Bill Bailey

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Bill Bailey (born Mark Bailey 13 January 1965, Bath, Somerset) is an English stand-up comedian, musician and actor. As well as his extensive stand-up work, Bailey is well known for his appearances on Have I Got News for You, Never Mind the Buzzcocks, QI and Black Books.

Bailey was listed by The Observer as one of the 50 funniest acts in British comedy in 2003, and in 2007 he was voted number seven on Channel 4’s hundred greatest stand-ups.


1 Personal life

2 Career

2.1 Early stand-up

2.2 Television

2.3 International tours

2.4 Other appearances

2.5 Music

2.6 Future

3 Selected works

3.1 Tours

3.2 DVDs

3.3 Books

3.4 TV/Film

4 References

5 External links


Personal life

Bailey spent the majority of his childhood in Keynsham, a town situated between Bath and Bristol in the West of England. His father was a general 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.

Bailey was educated at King Edward’s School, an independent school in Bath 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.

He started an English degree at Westfield College but left after a year.

He spent his early years listening to Monty Python records, and rehearsing with a band called the “Famous Five”, who he himself confesses were very bad but still much better than him and who, unexpectedly, had only four members. 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 (mentioned in an interview with Australian newspaper Post). 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 Franais awards.

An avid Star Trek fan, he named his son (born 2003) after the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine character Dax 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 in London and supports Queens Park Rangers.


Early stand-up

Bailey began touring the country with other comedians such as Mark Lamarr. In 1986 he formed a double act, the Rubber Bishops, with Toby Longworth (a former fellow pupil at King Edward’s Bath) who was replaced in 1988 by Martin Stubbs. 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.

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 aging 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 confessed in an interview with The Independent that he almost gave it up to do a telesales job.

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 1996 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 sci-fi 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 the 18th of 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. 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.

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.

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 will be presenting, Bill Bailey’s Big Bird Watch.

International tours

Bailey in concert, 2007 Photo: Brian Marks

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 (The previous record holder also being Bailey in 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..

Other appearances

In 2000 he had a small role in British comedy film Saving Grace, and also voiced the sperm whale in 2005’s The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy movie.

In 2002, Bailey provided the voice for a BMW Mini advertising campaign, as well as writing and performing a series of British Airways adverts in which, through the use of music, he took a humorous look at several locations around the world.

Bailey has also performed dramatic roles in two Edinburgh Festival Fringe shows, both directed by Guy Masterson. He played Juror #4 in a 2003 version of Twelve Angry Men featuring comedians in the roles of the jurors and also co-starred as Oscar in a 2005 production of The Odd Couple alongside Alan Davies.

Radio appearances include two episodes each of Chain Reaction, The 99p Challenge, I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue, and three episodes of Just a Minute, as well as presenting Good Vibrations: The History of the Theremin, co-hosting the first series of The Museum Of Curiosity and appearing on Loose Ends.

In 2005, he appeared in Birmingham, as an act for “Jasper Carrott’s Rock with Laughter”. He appeared alongside performers such as Bonnie Tyler, Jasper Carrott, Lenny Henry, Bobby Davro and the Lord of the Dance troupe.

Bill Bailey was due to appear in Shaun of the Dead, but in the commentary included with the DVD Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright said that he was not in the film because he was busy with other commitments at the time. He did however have two minor roles as the desk sergeant twins in Pegg and Wright’s 2007 film Hot Fuzz.

Bill Bailey hosting So You Think You’re Funny.

In February 2007 Bailey organised, produced and starred in a West End show called Pinter’s People, a collection of sketches by playwright Harold Pinter. The show also starred Kevin Eldon, Sally Phillips and Geraldine McNulty.

In March 2007, Bill Bailey 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.

On 4 May 2007, he appeared as the guest presenter of BBC One’s Have I Got News for You and again on the 9 May 2008.

In July 2007, Bill Bailey narrated a series of animated reading books for dyslexic children called ‘Nessy Tales’.

On 9 June 2008 Bailey was the guest on Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs and, later the same day, appeared in the first episode of an adaptation of The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists on the same station.

Also in June Bill made a guest appearance on the Australian show ‘Rove Live’ and whilst in a questionnaire to win $20 in 20 seconds, answered the question; “Who would you turn gay for?” by replying; “The pope”

In September, he was one of the hosts of the So You Think You’re Funny comedy gala at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

On 12 November 2008, Bill was one of the performers of “We Are Most Amused”, a special comedy performance to celebrate the 60th birthday of Prince Charles.


Bailey is a talented pianist and guitarist and has perfect pitch. 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 also part of punk band Beergut 100, which he founded in 1995 with comedy writer Jim Miller and also featured Martin Trenaman and Phil Whelans, with Kevin Eldon as lead singer. The band performed at the 2006 Edinburgh Festival Fringe. 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.

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.

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


As of September 2008, Bailey is working on a film project about the explorer and naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace, in the form of an Indonesian travelogue. Bailey said in an interview that Wallace had been “airbrushed out of history”, and that he feels a “real affinity” with him.

