Bill Bailey

Bill Bailey
Bill Bailey

Bailey's Remarkable Guide to the Orchestra at the Royal Albert Hall in 2008
Birth name Mark Bailey[1]
Born 13 January 1964 (1964-01-13) (age 47)[2]
Bath, Somerset, England
Years active 1989–present
Genres Surreal humour, Musical comedy
Spouse Kristin Bailey[3] (1998–present)
Notable works and roles Black Books
Never Mind the Buzzcocks
Hot Fuzz

Bill Bailey (born Mark Bailey;[1] 13 January[2] 1964) is an English comedian, musician and actor. As well as his extensive stand-up work, Bailey is well known for his appearances on Black Books, Never Mind the Buzzcocks, Have I Got News for You, and QI.

Bailey was listed by The Observer as one of the 50 funniest acts in British comedy in 2003. In 2007 and again in 2010, he was voted the 7th greatest stand-up comic on Channel 4's 100 Greatest Stand-Ups.[4] Bill Bailey is a patron of International Animal Rescue.


Personal life

Bailey was born in Bath, Somerset and spent the majority of his childhood in Keynsham, a town situated between Bath and Bristol in the West of England. His father was a medical practitioner and his mother was a hospital ward sister. His maternal grandparents lived in an annexe, built on the side of the house by his maternal grandfather who was a stonemason and builder. Two rooms at the front of the family house were for his father's surgery.[5]

Bailey was educated at King Edward's School, an independent school in Bath[6] where he was initially an academic pupil winning most of the prizes. However, at about the age of 15 years, he started to become distracted from school work when he realised the thrill of performance as a member of a school band called Behind Closed Doors, which played mostly original work. He was the only pupil at his school to study A-level music and he passed with an A grade. He also claims to have been good at sport (captain of KES 2nd XI cricket team 1982), which often surprised his teachers. He would often combine the two by leading the singing on the long coach trip back from away rugby fixtures. It was here that he was given his nickname Bill by his music teacher, Ian Phipps, for being able to play the song "Won't You Come Home Bill Bailey" so well on the guitar.[5]

He started an English degree at Westfield College of the University of London but left after a year.[7]

He spent his early years listening to Monty Python records, and rehearsing with a band called the "Famous Five",[8] who he himself confesses were very bad but still much better than him and who actually had six members.[9] However, he is a classically trained musician and received an Associateship Diploma from the London College of Music as well as being made an honorary member of the Society of Crematorium Organists. Despite this, he has said that he always had the temptation to be silly with music, a trait that influences his stand-up shows.

Bailey often mythologises his early years in his stand-up. In his show Bewilderness, he claims to have attended Bovington Gurney School of Performing Arts and Owl Sanctuary. He talks about a succession of jobs he had before becoming a comedian, including lounge pianist, crematorium organist, door-to-door door-salesman and accompanist for a mind-reading dog. A clip of Bailey's appearance in the dog's routine was shown during his Room 101 appearance. He also is self-deprecating about his appearance, suggesting he is so hairy that he is part troll, or that his hair or beard is a small animal named Lionel whom he has trained to sit 'very very still.'

Bailey also talks about his role as a "Disenfranchised Owl" in an experimental Welsh theatre troupe.[10] Other acting roles included a part in a Workers' Revolutionary Party stage production called The Printers, which also featured Vanessa Redgrave and Frances de la Tour. His trivia page on IMDb also claims that he was awarded Best Actor in the 1986 Institut Français awards.

Bailey married Kristin in 1998. An avid Star Trek fan, he named his son (born 2003) not after the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine character Dax as is often reported, but after a childhood friend,[3] and often refers to himself as a Klingon (once claiming during his "Part Troll" tour that his ear-mounted microphone made him resemble "a wizard in a call centre" and "a Klingon motivational speaker").

He currently lives in Hammersmith and supports Queens Park Rangers.[11] In 2010, Bailey endorsed the Labour Party in the upcoming General Election, appearing in the party's fifth party election broadcast of the 2010 campaign.[12] He is also an outspoken feminist and supporter of the Fawcett Society.[13][14]


Early stand-up

Bailey began touring the country with other comedians such as Mark Lamarr. In 1984 he formed a double act, the Rubber Bishops, with Toby Longworth (a former fellow pupil at King Edward's Bath). They achieved a certain amount of success on the club circuit, partly due to their rigorous schedule – sometimes as many as three or four gigs a night. It was here that Bailey began developing his own unique style, mixing in musical parodies with deconstructions of or variations on traditional jokes ("How many amoebas does it take to change a lightbulb? One, no two! No four! No eight..."). According to comedy folklore, after a reviewer once criticised his act for its lack of jokes, Bailey returned the following night, at Queen Margaret College, Edinburgh, to perform a set composed entirely of punchlines. Toby left to join the RSC in 1989 and was replaced by Martin Stubbs.

