Back in the day, there was one surefire way of sussing out whether someone was a proper comedy fan. You'd ask them if they knew Kevin Eldon. If they reacted with a furrowed brow accompanied by goldfish-like flapping of clueless lips, you knew you were in fact dealing with a comedy dolt. A helplessly misguided knowledge-abyss. The sort of person who – if asked to name their top comic performances of all time – would undoubtedly suggest Joe McGann in The Upper Hand, and Grotbags.
All right, we're being slightly harsh. Fact is, apart from a hardcore minority of comedy coinosseurs, there was a time when nobody knew Kevin Eldon's name. He was instead referred to by a number of other handles, including "Oh him", "What's he called?" and "He's in everything". Because Kevin Eldon, or "The Actor Kevin Eldon" as Stewart Lee re-dubbed him, has indeed been in everything. Or all the good things, anyway. Fist of Fun. Alan Partridge. Big Train. Jam. Brass Eye. Smack the Pony. Spaced. Black Books. Green Wing. Nathan Barley. The IT Crowd. Nighty Night. And his very own sketch show, It's Kevin, which actually put his name out there for the first time. Much to the annoyance of those of us who, like weird Gollums of comedy, wanted to keep his name all to ourselves.
But even people who've been wise to Eldon all along may be surprised to learn he started off as a musician rather than a comedian. This was back in the late 70s – a bleak era when the skies were the colour of stained teatowels, 97% of all Britons were in the National Front, and the only programmes on TV were This Is Your Life, The Money Programme, and public informationfilms telling children they were about to drown in reservoirs. Amidst all this, the young Kevin Eldon was the lead singer of Virginia Doesn't, whose career peaks included supporting The Jam and even recording a session with DJ deity John Peel.
Today's Eldon hasn't got too many kind things to say about his previous self's music and "sub-Weller lyrics", but the band-dabbling carried on into the 80s. Then came the New Romantic singers, with their sleek suits and frilly shirts and sexy sexy man-mascara, who made Kevin take a good long look at his rugby shirt and ripped jeans, and realise his time was up. Luckily, his gifts for on-stage improv, mimicry and general chuckle-making were already confirmed by that point, so moving onto comedy was a natural sort of progression. Striking up a friendship with young stand-up Stewart Lee led to his memorable turns on 90s sketch show Fist of Fun and the creation of his terrifying alter ego Simon Quinlank, the KING OF HOBBIES (capitalisation is required) and purveyor of weak lemon drinks.
Since then, he has – like we say – been in everything. Fans all have their own favourite version of Eldon. Whether it's his fake Rod Hull from Fist of Fun, or Julia Davis's downtrodden husband in Nighty Night, or the happy go lucky racist from I'm Alan Partridge. Speaking of extremely funny racism, he also did a marvellous Hitler on his sketch show – a Hitler with the voice of Beatles producer George Martin, discussing the rise of "Nazimania". Of course, Kevin himself is a Buddhist and isn't too interested in annexing nations, or even being a bona fide celebrity. Once asked how far he could walk without being recognised, he answered: "The length of Britain". Seems like him off Alan Partridge is still our little secret after all.