In July this year, he published his autobiography.
I asked if he wanted to talk about it.
“You can if you want, John,” he replied, “but to be honest with you I wasn’t happy how you wrote what I said last time in a Lancastrian accent. I know you probably didn’t intend it but I felt it made me look like a thick cunt. I’m not being funny here by the way. I’m just very conscious of the whole Wigan affliction I was born with.”
I think the thing you have to always bear in mind with me is that I’m not English or, at least, don’t think of myself as English. I am Scottish and British but not English. I have mostly lost my accent (except on some syllables, just like ARGH Tony Blair – who is Scottish – has) but I never tried to lose my accent, it just happened.
So I am maybe more aware than most about accents and regional differences (which are good).
What is happening around Manchester?
Manchester, Oldham, Rochdale, Bolton – they are all within spitting distances of each other, but they all have totally different accents like they’re 400 miles apart.
What is that all about? How on earth did that happen?
Lang may yer lum reek
So we did end up talking via Skype.
“If I quoted Johnny Vegas,” I told Jimmy, “it would not be right to write it down as if he was speaking like Stephen Fry. The character is in the intonation and, in print, you have to try to approximate the accent with the spelling and the exact words.”
“But the Wigan accent,” said Jimmy, “lends itself to comedy. I’m actually had people come up to me when I come off stage and say: You don’t actually speak like that, do you?
“If I was a professor and I had a new theory for bending space and I went to NASA and gave a big lecture there with a Wigan accent, they wouldn’t give me five minutes. When I perform down in London, I have to clean my accent up.”
“I would have thought,” I said, “that your accent is OK, because you are clear and – I know it’s not at all the same accent – but everyone is used to North West England accents because of things like Coronation Street, which is set in Manchester.”
“But that’s almost like a media northern accent,” said Jimmy. “I know a lot of kids now who speak like they’re in Hollyoaks. It’s a Northern but not Northern accent.”
“But accents are great,” I said. “The worst thing is to try to lose an accent. I do wonder how the Queen has kept her accent. In the 1930s. loads of upper class people spoke like that but now only she speaks like that.”
“My girlfriend is a linguist,” said Jimmy. “She studies languages and she reckons even the Queen’s accent has changed.”
“Anyway…” I said. “So you’re in an internet cafe?”
“It’s a run-down internet cafe full of characters,” said Jimmy. “People entering competitions all day. There’s a plethora of mad people. You don’t get people like that in Starbucks. There’s not many characters left in this world. Everyone’s kind of uniform.”
“Your book is autobiographical?” I asked.
“I started the manuscript four years ago, when I was in a particularly dark period. It was October 2010 and I warmed myself up for the winter by just writing furiously. I got up to 116,000 words and, halfway through it, my mum passed away, which kind of changed my whole world view.
“I found Jonathan Margolis on Twitter and contacted him. He was very honest. He said: Look, you’re not going to make any money out of writing because you’re not famous. But he also said: Send me the manuscript. I’ll read a bit and, if I like it, I’ll read some more.
“I thought: Well, this book’s shit, but I’ll send it to him anyway. Then he got back to me and said he loved it and had found it compelling and he kind of mentored me. He sent it to a few people he knew round the industry and the consensus he got back was: It’s not the kind of stuff we publish because it’s gritty and it’s raw.
“His advice to me was: Break it up into 50,000 segments and make a series of eBooks. Also keep the narrator, keep your voice, don’t change it but clean up the grammar.
“So there are three chunks are out there now. I’ve got another one to go. Overall, there’s 170,000 words which go from my childhood to the end of the Living TV show with Kimberley Stewart which I was on a few years ago.”
“And you cleaned up the grammar?” I asked.
“I got talking to him through Twitter and he’s very intellectual fellow. He’s from Wigan.”
“Are you happy with the result?” I asked.
“Obviously Amazon,” said Jimmy, “take most of the money. I’ve just made pennies on it.
“But it’s been well-received on Amazon: It was published in July this year and it has had forty seven 5-star reviews which, for someone like me who’s on the dole with nobody behind them and no formal education to speak of … it’s not too bad, you know? It was done on a shoestring; there’s nobody pushing it; there’s no publishers; it’s just a bloke in Wigan.
“I mean, to send something to a well-respected journalist like Jonathan Margolis and to be told your writing is good, that’s…
“The book is just basically about me. It’s an interesting insight or – if you don’t like me – it’s a cautionary tale of how not to live your life.”
“Do you think you might turn the book into a stage show?” I asked.
“The book is meant to be funny in parts,” said Jimmy, “but I wouldn’t know how to transpose that onto a stage. I grew up in the 1970s when comedians told jokes and I know on stage I’m hiding behind a persona. I suppose the book is the most honest and original thing I’ve ever done. I don’t know which way to take it.”
There is a clip on YouTube of Jimmy on-stage at Manchester’s Comedy Store in 2010.