Stubbs later quit to pursue a more serious career, and in 1994 Bailey performed Rock at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe with Sean Lock, a show about an ageing rockstar and his roadie, script-edited by comedy writer Jim Miller. It was later serialised for the Mark Radcliffe show on BBC Radio 1. However, the show's attendances were not impressive and on one occasion the only person in the audience was comedian Dominic Holland. Bailey almost gave up comedy to take up a telesales job.[15]

He persevered, however, and went solo the next year with the one man show Bill Bailey's Cosmic Jam. The show was very well received and led to a recording at the Bloomsbury Theatre in London which was broadcast in 1997 on Channel 4 as a one-hour special called Bill Bailey Live. It was not until 2005 that this was released in DVD uncut and under its original title. It marked the first time that Bailey had been able to tie together his music and post-modern gags with the whimsical rambling style he is now known for.

After supporting Donna McPhail in 1995 and winning a Time Out award, he returned to Edinburgh in 1996 with a critically acclaimed show that was nominated for the Perrier Comedy Award. Amongst the other nominees was future Black Books co-star Dylan Moran, who narrowly beat him in the closest vote in the award's history.

Bailey won the Best Live Stand-Up award at the British Comedy Awards, 1999.


Though he didn't win the Perrier in 1996, the nomination was enough to get him noticed, and in 1998 the BBC gave him his own television show, Is It Bill Bailey?

This was not Bailey's first foray into television. His debut was on the children's TV show Motormouth in the late 1980s, playing piano for a mind-reading dog. The trick went hilariously wrong, and Bailey reminisced about the experience on the BBC show Room 101 with Paul Merton in 2000. In 1991, he was appearing in stand-up shows such as The Happening, Packing Them In, The Stand Up Show, and The Comedy Store. He also appeared as captain on two panel games, an ITV music quiz pilot called Pop Dogs, and the poorly received Channel 4 science fiction quiz show, Space Cadets. However Is it Bill Bailey? was the first time he had written and presented his own show.

With his star on the rise and gaining public recognition, over the next few years, Bailey made well received guest appearances on shows such as Have I Got News For You, World Cup Comedy, Room 101, Des O'Connor Tonight, Coast to Coast and three episodes of off-beat Channel 4 sitcom Spaced, in which he played comic-shop manager Bilbo Bagshot.

In 1998, Dylan Moran approached him with the pilot script for Black Books, a Channel 4 sitcom about a grumpy bookshop owner, his put-upon assistant, and their neurotic female friend. It was commissioned in 2000, and Bailey took the part of the assistant Manny Bianco, with Moran playing the owner Bernard, and Tamsin Greig the friend, Fran. Three series of six episodes were made, building up a large cult fanbase, providing the public awareness on which Bailey would build a successful national tour in 2001.

When Sean Hughes left his long-term role as a team captain on Never Mind the Buzzcocks in 2002, Bailey became his successor. His style quickly blended into the show, possibly helped by his background in music. He soon developed a rapport of sorts with host Mark Lamarr, who continually teased him about his looks and his pre-occupation with woodland animals. It was announced on 18 September 2008 that Bill would be leaving the series and be replaced by a series of guest captains including Jack Dee and Dermot O'Leary.[16] Whilst touring in 2009, Bailey joked that his main reason for leaving the show was a lack of desire to continue humming Britney Spears' Toxic to little known figures in the indie music scene. It was during this time that he also left his position as "curator" of The Museum of Curiosity, and declared his intention to "retire" from panel games, although he has since appeared on QI many more times and hosted Have I Got News For You.

Bailey has appeared frequently on the intellectual panel game QI since it began in 2003, appearing alongside host Stephen Fry and regular panellist Alan Davies. Other television appearances include a cameo role in Alan Davies' drama series Jonathan Creek as failing street magician Kenny Starkiss and obsessed guitar teacher in the "Holiday" episode of Sean Lock's Fifteen Storeys High. He later appeared with Lock again as a guest on his show TV Heaven, Telly Hell. He has also appeared twice on Friday Night with Jonathan Ross. Bill also hosted his own show "Comic's Choice", which aired in 2011.

