History repeating in comic Kieran Hodgson's Euro referendum themed show '75
As we wait (and wait) to discover how Brexit will resolve itself, comedian Kieran Hodgson reminds us how things went the first time 'the European question' was put to the people with his new show '75
EUROPE has been all over the news for all the wrong reasons for the last three years as the Brexit negotiations rumble on and on (and on). What better time, then, for comedian Kieran Hodgson to remind us of the last time we were asked 'the European question': the United Kingdom European Communities membership referendum of 1975, which found over 67 per cent of people voting to remain part of the European Community.
While that might seem like rather unlikely fodder for a comedy show, '75 got great reviews at last year's Edinburgh Fringe festival, with the Yorkshireman mining mirth from the characters and headlines surrounding the UK's original referendum on European membership.
Hodgson (29) deploys canny impersonations of key English political heavyweights from the era including Harold Wilson, Ted Heath, Roy Jenkins, Barbara Castle and, of course, Margaret Thatcher, the then newly installed Tory leader, future PM and enthusiastic pro-Europe campaigner whose iconic 'Euro flags' jumper he sports in the promotional photos for the tour which arrives at the Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival in Belfast next month.
Well, of course, it's not actually Maggie's jumper. In fact, it's not even his jumper.
"I knew from an early stage that that was what I wanted the 'show image' to be," explains Hodgson, who is no stranger to oddball 'themes' when it comes to live comedy: previous shows include Maestro and Lance, which concerned his passions for classical music and a certain disgraced professional cyclist respectively.
"A company did a reissue of them during the 2016 referendum, but unfortunately they no longer exist. So, I put a call out on Twitter and ended up borrowing one from journalist James Ball, who very graciously agreed to lend me it for the photos.
"But I have been getting requests from people wanting to know where they can get one and if they can borrow mine. I just send them to James Ball – maybe he will start charging hire fees."
However, the 'character' Hodgson enjoys doing the most during '75 is pipe-smoking Labour leader and determined 'man of the people' Harold Wilson, who called the 1975 referendum as a means of uniting his party which was then split along pro and anti-Europe lines (stop me if this sounds oddly familiar).
"He's a native son of Huddersfield, as am I," explains Hodgson, who hails from nearby Holmfirth.
"A bit of it is trying to popularise your hometown hero, but also his voice is [adopts a Wilsonian Yorkshire accent] a lotta-lotta fun to do. There's this very strange little metallic burr to it.
"The problem is that I've watched a lot of [1970s comedian] Mike Yarwood's impressions of Wilson, so I think I've probably ended up halfway between his version and the real thing. And I have to have the pipe – I tend to not have many props in my show but you can't do Wilson without waving the pipe around."
He adds: "Wilson comes in at the end of the show and is sort of the hero of it, he's bringing about the '75 referendum and trying to put the whole issue to bed. He also has a lot of the funniest lines of the show."
Despite the sustained dominance of European wranglings in the headlines leading to much talk of 'Brexit fatigue', it seems that comedy fans have still been turning out in their droves to see Hodgson touring his Euro debate-themed Edinburgh hit.
"Given the show's subject matter I was worried that it might ruffle some feathers around the country," he tells me of the show's current run. "But I just try and smile so much all the way through the show in order to make myself too winsome to hate.
"It's been really enjoyable and I love travelling around – although I do wish I hadn't written a show that involves a set comprised entirely of books, which are very very heavy things to have to lug around the train stations of the United Kingdom.
"That's part of the reason I'll be getting the ferry over to Belfast, to try and avoid the luggage charges on the plane."
In terms of his inspiration for '75, Hodgson explains it lies partly in a realisation that he'd run out of actual life experience to draw upon for his comedy routines, and also in his passion for yet another niche interest.
"Being in my late-20s, I'd pretty much run out of autobiography," he tells me. "1970s politics has been a weird area of fascination for me for along time. It seemed like an interesting era very different from our own that people perhaps might not know a great deal about – and, as a character comedian, I found it contained a lot of very fun 'big' characters to impersonate.
"As you may imagine, it's not the easiest sell, but Europe struck me as the key way into that subject matter. In the 70s, at the moment of our entry into what was then the Common Market, the European question was tearing the political parties apart and required a referendum to resolve.
"And, hey presto, here we are today."
:: Kieran Hodgson, '75, May 7, The MAC, Belfast, 8pm. Tickets via Themaclive.com.