This is the first in what, we hope, will become a regular feature as we look to catch up with some of the old Aylesburians scattered out in the world. The series is starting with a bang, as we spoke to the double BAFTA award winning scriptwriter and cartoonist Andy Riley.
Andy is best known as the creator of the best-selling The Book of Bunny Suicides series, and his printed works have so far sold around one and a half million copies worldwide. He is also a comedy writer, and has written throughout his career in partnership with fellow old boy of the school Kevin Cecil. They have won BAFTAs for Robbie the Reindeer and the sitcom Black Books, and are credited writers on an array of shows including Little Britain, The Armstrong and Miller show, and Spitting Image. Not to be constrained to the small screen, they have written for the films Gnomeo and Juliet and Aardman’s The Pirates!
Hi Andy. How has life treated you since AGS?
That’s a long time you’re talking about there! I suppose I’ve done quite well. I’ve had two different careers as a writer and cartoonist, so I feel pleased to have done two things that I wanted to do.
What’s been the highlight of your career?
With the writing, it’s probably the second BAFTA. That was Best Sitcom for Black Books in ’05, and that’s really the gold medal in comedy writing. It’s my ambition to win it again, but I haven’t been invited back since!
What are your memories of AGS?
I remember we were all obsessed with forming bands. At one stage in my year there were about 8 different bands, there was a lot of friendly and unfriendly rivalry, and playing the support slot at the school dance became the pinnacle of achievement!
Did you have a favourite teacher when you were at the school?
There was one that we called Mad Dog, who had some out there opinions like ‘80% of the world population should be sterilised’ and told rude anecdotes from his time in the navy. But then he’d show off these perfect essays he had written, as long as you just worked from his written stuff then you’d be ok.
What kind of pupil were you?
I was rubbish at sport, so I drew a lot and played guitar. When I got there it had such good sports facilities, I thought ‘right, time to find my sport’. The best I achieved was being average at basketball, and I spent ages bouncing off bigger kids at rugby trying to impress the teacher. When I lost my third successive game of squash without scoring a point I thought I should give up and be one of the arty kids.
How did AGS influence your career?
It certainly taught me how to get a lot of work done quickly! I still think that we had too much homework, we had crate-loads of the stuff every day!
The school then weren’t keen on me switching from Latin to Art O-level to pursue a career as a cartoonist. But that aside it was a very well-run place, almost entirely peopled by good teachers who cared about us. In retrospect I realise that it was actually one of the better-run places I’ve come across in my life!
At school, did you and Kevin ever imagine the success that you would have together?
At the time, I had no idea that comedy writing was even a job, there was no leaflet in the careers room. Kev did; at 13 he read a book on the history of British comedy and planned it all out from then. He never told me he had a master plan, I just tagged along because he looked interesting!
What advice have you got for the current AGS boys?
Meet some girls. But I’m pretty sure they’ll be trying to do that anyway!