Bailey also presented Wild Thing I Love You which began on Channel 4 on 15 October 2006. The series focuses on the protection of Britain's wild animals, and has included rehoming badgers, owls, and water voles.

Bailey has most recently appeared in the second series of the E4 teenage "dramedy" Skins playing Maxxie's Dad, Walter Oliver. In episode 1, Walter struggles with his son's desire to be a dancer, instead wishing him to become a builder, which is what he himself does for a living. Walter is married to Jackie, played by Fiona Allen.

Bailey appeared on the first episode of Grand Designs Live on 4 May 2008, helping Kevin McCloud build his eco-friendly home. In 2009 Bailey appeared in the BBC show "Hustle" as the Character "Cyclops", a side-line character. In the Autumn of 2009, Bailey presented Bill Bailey's Birdwatching Bonanza.[17]

As a continuation of Bailey's recent foray into natural history, he presented ITV1's half-hour wildlife mini-series Baboons With Bill Bailey.[18] The series was filmed in Cape Town and spanned 8 episodes, with exclusive content available on itvWILD.[19]

International tours

Bailey in concert, 2007

In 2001, Bailey began touring the globe with Bewilderness, which became a huge success. A recording of a performance in Swansea was released on DVD the same year, and the show was broadcast on Channel 4 that Christmas. A modified version of it also proved successful in America, and in 2002 Bill released a CD of a recording at the WestBeth Theatre in New York. The show contained all his trademarks, popular music parodies (such as Unisex Chip Shop, a Billy Bragg tribute which he actually performed with Billy Bragg at the 2005 Glastonbury Festival), "three men in a pub" jokes (including one in the style of Geoffrey Chaucer) and deconstructions of television themes such as Countdown and The Magic Roundabout. A 'Bewilderness' CD was sold outside gigs, which was actually just a mixture of studio recordings of songs and monologues Bill had performed in the past – it was later released in shops as Bill Bailey: The Ultimate Collection... Ever!. That same year he also presented a Channel 4 countdown, Top Ten Prog Rock.

Bailey premiered his show Part Troll at the 2003 Edinburgh Festival Fringe. A critical and commercial success, he then transferred it to the West End where tickets sold out in under 24 hours, and new dates had to be added. Since then he has toured it all over the UK as well as in America, Australia and New Zealand. The show marked the first time Bailey had really tackled political material, as he expanded on subjects such as the war on Iraq, which he had only touched upon before in his Bewilderness New York show. He also talks extensively on drugs, at one point asking the audience to name different ways of baking cannabis. A DVD was released in 2004.

2005 finally saw the release of his 1995 show Bill Bailey's Cosmic Jam. The 2-disc set also contained a director's cut of Bewilderness, which featured a routine on Stephen Hawking's A Brief History of Time not seen in the original version.

Bailey performed at show at the 2006 Edinburgh Festival Fringe entitled "Steampunk". It looked set to become the fastest selling fringe show ever (beating the record Bailey set with The Odd Couple in 2005). But a ticketing mix-up forced the last 10% of tickets to be purchased in person from the venue rather than pre-booked, meaning the venue filled at a slower overall rate than it should have.

Bailey appeared at the Beautiful Days festival in August 2007. The UK leg of the Tinselworm tour enjoyed 3 sell-out nights at the MEN Arena in Manchester, Europe's largest indoor arena, and culminated with a sell-out performance at Wembley Arena.

Early in 2007, a petition was started to express fans' wishes to see him cast as a dwarf in the 2010 film The Hobbit, after his stand-up routine mentioned auditioning for Gimli in The Lord of the Rings. The petition reached its goal in the early days of January, and was sent to the producers. It was hoped that as the Tinselworm tour took him to Wellington in New Zealand where the film is in pre-production, that he would be able to audition.[20]

Bill Bailey's most recent tour, titled Dandelion Mind, was released on DVD on 22 November 2010.

