as a child, and knew he ‘wanted to have something to do with it’ - Camera Press/ED/CVA

Mainly, I just felt I could make people laugh. I’d experienced that at school when I played the innkeeper in the nativity. Instead of telling Mary and Joseph there was no room, I offered them an en-suite with a full breakfast. It brought the house down.

The nuns weren’t so chuffed, but John Lennon had just been shot the night before and the audience needed a good laugh.

Still, getting into TV felt like a hard choice for many years. I didn’t have any links to the industry – no uncle who was a cameraman or anything like that. I just used to go the library, look up the addresses of TV companies and write to them asking if they had any jobs.

Finally, in 1990, I was offered a job at Granada TV in Manchester. That was a huge deal, as it was like the Hollywood of the north. My dad once made me get off the bus three stops early so he could take a picture of me outside the TV studios.

I walked past where that building used to be the other day and it’s now dwarfed by all the new construction around it, but it used to be one of the biggest buildings on the skyline.

You could see the big, red letters of Granada TV shining for miles. You could even see it from our house in Bolton. (Well you could if you stood on the toilet cistern and looked out of the bathroom window with binoculars. It’s amazing what I did to pass the time before I discovered my penis.)

Peter Kay
Peter Kay pictured in Bolton, where he grew up, in 2020 - Phil Spencer/Mirrorpix/Getty

In the end I got a job at Granada but I couldn’t take it, as the m

oney was really poor. It was £1 an hour for a 58-hour week! I couldn’t afford to live off that. I’d have to pay for my travel, lunches, plus give my mum her keep each week. I was making more working at the local Cash and Carry, so, reluctantly, I had to turn it down.

I was gutted and thought I’d missed my one big chance for years. A really bizarre thing happened though. Years later, I was editing Phoenix Nights in Granada TV and ended up working with an editor who got that very same job that I had to turn down. He even brought in his original contract from 1990. I couldn’t believe it.

Maybe if I’d taken it, I would never have had a go at stand-up comedy, which ended up being my break into TV. Who knows? But what I do know is that I’d never have given up trying.

Extract from Peter Kay’s new book: My greatest TV moment (with three knights of the realm)

One of the biggest honours of my career was being asked as a guest on the last ever episode of Parkinson – ‘The Final Conversation’ – in 2007.

Just before he retired. Without a doubt, the greatest British talk show host was Sir Michael Parkinson. He was in a class of his own, and, back in 1998, I was fortunate to get the job of warm-up in the studio each week. So immediately I said yes (to his show, not the free Parker pen).

Then I panicked when they told me who the line-up was going to be: David Beckham, Sir Michael Caine, Sir David Attenborough and Sir Billy Connolly. But a funny thing happened when I went into make-up.

I’d dressed in my shirt and suit, but I’d had a bit of trouble with my tie. I always do. The knot never looks right. Perhaps because I had an elastic tie until I was in the fifth year. I was discussing it with the make-up lady when Michael Parkinson overheard my conversation.

The next thing I knew I had Sir Michael Parkinson, Sir Michael Caine and Sir David Attenborough stood round, all having a go at fastening my tie. ‘No, that’s not it,’ said Michael Caine. ‘Give it here,’ said David Attenborough. ‘He needs a Windsor knot.’

I just sat and watched this surreal reflection. Can you believe this? Three knights of the realm flapping over my tie. Finally, my time arrived and a producer led me to the top of the stairs. A make-up lady gave me a quick check. ‘How’s my tie look?’ I whispered. We both laughed.

Parky: Our next guest used to be my warm-up man and he used to say to me, ‘One day I’m gonna walk down those stairs and be a guest on your show.’ [I didn’t] He’s now one of Britain’s funniest comedians. Would you welcome please, Peter Kay. Laurie Holloway struck up the band and out I walked.

Well, here goes, I thought to myself as I walked down the staircase, holdall in hand. It never gets any easier. I shook hands/hugged the other guests. That took a while and then Mr Adrenalin took over and so did I. The audience seemed to love it and [it all went] much better than I ever imagined it would.

I was just relieved my tie looked alright.

Abridged extract from TV: Big Adventures on the Small Screen by Peter Kay (HarperCollins, £25) is out on September 28; pre-order a copy at

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