DEPENDING on your age you will recognise Ian Sharrock – the star of the upcoming production of ‘Raffles – The Mystery of the Murdered Thief’ at Basingstoke’s The Haymarket.

Either you will remember him as the rebellious, former gamekeeper during the eighties on soap opera Emmerdale or most eminently as Jed Maxwell, the world’s most ardent, neurotic Alan Partridge follower.

Talking to The Gazette before his role in the charming whodunit as Harry ‘Bunny’ Manders, a man revisiting an old life of burglary, mayhem, adventure and murder, Sharrock talked about the new show, the current state of theatre and how the cult status of an improvised scene with Steve Coogan would leave him in the comedy folklore.

“Once you’ve escaped prison like me it’s easy to get into a role like this,” Sharrock told The Gazette.

“It’s very kind of you to assume that it shouldn’t be easy to become someone involved in 
murder, but I love these roles. 

“It’s always fun playing these characters, there’s a real gentlemanly element to them with them being back in the 1900s.”

He added: “The play is very suave and sophisticated and is written by the cousin of Arthur Conan Doyle – E W Hornung, who apparently saw him doing the Sherlock Holmes stories and decided to nick the idea off him.”

‘Raffles – The Mystery of the Murdered Thief’ sees Sharrock’s Bunny rekindle his life of crime with his partner A J Raffles. 

The character is a world away from his most ‘notable’ work in the Yorkshire Dales and Norwich.

Sharrock has developed cult-like status due to his part on the iconic ‘I’m Alan Partridge’ – where his character would finally meet his radio DJ hero, before inviting and strangling him in his home.

It’s this final scene in ‘To Kill a Mocking Alan’ where Sharrock reveals an Alan Partridge face tattoo, donning a mask and shouting ‘AH-HA’ as Coogan’s character is held in an ever tightening headlock. 

It’s comedy gold – so much so an assortment of some of the greatest comedy actors hailed it as their favourite ever comedy moment in a recent UK Gold countdown.

“It’s a blessing really being recognised for that role, but it’s water under the bridge now – it’s been 20 years,” Ian said.

“It’s dead funny because I see on YouTube that there are people who have videoed themselves reenacting that end scene and it’s incredible to think that when it was originally written it was all improvised.

“It was so intense and terrifying as it’s not really a scene you can do lightly and to think those words we made up on the spot are now quoted at me all the time.

“For it to be recognised by other comedians as their favourite comedy scene is wonderful and to still have people coming up to me in the streets telling me that they’re my “biggest fan” is fantastic. I love it.”

Although Sharrock would welcome a return to the “pension-paying” role of television, his life remains dedicated to the stage. Life could have been difficult however for the actor - who was recently persuaded back to the stage by the play’s director John Goodrum despite recently suffering a stroke. But Sharrock remains in good spirits. 

“I would much rather go and see a poorly acted play than watch some rubbish on television,” Sharrock added.

“There’s a beautiful chemistry and go to a place as an audience together. Not like television where there’s no communal reaction.

“But hopefully when the audience comes they will stick around afterwards. We can have “that pint” and then go see my brother in LEEDS.”

No doubt we’ll all drink to that.

‘Raffles – The Mystery of the Murdered Thief’ comes to The Haymarket from February 15 to 18.

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