Alexei Sayle

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Alexei Sayle
Sayle at a literary festival in the Cambridge Union building in 2016
Birth nameAlexei David Sayle
Born (1952-08-07) 7 August 1952 (age 71)
Anfield, Liverpool, England
MediumFilm, stand up, print, radio, television
Years active1979–present
GenresAlternative comedy, black comedy, character comedy, physical comedy, surreal humour, parody
Linda Rawsthorn
(m. 1974)
Notable works and rolesAlexei Sayle's Stuff
The Comic Strip Presents...
The Young Ones
Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade
Gorky Park

Alexei David Sayle (born 7 August 1952) is an English actor, author, stand-up comedian, television presenter and former recording artist. He was a leading figure in the British alternative comedy movement in the 1980s. He was voted the 18th greatest stand-up comic of all time on Channel 4's 100 Greatest Stand-Ups in 2007.[2] In an updated 2010 poll he came 72nd.[3]

Much of Sayle's humour is in the tradition of Spike Milligan and Monty Python, with riffs based on often absurd and surreal premises.[4] His act is known for its cynicism and political awareness, as well as physical comedy.[5]

Early life[edit]

Sayle was born and brought up in the Anfield suburb of Liverpool, the son of Molly (Malka) Sayle (née Mendelson), a pools clerk, and Joseph Henry Sayle, a railway guard,[6] both of whom were members of the Communist Party of Great Britain. Sayle's mother was of Lithuanian Jewish descent,[7] and some members of his family were devout Jews.[8] Sayle was named after Maxim Gorky, whose real name was Alexei Maximovich Peshkov.[9]

From 1964 to 1969, he attended Alsop High School in Walton, and was expelled halfway through sixth form.[10] After that, Sayle took a foundation course in art at Southport, before attending Chelsea College of Art and Design in London. He attended Garnett College in Roehampton, a training college for teachers in further education.[1]


Stand-up comedy and theatre[edit]

When The Comedy Store opened in London in 1979, Sayle responded to an advert in Private Eye for would-be comedians[11] and became its first master of ceremonies. In 1980, comedy producer Martin Lewis saw Sayle perform at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe and became his manager.

Sayle became the leading performer at The Comic Strip.[12] He appeared on The Comic Strip Album (1981) and recorded Cak! (1982). He also appeared in the stage show, film and comedy album of The Secret Policeman's Other Ball (1981–1982). Sayle's material covered a broad range of topics, but one of his favourite subjects remained politics. His angry persona, coupled with his vociferous delivery, gave immense bite to his material. A typical example of Sayle's humour was his attack on American phrases: "If you travel to the States ... they have a lot of different words than like what we use. For instance: they say 'elevator', we say 'lift'; they say 'drapes', we say 'curtains'; they say 'president', we say 'seriously deranged git!'"[13]

In 1988 Sayle played the role of Trinculo the King's jester in Shakespeare's The Tempest, directed by Jonathan Miller at the Old Vic theatre in London.[1] Sixteen years on from his last stand-up comedy tour, Sayle returned in 2011 as an MC, compering the middle section of At Last! The 1981 Show, produced by Stewart Lee at the Royal Festival Hall. Although this was mainly a nostalgia night with comedians such as Nigel Planer and Norman Lovett revisiting their material from the 1980s, Sayle premiered some new material that was more anecdotal than his previous work. Sayle says of his old style, "What I was doing, which I hadn't realised, was a comic persona. The guy in the tight suit was actually a creation. I thought it was me in a sense but it wasn't".[14]

With artists such as Isy Suttie and Jim Bob, Sayle appeared at the fourth "Nine Lessons and Carols for Godless People" event at the Bloomsbury Theatre in December 2011.[15] In January and February 2012, he compered four nights of stand-up comedy at the Soho Theatre.[16] He completed a full UK stand-up tour in October and November 2012 and a sixteen-night residency at the Soho Theatre in January and February 2013, where he performed new material. He played a further ten nights at the Soho Theatre in April 2013. He also performed at the 2013 Edinburgh Festival Fringe.[17] He has toured extensively in recent years.


Sayle's early work included several performances for Capital London. In 1979, he wrote and performed the radio series, Alexei Sayle and the Fish People, for which he won a Pye Radio Award (later known as the Sony Radio Awards). An album based on the show, The Fish People Tapes, again featuring Sayle, was released. This was followed by Alexei Sayle and the Dutch Lieutenant's Trousers in 1980, the name being a reference to John Fowles' The French Lieutenant's Woman.[1] He also starred in two series of Lenin of the Rovers, a 1988 comedy about Britain's first communist football team. He has since contributed to many other radio shows, including writing the five-part sitcom series, Sorry About Last Night (1999), in which he also played the leading role. On 3 November 2006 he presented Chopwell Soviet, a 30-minute programme on BBC Radio 4 that reviewed the Chopwell miners 80 years after the village of Chopwell became known as Little Moscow.[18] Sayle returned to Radio 4 in 2016 with Alexei Sayle's Imaginary Sandwich Bar, which has run for four critically acclaimed series so far. In 2019, he narrated the dramatisation of four of his short stories in the series Alexei Sayle's The Absence of Normal, again on Radio 4. A second series was broadcast in 2021.