Other appearances




  • Voice for a BMW Mini advertising campaign
  • Writer and performer for a series of British Airways adverts in which, through the use of music, he took a humorous look at several locations around the world
  • Guest panellist on BBC Radio show I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue


  • Juror No. 4 in Twelve Angry Men, directed by Guy Masterson for the 2003 Edinburgh Festival Fringe
  • Panelist on Radio 4's show Just a Minute (twice)
  • 4 February: Panelist (for a second time) on Radio 4's show The 99p Challenge
  • 21 October: Presented Good Vibrations: The History of the Theremin on Radio 4





  • A minor part in Simon Pegg's and Edgar Wright's film Hot Fuzz, as a pair of desk sergeant twins. (Bailey had originally meant to also appear in Pegg and Wright's earlier film, Shaun of the Dead. but the commentary included with the DVD of that movie explains that he was busy with other commitments at the time.)
  • February: Organised, produced, and starred in West End show Pinter's People, a collection of sketches by playwright Harold Pinter. The show also starred Kevin Eldon, Sally Phillips and Geraldine McNulty
  • March: Appeared at the International Human Beatbox Convention at the South Bank Centre in London, introducing Shlomo to the stage for the climax of the concert, as well as showing off his own beatboxing
  • 4 May: Guest presenter for an episode of BBC One's Have I Got News for You (a role he returned to on 9 May 2008)
  • July: Narrator for 'Nessy Tales', a series of animated reading books for dyslexic children


Bill Bailey hosting So You Think You're Funny



Bailey is a talented pianist and guitarist, and has perfect pitch; of this he has said

"Perfect pitch ... occurs entirely at random in about one in every 10,000 of us, and I'm one of them. From as early as I can remember, I was able to pick out the pitch of things, not just instruments but washing machines, vacuum cleaners, dentists' drills."[24]

His stand-up routines often feature music from genres such as jazz, rock (most notably prog rock from the early seventies), drum'n'bass, rave and classical, usually for comic value. Favourite instruments include the keyboard, guitar, theremin, kazoo and bongos. He also mentioned in an interview that he has achieved Grade 6 Clarinet. He was part of punk band Beergut 100,[25] which he founded in 1995 with comedy writer Jim Miller and also featured Martin Trenaman and Phil Whelans, with Kevin Eldon as lead singer.[26] The band performed at the 2006 Edinburgh Festival Fringe.[27] Trenaman and Welans had previously appeared in Cosmic Jam under the name "The Stan Ellis Experiment", and Trenaman and Eldon later featured with John Moloney in the Kraftwerk homage "Das Hokey Kokey" on the Part Troll tour. Bill claims that he and the three other performers are a Kraftwerk tribute band called Augenblick. To mark the final gig of the Part Troll tour on 1 January 2005 the band reappeared on stage after the "Das Hokey Kokey" joke to play an hour-long encore of music.

In February 2007, Bill appeared on two occasions with the BBC Concert Orchestra and Anne Dudley in a show entitled Cosmic Shindig. Performed in The Colosseum in Watford on 24 February and in the Queen Elizabeth Hall on 26 February, the show contained orchestrally accompanied versions of many of Bill's previously performed songs, an exploration of the instruments of the orchestra and a number of new pieces of music. The Queen Elizabeth Hall performance was aired on BBC Radio 3 on 16 March 2007 as a part of Comic Relief 2007.

Bill had planned to put himself forward as Britain's Eurovision entry in 2008, as a result of several fan petitions encouraging him to do so.[28]

In October 2008 he performed Bill Bailey's Remarkable Guide to the Orchestra at the Royal Albert Hall with the BBC Concert Orchestra, conducted by Anne Dudley.[29]

In 2009, Bailey presented a project about the explorer and naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace, in the form of an Indonesian travelogue.[30] Bailey said in an interview that Wallace had been "airbrushed out of history", and that he feels a "real affinity" with him.

In November 2009 he was a guest on Private Passions, the biographical music discussion programme on BBC Radio 3.[31]

In July 2011, Bailey performed at the Sonisphere Festival in Knebworth, headlining the Saturn Stage.[32]


  • Cosmic Jam (1995)
  • Bewilderness (2001)
  • Part Troll (2004)
  • Steampunk (2006) (Edinburgh Festival)
  • Tinselworm (2008)
  • Bill Bailey Live (2008–09) (Theatre Tour with Some Material from Tinselworm, but Mostly New Material)
  • Remarkable Guide to the Orchestra (2009)
  • Dandelion Mind (2010)
  • Dandelion Mind - Gently Modified (2011)