Selected works


Cosmic Jam (1995)

Bewilderness (2001)

Part Troll (2004)

Steampunk (2006)

Tinselworm (2008)

Bill Bailey Remarkable Guide to the Orchestra (2009)


Bewilderness (12 November, 2001)

Part Troll (22 November, 2004)

Cosmic Jam (7 November, 2005)

Bill Bailey – The Classic Collection (27 November, 2006) (Boxset featuring Bewilderness, Part Troll and Cosmic Jam)

Tinselworm (10 November, 2008)

Bill Bailey – The Collector’s Edition (10 November, 2008) (Boxset featuring Bewilderness, Part Troll, Cosmic Jam and Tinselworm)

Bill Bailey’s Remarkable Guide to the Orchestra (23 November, 2009)

Bill Bailey – The Inevitable Boxset (23 November, 2009) (Boxset featuring Bewilderness, Part Troll, Cosmic Jam, Tinselworm and Bill Bailey’s Remarkable Guide to the Orchestra)


The Many Moods of Bill Bailey (A song book which collects 9 of Bill’s most popular songs from the period of 1995-2005. Including instructions from Bill himself (which ventures into how they were created) and pictures) (2007)


Blue Heaven (Channel 4 TV series) (1994)

Asylum (1996)

Space Cadets (1997) (Regular Team Captain)

Is It Bill Bailey? (1998)

Spaced (19992001)

Have I Got News for You (Guest – 1999, 2001, 2005. Guest Presenter – 2007, 2008, 2009)

Saving Grace (2000)

Maid Marian and her Merry Men (1992). Cameo court jester to King John

Black Books (20002004)

Jonathan Creek

“Satan’s Chimney” (2001)

“The Tailor’s Dummy” (2003)

Wild West (20022004)

Never Mind the Buzzcocks (20022008) (Regular team captain)

QI (2003resent) (Frequent guest)

“15 Storeys High” – “The Holiday” (2004)

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (2005) (Voice of the Sperm Whale)

The Libertine (Small cameo role as advisor to Charles II of England).

Wild Thing I Love You (2006) (Presenter)

Top Gear (A Star in a Reasonably-Priced Car)

Hot Fuzz (2007)

Run Fatboy Run (2007) (Cameo)

Skins (2008)

Love Soup (2008)

We Are Most Amused (2008) (One-off special)


“Return of the Prodigal” (2009)

“Diamond Seeker” (2009)

Bill Bailey’s Remarkable Guide to the Orchestra (2009)

Steve’s World (2009)

Burke and Hare (2010)

Bill Bailey’s Bird Watching Bonanza (2010)


^ a b “Bill Bailey”. screenonline. 

^ a b “@BillBailey”. Twitter. “@BillBailey”. Twitter. “@BillBailey”. Twitter. 

^ “Channel 4’s 100 Greatest Stand Ups”. [dead link]

^ a b c “Desert Island Discs featuring Bill Bailey”. Desert Island Discs. BBC. Radio 4. 2008-06-08.

^ “Comedy Map of Britain”. News Events & Diary. King Edward’s School, Bath. 2007. Retrieved 2007-02-02. 

^ “People are obsessed by how I look”, The Independent, 21 November 2008.

^ “Episode 1 – West London to the West Country”. The Comedy Map of Britain. BBC 2. 2007-01-27.

^ “Bill Bailey – About Bill”. 



^ Bill Baileys Big Bird Watch

^ “All That Glitters”. Wired, Croydon’s listings magazine. Retrieved 2007-12-31. 

^ Gilded Balloon – So You Think You’re Funny

^ Simon Neville (2006). “Looking back at a week of Fringe madness”. Retrieved 2007-01-02. 

^ Natbat (2006). “Kevin Eldon Interview”. Retrieved 2007-01-02. 

^ “The essential guide to Edinburgh”. Special report Edinburgh 2006. Guardian Unlimited. 2006.,,1826826,00.html. Retrieved 2007-01-02. 

^ Eurovision (Latest News)

^ “Bill Bailey’s Remarkable Guide to the Orchestra”. Retrieved 2008-10-20. 

^ BBC Radio 3

^ “How Bill got his groove”. Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 2008-09-15. 

^ “Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy”, IMDB

External links

Wikiquote has a collection of quotations related to: Bill Bailey

Wikimedia Commons has media related to: Bill Bailey

Bill Bailey — official website.

Bill Bailey at the Internet Movie Database.

Bill Bailey discography at Discogs.

Bill Bailey at the British Film Institute’s Screenonline.

Bill Bailey on Chortle.

v  d  e

Black Books


Bernard Black Manny Bianco Fran Katzenjammer


Dylan Moran Bill Bailey Tamsin Greig


List of Black Books episodes



Bailey, Bill


Bailey, Mark


English stand-up comedian, actor and musician


24 February 1964


Bath, Somerset, England



Categories: 1964 births | English comedians | Alumni of the Royal Academy of Music | Alumni of Westfield College | English comedy musicians | English guitarists | English buskers | English stand-up comedians | Living people | People from Bath | People from Keynsham | Never Mind the BuzzcocksHidden categories: All articles with dead external links | Articles with dead external links from January 2010 | Articles needing additional references from December 2009 | All articles needing additional references

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