New Interview, Mark Thomas

Mark Thomas

Mark Thomas has been winding people up for three decades. He is currently appearing at the Leicester Square Theatre with his new show, 100 Acts of Minor Dissent, which charts his ongoing project of a century of protests, from busking illegally in Camden to putting stickers with slogans where they shouldn't be put. I interviewed him in a coffee shop near Clapham South station close to where he lives. This is very much Thomas's manor. He was born nearby, his sister is a vicar nearby. As we take a walk after our chat we pass a former cinema that is now a wine warehouse in an art deco building where Thomas used to go to Saturday morning pictures. Later on he mentions working with his builder father in a house in a nearby side street and putting his Dr Martened foot in the wrong place and going through the roof. Forty years on Mark Thomas is still putting the boot in. 

BD: You've been doing this sort of thing for a while now. Has your family got used to your day job yet?

MT: When we were making the telly programme we needed to hire a missile and they could only deliver it on a Saturday when there was nobody is in the office, so they put it in the front garden. I remember my son shouting 'dad, there's a missile in the garden'.

BD: You've got two teenage children - how to they rebel against a dad like you?

MT: They do their homework! It's fine if they don't want to end up like me. I said 'do what you like as long as you never work in advertising. And don't vote tory'.

BD: Is it true you've set yourself the target of finishing 100 Acts of Minor Dissent by May or you pay £1000 to UKIP?

MT: Yes and I'm hopelessly behind schedule. If I had thought it through I'd have called in 52 Acts of Minor Dissent. Things always take longer, these are important things. It's like Rosa Parks. A small gesture becomes radical, anyone can do it. But every act has got thought and design behind it. Even anarchists have to be organised. It's like listening to free-form jazz -  there's a lot more structure than you think.

BD: Is this a return to your early political activist days?

Mark ThomasMT: Yes, but this is far more arty. There's an exhibition in Sheffield at the end of it, which makes a change from bringing out a stand-up DVD. I'm also doing a one-off 5-hour show charting all the acts. I like the idea of the definitive timescale and only ever doing one show and then it is over. After Bravo Figaro! I wanted to do a show that was a bit more fucking about, creative mayhem.

BD: You been in a bit of trouble along the way…

MT: At the moment I've got four legal actions going on. I know a lot of lawyers! 

BD: Where do you stand politically?

MT: What I find really funny is just the endless debate. I've never aligned myself to any political party. Green would be the nearest – they are fantastically disorganised and I kind of fit in with that. I can't belong to a group. I became an atheist at 8, then an anarchist at 15, a Trostkyite at 19, kicked out at 20. Where am I now? Telling my daughter 'you shouldn't go out dressed like that'. I'm a confused liberal, an angry liberal. Human rights are important – I'm pro-referendum on the European Union. 

BD: You've been touring the UK while squeezing in the Acts too...

MT: I  always like to muck about for five minutes at the end of each show. I was in Bristol the other night and I said 'you are lovely people, very left wing – it's probably slavery guilt isn't it?'

BD: Do you feel you are preaching to the converted in your shows?

MT: Not at all, I found that out during my Manifesto tour. At every gig someone wanted to bring back hanging. People saying that people who don't get over 4 GCSEs should be castrated. You'd get the most reactionary views. 

BD: Are you as angry now as when you started out in stand-up three decades ago?

MT: The younger version of me wouldn't even talk to me. Anger is a weird word. It just comes down to whether something is right or wrong. But I've got more to be happy about. In terms of personal things, your priorities change. I remember doing an action at an arms fair and was about to be arrested and thinking 'I'm going to miss tea with the kids' and I wondered whether I should be doing this. 

BD: You current arty protests sound like Situationism, the sort of thing Malcolm McLaren talked about.

MT: I call it my arts and crafts period, my William Morris period. I like the fact that there is something quite nice about being 50 and having to get up at 3am to stick a lot of posters up, I'm too old and too overweight to run away if the police come, I'd have to negotiate!




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