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.

Contributor

Steve Coogan

The GuardianTramp

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