Frank Skinner: My family values

The comedian talks about how his MA in English literature changed him more than becoming famous, and what kind of father he hopes to be for his son

I was a very happy but quite solitary kid. I spent hours playing on my own, mainly with toy soldiers, and played entire World Cup football tournaments in the garden with commentary in my head. I still do that: when I go to the toilet I often imagine that I'm the manager of Barcelona and being interviewed about how the game's gone.

My dad, John, worked in a factory and, to an outsider, sounds like a slightly terrifying figure. He did drink a lot and used to have fights, but I had tremendous affection for him. He was very into entertainment. He sang a lot in the house and told jokes and did funny voices and would happily come home in a stupid hat just for a laugh.

My mum, Doris, was a source of unalloyed love. She lived for her family and would literally give you her last pound. I think she's made me a kinder person, because I think: Do I want to help this person? If my mum was around, she would have.

I thought grammar school would be full of snobs. I was offered a place at King Edward's in Birmingham, but didn't want to go. It was an enormous decision, but my parents didn't have that awareness of education. My life might have been very different: I started drinking at 15 and realise now I was preparing quite a lot of material for a life as a comedian. I don't know if grammar school would have made such funny stuff.

I think the drinking was nurture, not nature. My dad and two brothers, Keith and Terrence, drank, as did every male I knew. I started drinking hard when I worked in a factory. It made sense because when you walked out of there each day you wanted to forget about it. Now I don't want to forget my job.

My dad always thought I'd be on the television. He said, "Get on the bandwagon. Once you're on it, you'll always get work."

Dad was a keen Roman Catholic, but I left the church when I was 17, not because I'd stopped believing – it was more doctrinal stuff, like that there was no biblical mention of purgatory. I went back when I was 28, just before I gave up drink. Not only has it brought me a sense of where I am in the world and how I should be with other people, it has also encouraged my imagination to think widely. And when I'm in a Catholic church wherever I am in the world, I feel at home.

I read comic books when I was a kid. Now I have a passion for art and galleries that I think came from that. I didn't read a book without pictures until I was 21. When I got a master's degree in English literature, it changed me more than getting famous. Every day it felt like my head was expanding.

Now that I'm a dad [Buzz, his son, is 20 months], I've thought about how I don't want him to be like me. I wouldn't want him to be as solitary, so I make an effort with that, and I never learned to swim, so I'm already taking him for lessons. I'll try to be an entertaining, funny dad and as loving and kind as I can.

There is a buoyancy at my core – even when my parents died I never truly despaired. When people talk about clinical depression, I don't understand it. My girlfriend thinks it's high serotonin levels. I think it might be my beliefs. I'm not the broken-hearted clown – I'm generally pretty happy.

Room 101's new series starts on Friday, 24 January, on BBC1

Interview by Vicki Power

The GuardianTramp

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