Those we lost in 2021: Sean Lock remembered by Bill Bailey

22 April 1963 – 16 August 2021
The comedian recalls more than 30 years of friendship with a warm and generous writer and performer whose standup sets left audiences helpless with laughter

I met Sean at a gig where we were both performing in the late 80s and we immediately hit it off. We shared a similar sense of humour, and also a sense of outsider status which gave us an added spur to succeed but with a determination to have fun while doing it. The fact that we were able to make people laugh, and make a living from it, felt like we were on a wild adventure that we didn’t want to end.

Sean’s early gigs in clubs where he was learning the craft were often rowdy affairs where he honed his skill at dealing with the odd drunk heckler, which developed over the years into an effortless ability to riff on whatever subject came up.

In 1993 we took a show to the Edinburgh fringe, which featured a sketch where I hid as “a pie” in a dessert trolley – my head poking through a hole in some plywood, garnished with lettuce – which Sean pushed on to the stage, offering the audience a slice of “pie… fresh off the head”. Filming with Harry Hill, we took the whole caboodle out on to the streets of Edinburgh, where we fell foul of a pub landlady who thought we were trying to sell pie outside her pub.

The following year we wrote a show called Rock, where Sean played a faithful roadie to my old rocker character trying to make a comeback. We had a custom smoked-glass stretch shopping trolley made (our shows always seemed to feature trolleys), in which Sean wheeled my character around. The show ended up touring around the country, culminating with a slot on the comedy stage at the Glastonbury festival. Sean would bemoan the fact that he didn’t play an instrument, but for that particular performance he threw himself into learning the bongos.

For the same show, we wrote a prog-rock pastiche, The Leg of Time, during which Sean danced around me holding a fake leg with a clock gaffer-taped to it – production levels were quite basic in those days. For all the low-budget larkiness, there was a lot of good writing in Rock and it garnered some favourable reviews, which I think Sean really appreciated.

His talent for comic writing really hit its stride in Fifteen Minutes of Misery, a series of shows he wrote and starred in for BBC Radio 4. Its success led to the making of 15 Storeys High, a sitcom he wrote for BBC TV. Sean played a downbeat swimming pool attendant, Vince, who lived in a tower block and was convinced his neighbours were up to all sorts of strange behaviour. It was brilliantly, darkly funny and gave full rein to Sean’s finely tuned ear for absurd dialogue, for his comic invention and well-wrought scripts.

During the 90s Sean’s comedy career went from strength to strength, culminating in him winning best live comic at the British Comedy Awards in 2000. We both put in a lot of miles getting to gigs during this time, our friendship forged over many late-night stops in motorway service stations.

Sean had that rare knack of truly great comics to be able to take audiences with him on ever more tortuous and often quite dark routes, yet such was the warmth of his personality and easy manner that crowds happily followed along, and his reputation grew. When he took on the job of team captain on 8 Out of 10 Cats for Channel 4, it brought his comedy to a huge audience, and led to him being loved by millions.

Bill Bailey walking with Sean Lock at Bull Point, Devon, in 2019.
Bill Bailey walking with Sean Lock at Bull Point, Devon, in 2019. Photograph: Courtesy of Bill Bailey/Twitter

Sean was a superb writer of comedy, a clever and rigorous practitioner of the art, who saw it as something to be crafted, to be treated almost like poetry. His standup sets were delirious, dizzying journeys down endless rabbit holes, that left you helpless with laughter.

Away from the world of TV and entertainment, he was a dedicated and loving family man. He was a great host, an excellent cook, and was never happier than pottering around in the kitchen preparing a fish stew, while dancing to dub reggae. He was a great organiser of events and people generally; family holidays with Sean were always well planned, and always involved his love of good food and a decent bottle of wine.

He was as funny off stage as on. I will remember a kind, generous and loyal friend who I loved dearly, and feel a great sadness at his loss. He leaves a wife, Anoushka, and their three children, his sister Kate and his brothers Paul and Pete. And he leaves us all a wonderful comic legacy and – for me and those lucky enough to have known him – some cherished memories and unforgettable nights of laughter.


Bill Bailey

The GuardianTramp

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