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Last Updated: Friday, 18 March, 2005, 18:18 GMT
Faces of the week
Faces of the week

Our regular look at some of the faces which have made the news this week. Above are Peter Kay (main picture), with Cormac Murphy O'Connor, Jane Fonda, Senator Edward Kennedy and Janet Reger.

Peter Kay

Peter Kay's homespun humour has won two more plaudits from the public: named Britain's top comic in a survey of 10,000 people and enjoying the reflected glory of Number One chart success with Tony Christie's Is This the Way to Amarillo?

True, Kay only mimes on the Comic Relief video of Christie's '70s hit, and surveys, like the one conducted by Jongleurs Comedy Clubs, come thick and fast in an era seemingly obsessed by lists.

I love listening to what goes on around me - aunties arriving and people saying, 'When are you going?' before they've even sat down
Peter Kay
But there's no denying the popularity of Peter Kay, whose Phoenix Nights television series gave Amarillo a running start by featuring an hilarious rendition of the song by the bouncers of his run-down working-men's club in Bolton.

The people of Bolton have been the inspiration behind Kay's brand of humour, which is fed by his acute powers of observation. Like Alan Bennett, he gathers a rich harvest simply from people's everyday conversations.

"I love listening to what goes on around me - aunties arriving and people saying, 'When are you going?' before they've even sat down."

Not that his humour was appreciated by the nuns who taught him at Mount Saint Joseph Roman Catholic School. One of his school report cards commented: "Peter seems unable to resist trying to amuse."

Tony Christie and Peter Kay
Chart-toppers: Tony Christie and Peter Kay
And so Kay thought he'd come up with a winning idea when he played the Lion in the school production of The Wizard of Oz. On the big night, with the mayor of Bolton in the audience, Kay spontaneously decided to cock his leg up a tree.

"It brought the house down," recalls Kay. But in the interval, the headmistress, a nun, told him he was letting down the school.

By contrast, his art teacher, John Clough, admired Kay's "mischievous creativity" and the comic's gratitude for his encouragement proved the basis of a lasting friendship.

But his sole GCSE in art didn't open many doors. For six years, Peter Kay drifted through jobs, working in a factory packing lavatory paper, at a bingo hall, as a cinema usher and a mobile disc jockey.

They offered few prospects for Kay, but were rich comedy pickings, which he recorded in his notebook.

Tested on Mum

Kay has never been ashamed of his lavatorial Lion, but was embarrassed at the way he got into Liverpool University in 1993. "I lied," he said. "I told them I had A-levels in psychology and English literature and they never checked."

He found the going too tough, however, and transferred to a college in Salford for a course in media performance, which included stand-up comedy: "For the first time in my life, I found something that I really loved - it just poured out of me."

Peter Kay's rise from the stand-up circuit was rapid. He won a series of awards or nominations before Phoenix Nights, in which he was the writer, director and star, made him a national favourite.

He relied on his mother, Deirdre, one of the cast, to vet his jokes: "If she doesn't laugh, they get cut."

He avoids the cringe-making style of The Office, the grotesque caricatures of Little Britain and the drunken vulgarities of Johnny Vegas. He eschews jokes about sex and politics, he hardly ever swears and he's almost teetotal.

Peter and Susan Kay
Kay and his wife Susan
Nevertheless, brewers John Smith chose Kay for a series of television commercials, ruining a Saturday morning game of "keepie-up" in the park by punting the ball into a backyard and telling his mother to pack her bags and move out because he needs her room for a snooker table.

Kay's special appeal means you still find yourself chuckling at the umpteenth viewing.

He has little regard for "clever-dick" shows such as They Think It's All Over, but jumped at the chance to play a cameo as a drayman in Coronation Street.

Peter Kay, 31, still lives in Bolton with his wife, Susan, and their son, Charlie: "I love being at home and being near the people I've always known. People think you have to go to London, but I'd sooner give up than move there."

But then he's never been a follower of fashion. The man who first introduced him to TV, Channel 4's director of television, Kevin Lygo, says Kay is not in the tradition of the modern comedian. But he is, says Lygo, "blessed with funny bones".

Abortion Challenge: Cardinal Murphy O'Connor
Cormac Murphy O'Connor

Nervous politicians played down any notion that abortion should play a major role in the election campaign after Cardinal Cormac Murphy O'Connor, Archbishop of Westminster, said it was a "key issue". Although the Catholic church still wants an end to all abortions, the Archbishop "commended" Conservative leader Michael Howard's call for a cut in the legal abortion time limit from 24 to 20 weeks. But later, the Cardinal said he wasn't suggesting Catholics should support one particular party.

Jane Fonda: Sex claim
Jane Fonda

Oscar-winning actress Jane Fonda told how she was forced to take part in threesomes, once involving a prostitute, to please her former husband, director Roger Vadim. In her autobiography, Fonda, 67, describes Vadim, who died in 2000, as "cruel and misogynistic" and blames him for eating disorders that have plagued her for much of her life. Once known as Hanoi Jane after posing beside an enemy tank in the Vietnam war, Fonda divorced Vadim in 1973 and married twice more.

Shunning Sinn Fein: Senator Edward Kennedy
Senator Edward Kennedy

The long romance between Irish Americans and Sinn Fein was dealt a blow when Senator Edward Kennedy cancelled his traditional St. Patrick's Day meeting with Gerry Adams. The senator called for the IRA to disband and accused it and Sinn Fein of trying to cover up the murder of Belfast man Robert McCartney. He said modern western democratic parties should not have private armies and "cannot be involved in criminality and violence".

Janet Reger: Undies queen dies
Janet Reger

The woman whose name became synonymous with sexy underwear, Janet Reger, died from cancer at 69. She took the golden era of Hollywood as her inspiration and, instead of girdles, corsets, slips and bras, introduced Britain to lingerie and reacquainted it with the suspender belt. Despite her huge influence on the market, when she was asked what underwear attracted a man, she had a simple answer: "Clean."

Compiled by BBC News Profiles Unit's Andy Walker


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