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Last Updated: Tuesday, 6 January, 2004, 14:02 GMT
Phoenix flights
Exclusive by Frank Keogh

Club owner Bob Potter will be taking centre stage as his Lakeside venue hosts the World Darts Championship.

And the enigmatic entertainment guru appears to have already been enjoying the TV limelight as the likely inspiration for comic Peter Kay's Phoenix Nights character Brian Potter.

Brian Potter of Phoenix Nights and Lakeside boss Bob Potter
Brian Potter - Phoenix Club
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In Kay's popular Channel Four show, Brian Potter is a wheelchair-using north of England club owner trying to resurrect the fortunes of his venue after it is destroyed by fire.

In real life, Bob Potter revived the Lakeside at Frimley Green in Surrey after a blaze in the 1970s threatened to destroy the business.

Bob told the BBC Sport website: "Phoenix Nights? Peter Kay - he's doing me.

"I expect he's been here, worked here, and seen what we're doing, or whoever's written the script, and they've scripted me.

"It's the sayings, innit, and the fire and the way he operated - it was all Lakeside. There's too many alike things there."

Bob admits he has not seen the show, but met Kay at the Lakeside recently as the funnyman filmed a beer commercial alongside Englebert Humperdinck singing 'Please Release Me.'

"I said: 'I want some royalties off you. You're doing me,' and he just laughed," said Bob.

Comedian Peter Kay
The customers say: That guy's doing you
Potter on comic Peter Kay

After fire destroyed the old Lakeside club, Bob worked round the clock in much the same way as Brian Potter, but to greater effect.

"We had an electrical fire and we lost everything, and we weren't insured, and that's why it took us quite a time to get back," he said.

"It meant really working night and day. I do all the building myself with my own blokes, you know.

"We just worked flat out - we didn't stop working for a year."

Now the Lakeside hosts top showbiz acts, has welcomed several prime ministers and members of the royal family, and perhaps most famously, is home to the British Darts Organisation's World Championship every year.

All tournament tickets for the 1,300-capacity venue sold out back in September, with fans coming from America, Canada, Australia, Germany, Finland, and Holland.

The Dutch contingent has grown to become a major part of the crowd as they roar on homegrown stars, such as triple winner and reigning champion Raymond Barneveld.

Club owner Bob Potter (left) enjoys the action
It's just magic
Bob Potter on Lakeside darts

It all adds to an irresistible mix, with many in the crowd donning fancy dress as they help to create a carnival atmosphere.

"We've got a formula where it all goes together - you go to any other darts, and it's not like the Lakeside," said Bob.

"It doesn't matter how good a player is, or whether he's seeded, when he comes here it doesn't mean a thing.

"The standard seems to go up all the time. You get someone comes out of the woodwork, and you've never heard of them. It's like magic."

Now in his mid-70s, Bob has the enthusiasm of someone half his age.

He works seven days a week, going to bed at 3am and sleeping for four-and-a half hours, just like former PM Margaret Thatcher, who opened several ventures for the entrepreneur.

Whether he actually is the inspiration for Kay's character may never be confirmed by the comic, but Bob feels sure he knows the answer.

"Somebody's written the script who has done a lot of time at Lakeside," he said.

Comedians Morecambe and Wise
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"They had to, to get it in detail like they had it, and I've got a book out - it's 20 years out of date, but it's got all the royal shows, all the prime ministers, all the things we've done in those days.

"I do want to watch the show, and I'm trying to get hold of some back films to watch it.

"He's a club owner in a wheelchair. I'm not in a wheelchair, but when he starts swearing at them, and talking to them, he's using all my sayings, and he's always in a hurry like I am, you see.

"People would say: 'I saw you on television,' and I'd say: 'What are you talking about?' I was quite flattered. It's good innit?"

  • The Lakeside World Darts Championship takes place from 3 to 11 January.

    Links to more World Darts 2004 stories





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