Charlie Higson says adolescent sex brought Young Bond to a natural end
Charlie Higson is a bad father and he knows it. Not bad in a neglectful sense, more the opposite. He's well into his third incarnation as a "cool dad", severely restricting the options of his teenage sons Frank, Jim and Sid if they want their lives to be as glamorous as his but also different - reports the Scotsman
The highly successful children's author used to be a comedy legend and before that he was in a pop band. "I think it's going to be tricky for my kids," he says. "They're going to go: 'Uh-oh, Dad's done that.' Obviously The Higsons weren't No 1 all over the world, or indeed anywhere, but none the less I've spoiled it for them if they wanted to become the first in the family to join a band.
"This seems to be a problem across the generation. Old farts like me, even if they weren't involved in music or telly, are going to have seen it all before, or think they have. We're very difficult to shock."
Still, at least Higson, whose sons were too young to have properly enjoyed his impersonations of sexual braggarts of the car showroom and impoverished aristos secretly in love with their estate workers in The Fast Show, has done the decent thing and written them some spiffing books - first with his series about the young James Bond and now with his zombie epic The Enemy.
The day we meet in London there's a Tube strike so everyone has to take to the streets and I'm reminded of the exciting beginning of his latest The Dead, where Jack, Ed and their friends attempt to walk to the capital after their teachers turn into flesh-eating monsters. Higson, who's 52, arrives late, stressed and sweaty, as if he had to hack off a zombie's arm to grab the last taxi, although given he's sporting a deep tan from a stay at his Umbrian villa, my sympathy only extends so far.
He admits it was easy for him to strike out on his own in an interesting way. "My father was an accountant so the idea of being a performer or a writer was entirely alien to him. Dad went to work in a bowler hat - he was the embodiment of the establishment as seen on Monty Python. But he did send me to this really avant garde school with its own TV studio so I was grateful for that."
Higson's 600-year-old Sevenoaks School in Kent is the inspiration for Rowhurst in the book. His young hero Jack has to be brave: "It wasn't a football. It was a human head. All that was left of Mr Hewitt."
So was he a born leader at 12? "Not really. I do remember inheriting a gang when the boy who'd been leader left school suddenly, but that only lasted two weeks.
I was a shy kid and I'm still quite shy, although on The Fast Show Paul Whitehouse and I had to be the parents to these wayward children (Caroline Aherne, Arabella Weir, Mark Williams, etc] who resented being told what to do."
The young Higson could scare himself with the Pan Book Of Horror Stories but access to film chills was extremely limited. At uni, though, he could gorge on George Romero and David Cronenberg and organised all-night gore-fests for the campus.
I tell him The Dead terrified me, so I am concerned about a sudden upsurge in bed-wetting among its target audience. "There speaks a parent, and a newish one I'd guess." (He's right.) "Adults are definitely more scared by these books because of parental responsibility. The kids' reaction is always: 'Woah, he got splattered! Fantastic!'"
Higson and his wife Victoria's boys are aged 11 to 17. He claims that even when they were younger he wasn't an over-protective dad. "I'm afraid my wife used to tell me off for letting them watch inappropriate things at too early an age. I remember bringing home a James Bond box-set when my eldest was about six. Everyone thinks of the Bond films as being great family entertainment but there's quite a lot of sadistic violence involving harpoon guns and piranhas."
With those ungrateful Fast Show wretches anxious to pursue their own careers, Higson was happy to wrap up the sketch comedy so he could be at home with his sons, though Victoria may have considered this a mixed blessing. He wanted to turn them into great readers - "It's bollocks that filling your house with books will do this; mine only used them to build castles for their toy soldiers" - and so jumped at the offer from Ian Fleming's estate to develop Bond Jr.
That series came to a natural end, he says. "I was worried young master James was getting older and that sooner or later he was going to have to get his cock out. I have to admit that as a 53-year-old man I would have felt odd writing about adolescent sex. Interestingly I think one of the reasons why so many adults read children's fiction now is its innocence. There seems to have been a reaction against those thrillers which were featuring too much explicit and nasty sex."
Then Charlie Higson, who's doing his bit to improve boys' literacy, signs my copy of The Dead for when my three-year-old is brave enough to dare to read it. He writes: "Never trust a grown-up - zombies rule!"
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