ONCE the angry young man of comedy, Ben Elton talks about turning 60 and his first tour in 15 years...

Ben Elton is showing his age. Though looking tanned and trim, and clearly as vocal as ever, he confesses he’s having trouble keeping up with change.

“I used to be known as somebody who was opinionated, but I recognised that I was increasingly less sure about some opinions – not obvious ones like supporting the welfare state or enjoying drinking – but just a world where I used to be quite radical.

“Thirty years ago, I was ahead of the curve on quite a lot of radical things. I was young and on the front foot, but now things are moving so quickly I’m having to catch up.”

As the fast-talking, Left-wing, angry young host of Saturday Live in the Eighties, he was famed for ranting about ‘Thatch’ and other victims of his acerbic wit.

He went on to co-write The Young Ones and Blackadder, a string of bestselling novels, collaborated with Andrew Lloyd Webber and Queen on West End musicals, and has penned further sitcoms including The Thin Blue Line and Upstart Crow starring David Mitchell.

He divides his time between England and Western Australia, where he’s lived for the last six years with his Australian wife, musician Sophie Gare, and their three children, Lottie, Bert and Fred, who are now at university.

They met in 1986 when he was on a tour of Australia with Rik Mayall. An all-girl Australian rock band was assigned to join them, featuring Gare on bass and they’ve been together ever since.

With the nest now empty, Elton will be embarking on his first UK stand-up tour in 15 years and agrees he has plenty of material to work with, thanks to Trump, Brexit and all the social and political changes this decade has seen.

“My wife encouraged me to do it,” he shares. “I was slightly worried that she wanted to get me out of the house. She thinks I’m a good comic. And as I spend my life reading the papers and watching the telly and saying, ‘God, I wish I was on stage tonight, I’d talk about this ridiculous thing...’ I thought, why not?

“The nest is empty. It’s a bit funny, isn’t it? One moment you’ve got three large teenagers and all their friends galumphing about the place, making toast at four in the morning, the next time it’s just you and the missus for the first time in 20 years.

“I used to do all the family cooking and the shopping. Sophie did the housework. I spent 20 years planning for the week, thinking, ‘Well if I give them chicken on Monday, I can use it for sandwiches on Tuesday and Wednesday’. For years, every morning I’d make three lots of packed lunches. But I was glad when I didn’t have to make any more sandwiches – and it’s great to have the house back. On the other hand, we miss them as well and they’ll come back – we’ll see them.”

On the tour, he’ll be doing 80 gigs in regional theatres over three-and-a-half months.

“I can’t play arenas, I can’t sell tickets like that, I’m not Michael McIntyre. I play theatres so I have to do the dates.”

He seems a bit nervous about it, and groans when I ask him how the writing’s going.

“I’m tense and already aware that the start line is coming, when I’ve got to deliver 90 minutes of a stream of consciousness and thoughts as good as I’ve done before. The ego is so fragile when you’re trying to work up new material. You’re so scared that it’s going to be s**t. I still live in fear of hecklers 30 years on, or just being interrupted in the middle of a train of thought.”

Is he going to offer the same angry delivery of old?

“My wife used to say, ‘You’re shouting a bit too much, you’re talking too fast’. But now she’s saying, ‘You’re getting too apologetic for it’. I would like to think that I’ll be a little calmer and perhaps speak a little slower, but not that much. And I’ll definitely swear less than I did in the Eighties.”

He’s had flak over the years from critics, who accused him of becoming part of the ‘establishment’ he once railed against, as he made his millions and collaborated with Tory-supporter Andrew Lloyd Webber.

“I never claimed to be ‘anti-establishment’,” he retorts, although the criticism still clearly hurts. “I have been consistent in my politics all my life. I vote Labour. I believe in the welfare state. My kids are state-educated. I pay my tax with great care. I believe the better-off should make a bigger contribution.”

As for turning 60, he’s not bothered. He says he drinks most nights but exercises every day and loves paddleboarding.

“I always feel like I’m 21. I’m as eager, and as committed to expressing myself to the best of my ability, to as many people as I can.”

* Ben Elton will be at Lighthouse Poole on Friday, November 8.

Identity Crisis by Ben Elton is published by Bantam Press, priced £20.