DVD releases

Title Released Notes
Bewilderness 12 November 2001 Live at Swansea's Grand Theatre
Part Troll 22 November 2004 Live at London's HMV Hammersmith Apollo
Cosmic Jam 7 November 2005 Live at London's Bloomsbury Theatre
Tinselworm 10 November 2008 Live at London's Wembley Arena
Remarkable Guide to the Orchestra 23 November 2009 Live at London's Royal Albert Hall
Dandelion Mind 22 November 2010 Live at Dublin's The O2



  1. ^ a b "Bill Bailey". screenonline. 
  2. ^ a b "@BillBailey". Twitter. "@BillBailey". Twitter. "@BillBailey". Twitter. 
  3. ^ a b Philby, Charlotte (5 December 2009). "Stand up guy: Bill Bailey on music, marriage and the moment he refused to sell out". The Independent (London). Retrieved 13 August 2010. 
  4. ^ "The 100 Greatest Stand-Ups – Announcements – Greatest Stand-Ups of All Time!". Channel 4. 11 April 2010. Retrieved 26 August 2011. 
  5. ^ a b c "Desert Island Discs featuring Bill Bailey". Desert Island Discs. BBC. Radio 4. 8 June 2008.
  6. ^ "Comedy Map of Britain". News Events & Diary. King Edward's School, Bath. 2007. Archived from the original on 29 September 2007. Retrieved 2 February 2007. 
  7. ^ "People are obsessed by how I look", The Independent, 21 November 2008.
  8. ^ "Episode 1 – West London to the West Country". The Comedy Map of Britain. BBC 2. 27 January 2007.
  9. ^ "YouTube: Bill Bailey discusses the Famous Five on Room 101". 
  10. ^ Ross, Deborah (7 October 2002). "Bill Bailey: The laid-back stand-up guy". The Independent. Retrieved 1 September 2011. 
  11. ^ "Bill Bailey – Celebrity fans – Interviews". FourFourTwo. 31 July 2009. Retrieved 26 August 2011. 
  12. ^ now to post a comment! (3 May 2010). "Sixty Seconds". YouTube. Retrieved 26 August 2011. 
  13. ^ "Bill Bailey". Fawcett Society. Retrieved 22 August 2011. 
  14. ^ Moore, Suzanne (26 February 2011). "What's the nicest thing a man can do for a woman? Shout at a bigot". The Guardian. Retrieved 22 August 2011. 
  15. ^ "Bill Bailey: For whom the Bill toils". The Independent (London). 18 November 2004. 
  16. ^ "Bailey says goodbye to Buzzcocks". BBC News. 18 September 2008. Retrieved 27 March 2010. 
  17. ^ "Bird Watching Bonanza on Sky". 6 January 2010. Retrieved 26 August 2011. 
  18. ^ "Something hairy’s on the telly tonight! Also features baboons". Bill Bailey. 8 April 2011. Retrieved 26 August 2011. 
  19. ^ "ITV – Baboons with Bill Bailey". itvWILD. Retrieved 26 August 2011. 
  20. ^ "All That Glitters". Wired, Croydon's listings magazine. Retrieved 31 December 2007. 
  21. ^
  22. ^ "Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2008". Bill Bailey. Retrieved 8 October 2011. 
  23. ^ "A Quiet Word With Bill Bailey". Official site. Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Retrieved 31 July 2011. 
  24. ^ Bailey, Bill (15 October2004). "Weird science". The Guardian (London). Retrieved 13 April 2010. 
  25. ^ Simon Neville (2006). "Looking back at a week of Fringe madness". The Scotsman. UK. Retrieved 2 January 2007. 
  26. ^ Natbat (2006). "Kevin Eldon Interview". Retrieved 2 January 2007. 
  27. ^ "The essential guide to Edinburgh". Special report Edinburgh 2006 (London). 28 July 2006.,,1826826,00.html. Retrieved 2 January 2007. 
  28. ^ "Eurovision". Bill Bailey. Retrieved 8 October 2011. 
  29. ^ Logan, Brian (17 October 2008). "Bill Bailey's Remarkable Guide to the Orchestra". The Guardian (London). Retrieved 20 October 2008. 
  30. ^ "Comedian Bill Bailey's new show about Alfred Russel Wallace". The Alfred Russel Wallace Website. Retrieved 9 November 2010. 
  31. ^ 2 days left. "BBC Radio 3". BBC. Retrieved 26 August 2011. 
  32. ^ Bhamra, Satvir. "Bill Bailey to headline Sonisphere". Retrieved 26 August 2011. 
  33. ^ "Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy", IMDB
  34. ^ "Chalet Girl", IMDB
  35. ^

External links

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