Funnyman Phil reflects on his really Cool career

Phil Cool on stage
Phil Cool on stage

When a teenage Phil Martin had a huge bust-up with his electrician boss in Chorley, little did he know it would be the boost he needed to make it into showbusiness.

Better known as Phil Cool, the impressionist comedian went on to become one of the most recognised faces in Britain – and he has had plenty of them!

“It was quite a transition,” he says. “From being an electrician to becoming a household name in the 1980s.”

He never actually fully qualified to be an electrician though, after failing to complete his apprenticeship following the row.

Phil had never really settled into school life either, being more interested in writing songs than learning arithmetic.

“I went to St Augustine’s Boys’ School, and it was a hell-hole of a place,” he remembers. “It’s been demolished now, and I was glad to get shut of the place.

“It was awful. The only things I was ever good at were art and writing.

“My compositions used to get read out in class, but apart from that, I hated it.”

“I left school at 15 and worked in a cotton mill, doing a laborious warehouse job,” he added.

“My mum knew it was a dead-end job, so she asked a local electrician about an apprenticeship.

“I almost completed it but then I had a big bust-up with the boss and left.

“I’d always had a hankering for song-writing, and I used to get up on occasion and sing in public.

“I started putting some funny bits into the songs, impressions, and that took over really.”

Known as the original Mr Rubber Face, Phil is famous for his impressions, from the Pope to Sylvester Stallone, Tina Turner to Forrest Gump, Jack Nicholson to Bugs Bunny, and even David Attenborough to a seahorse.

Phil, who now lives near Clitheroe with his wife Beverley, was practicing his performances in Preston when he was spotted by an agent.

“I was working with a band which had a residency at the New Ship Inn every Monday,” he explains.

“I did a show in between their sets, and gathered material for about a year.

“I was seen by an agent from Wigan, and he offered me a chance to be part of a charity event to see if I had potential.

“He said ‘I don’t think you’re very good yet, but you’ll be all right’ and he got me a few gigs after that.”

In 1984, Phil joined one of his idol’s management teams – Jasper Carrot.

A producer from the BBC soon spotted him working as an audience ‘warm up’ for the satirical television programme Spitting Image, and he joined up for the popular daytime TV show, Pebble Mill at One.

The midweek magazine show on BBC1 at 1pm, which featured guests such as Eric Morecambe, was a huge stepping stone for Phil.

“The impact was fantastic,” he says. “I made such an impression on the bosses that they gave me my own pilot show.

“It was sent to London and they wanted me to do a series. I got three five-minute shows at first, which were aired on BBC2 in the evening, and that was enough to get my name known.”

A name, it turns out, which was chosen by default.

“I was trying to get into the actors’ union, but there was already a Manchester singer called Phil Martin,” Phil explains.

“My manager suggested Phil Cool Martin but the singer still didn’t approve, so my manager said we should drop the ‘Martin’ and stick with ‘Cool’.

“That was back in 1980.”

After the big TV break, Phil was soon filling theatres and splitting the sides of thousands of audience members.

He reminisces: “I’d spent years getting to that point.

“I’d done some awful places before that, I’d been booed.

“This was absolutely fantastic though. My ambition in life had been to escape those awful places and do theatres.

“The only theatre I’d done before that was Chorley Little Theatre, which I loved, but I wanted to be like Billy Connolly, and this was a dream come true.

“The first big night was at the Leeds Grand Theatre in 1985 – I don’t think anything will ever top that.

“It was packed with more than 1,600 people, and they had to sell standing tickets at the back.”

Other highlights for Phil included performing in front of Prince Charles and Princess Diana at the London Palladium, and for the Prince and Camilla during the Royal Variety Show.

He also went on to do two series of a new show called ‘Cool It’ on BBC1, which bagged him an award.

“I was the only impressionist to carry a full show with stand-up comedy,” he says.

“It was just me in front of a camera. No guests or dancers.

“You can’t beat a live audience though, I much prefer doing that, especially in small intimate venues.”

In fact, he’s making a return to his hometown later this year, with a special show at Chorley Little Theatre.

He’s joining forces with his musical son Joe, and the pair will be performing a selection of original songs, both serious and funny – with some comedy from Phil thrown in for good measure.

It will give Phil a chance to revert back to the type of work he did in his younger years.

“I’m 66 now, I’ve reached retirement,” he says.

“I’m sick and tired of travelling – the motorways and roads are so bad now.

“It’s more like a hobby now, and I am staying in my local area.

“The music is country and folk style, and it’s a mixture of songs written by myself and my son.

“I started writing songs when I was 16, and I’ve started resurrecting some of those and updating them.”

In the meantime though, people can get a full insight into Phil’s experiences in his autobiographical book entitled Phil Cool – Stand Up Chameleon.

It’s just been released as an e-book, and mentions his childhood and work in Chorley, before going on to talk about his time in the spotlight.

‘An Evening of Comedy and Music with Phil Cool and Joe Martin’ is on September 27, described as “a rare public appearance from the world’s only ‘stand-up chameleon’ in a night of comedy and music with his multi-talented son.”

Tickets are £15 from Malcolm’s Musicland on Chapel Street, or call 01257 264362.