Naturally funny, cross-generational: Steve Coogan on Caroline Aherne

‘She used to make me cry with laughter’, Coogan pays tribute to his friend of over 20 years

I knew her when she was still a secretary at BBC North West. If I was in Manchester I’d go through my phone book, and Caroline would be the person I’d end up calling because she was just a very funny girl. She had that northern, working class, Irish immigrant humour. I remember about 20 years ago, turning up one day at Granada Studios to do some writing. It was a baking hot day and I was wearing shorts, and she looked at my legs and said, “that reminds me, I must get some chicken drumsticks.”

There was a bit of a Manchester stand up scene in the early 90s, and I remember her doing Sister Mary Immaculate, scraping a few pennies doing stand up. A bit later, when I did a sketch show with her and John Thomson, she’d make us roar with laughter talking about her mum. She’d take the piss out of her with great affection. When me and Jeff [Pope] wrote Philomena, we put some of what she’d said into the film. She liked Jeff because he was working class, even if he was a southerner.

She was naturally funny, and cross-generational. Her comedy wasn’t intellectual but it was clever, and intuitive. Caroline would always find peoples’ achilles heels, but her humour was never nasty. She didn’t like pretentiousness or pomposity. She was good at pricking balloons.

Caroline always saw me as being too big for my boots and would take the piss mercilessly out of me for having sports cars and stuff like that. She had this joke: “How many Steve Coogans does it take to change a lightbulb? Only one, but he’ll let you know how much it cost.”

She was confident in some ways, but not in others. Just before Mrs Merton, she told me she was thinking about packing in comedy and doing car boot sales instead. She was uncomfortable with success. She flirted with it for a bit, then retreated back up north. She could easily have just remained a funny girl working as a secretary, so it’s great that she became a household name instead, and so many people got to see her and have that joy.

I hadn’t seen her for ages but we were in touch. She sent me a message a couple of weeks ago asking if I was going to do a sequel to Philomena, where she goes looking for another lost child, but finds them.

I loved her. She used to make me cry with laughter. This is the first time she’s made me cry without laughing.

As told to Liese Spencer.


Steve Coogan

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Caroline Aherne, award winning actor and comedian, dies aged 52
Bafta award-winning writer of the Royle Family died at home in Manchester after suffering from cancer, says publicist

David Batty and Chris Johnston

03, Jul, 2016 @9:11 AM

Article image
Caroline Aherne remembered by Ricky Tomlinson
The Royle Family actor on how the show’s creator had a brilliant feel for ordinary life, but kept her own hidden

11, Dec, 2016 @7:00 AM

Article image
Caroline Aherne battling lung cancer

Actor and comedian reveals she is fighting disease again ahead of launch of health support group in Manchester

Hannah Ellis-Petersen

13, May, 2014 @1:15 PM

Article image
Peter Hook says Caroline Aherne was physically abusive during marriage
Musician claims in autobiography that the comedian, who died in July, attacked him with knives, bottles and chairs before split

Josh Halliday North of England correspondent

03, Oct, 2016 @4:11 PM

Article image
'She was fearless': in praise of Caroline Aherne
At a time of gonzo blokey comedy, she was one of the few women to shine. Her genius lay in the honesty and vulnerability of her creations, from Denise Royle to Mrs Merton

Sarah Morgan

05, Jul, 2016 @7:28 AM

Article image
Steve Coogan and Armando Iannucci on how to be funny
They have worked together on many projects over 24 years, from On the Hour through to Alan Partridge. At a Guardian Live event, Steve Coogan and Armando Iannucci talked about how they write comedy and when to get serious

Joanna Witt

21, Oct, 2015 @10:25 AM

Article image
Liam Williams on Caroline Aherne: ‘the Bambi-eyed princess of northern naturalism’
The Royle Family, with its comfy-caustic scripts, brought my household together like no other show – and Aherne was the subtlest, most surprising, member of its talented cast

Liam Williams

18, Feb, 2015 @9:00 AM

Article image
Mrs Merton and the naughty nun: Caroline Aherne’s first comedy gigs
She sometimes said she’d rather be a hairdresser but Aherne’s cheeky early appearances in the pubs and clubs of Manchester led her to TV fame

Rachael Healy

13, Jul, 2021 @5:00 AM

I heart Caroline Aherne

I've developed a bit of a crush on all the women of The Royle Family, but Aherne's is a dazzling talent

Gareth McLean

15, Feb, 2008 @7:00 AM

Article image
Jeff Pope on Caroline Aherne: 'I'll remember her on the sofa with a bag of Minstrels watching her huge TV'
Even at the peak of her success, she was battling cancer and depression. But, says her friend and writing partner, she turned everything into a funny story

Jeff Pope

04, Jul, 2016 @5:05 PM