Since February 2022 Sayle has presented BBC Radio 4's Alexei Sayle's Strangers on a Train. [19][20]


Sayle's first high-profile television appearances were on Central Independent Television's late-night alternative cabaret show O.T.T. (1982). He left nine weeks into the show's run to tour Australia with the Comic Strip. He played various roles in the situation comedy The Young Ones (1982–1984), along with Adrian Edmondson, Rik Mayall, Nigel Planer and Christopher Ryan. In the programme Sayle portrayed several members of an Eastern European family; the Balowskis. In 1985, he appeared in the Doctor Who serial Revelation of the Daleks. In a column for a British tabloid newspaper around the same time, he indicated that he wanted to become the "first Socialist Doctor."[21] He also appeared in several episodes of The Comic Strip Presents... between 1985 and 1993, playing the two leading roles in Didn't You Kill My Brother? which he co-wrote with David Stafford and Pauline Melville. Sayle has co-written and starred in many other programmes, including three series of Alexei Sayle's Stuff (1988–1991), two series of The All New Alexei Sayle Show (1994–1995) and one series of Alexei Sayle's Merry-Go-Round (1998).

In 1989, Sayle was awarded an International Emmy for Stuff. In conversation with Mark Thomas on BBC Radio 4's informal chat-show Chain Reaction, Sayle revealed that the first he knew of the award was when he watched Channel 4 News and saw, to his amazement, Benny Hill collecting the award on his behalf. In 1990, Sayle had a fatwa proclaimed against him by a Muslim cleric from Syria after a joke on his BBC comedy show Stuff, which has never been withdrawn.[22][23]

Sayle was signed in 1992 to a seven-year contract to play an Eastern European chef as a regular character on the American sitcom The Golden Palace, the sequel to The Golden Girls, but was fired and replaced by Cheech Marin before the pilot was filmed. The series was cancelled after one season.[24][25]

In 1994, he presented the miniseries Drive, which gave advice for safe driving through Sayle's signature form of humour interspersed with serious pieces. In 2008, he wrote and presented Alexei Sayle's Liverpool, a three-part television series in which he reconnected with his home town. He stated in the programmes that on first hearing that Liverpool was to be awarded the European Capital of Culture, he received much criticism for describing the city as "philistine". He now feels that he does not know whether or not his original statement was true but as a result of making the series he does now consider Liverpool to be his home, and he has vowed to go back there more often in the future.[26]

Sayle also narrated the Public information film (PIF) Moon Lighters about two moon creatures, Biblock and Hoblock and the dangers of lighters. Sayle replaced Rolf Harris as the narrator for the Nick Jr. and Milkshake! series Olive The Ostrich. Episodes featuring Sayle's narration commenced broadcasting on 22 July 2013.[27]


Sayle alternates his comedy work with performances as a character actor ranging from serious (Gorky Park, 1983) to humorous (Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, 1989). He appeared in the 1992 Carry On film, Carry On Columbus along with other modern comedians, including Comic Strip founder Peter Richardson, as well as surviving members of the original Carry On team. He narrated the 2023 political documentary film Oh Jeremy Corbyn: The Big Lie.


Sayle has released five comedy singles with full musical backing and one live recording from the Comedy Store in London 1981. This was "Dedication", released as a double A side with Alex Arundel the London-based Scottish songwriter and founding member of Alternative Cabaret with the song "When The Gold Runs Dry" being the other A side. His most successful single was "'Ullo John! Gotta New Motor?" which achieved Top 20 chart success in the UK upon re-release in 1984. Produced by Clive Langer and Alan Winstanley (who also produced for Madness and Elvis Costello), the record in its 12-inch version achieved notoriety owing to its extensive use of profane language. The two follow up singles, "Didn't You Kill My Brother?", and "Meanwhile", were taken from the album Panic, the cover of which parodies the cover of the Michael Jackson album Off the Wall.[28]


Sayle has written two short story collections, five novels, including a graphic novel and a radio series spin-off book, as well as columns for various publications. His book Great Bus Journeys of the World, co-written with David Stafford, is mostly a collection of his columns for Time Out and the Sunday Mirror.[29] He was one of eight contributory authors to the BBC Three competition End of Story, in which members of the public completed the second half of stories written by established authors.[30] The winning entry to Sayle's story, Imitating Katherine Walker, was written by freelance writer Arthur Allan. Sayle's autobiography Stalin Ate My Homework, which deals with his early life and which he describes as a 'satirical memoir', was published in 2010.[31] In 2012 he joined The Daily Telegraph as a motoring columnist.[32] In early 2015 he toured giving readings from the second volume of his autobiography Thatcher Stole My Trousers, published in 2016.[33][34]


In November 2020, Sayle began hosting a monthly podcast, The Alexei Sayle Podcast. Produced/co-hosted by Talal Karkouti, guests have included Josie Long, Stewart Lee, Omid Djalili, Lise Mayer, Diane Morgan and Jeremy Corbyn.

He also launched a YouTube channel, showcasing videos of various bike rides.[35]

Personal life[edit]

In 1974, Sayle married Linda Rawsthorn.[1] He lives in Bloomsbury[36] in central London and is a keen cyclist.[37] He also owns a house near Granada, in southern Spain.[38][39] He was diagnosed with sarcoidosis in 1990. A recurrence of this condition in 2015 led to him being rushed to hospital and then transferred to a neurological unit for a week.[40]

Political views[edit]

Around the age of 15, Sayle decided to join the Young Communist League, but only went to a few meetings. In 1968, he joined a Maoist organisation, the Communist Party of Britain (Marxist–Leninist).[41] In 2009, he said that, while no longer active in left politics, "I still would adhere to those philosophical and economic ideas of Marxism that I got when I was sixteen. ... it's seemed to me as true now as it did then".[42]

Sayle is a critic of fox hunting and was among more than 20 high-profile people who signed a letter to Members of Parliament in 2015 to oppose Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron's plan to amend the Hunting Act 2004.[43]

Labour Party[edit]

In February 2016, Sayle said of Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn: "He's ascetic and morally incorruptible. The propaganda that's thrown against him is disgraceful. Until he appeared, you had to vote for one kind of Oxbridge twat or another, people who all go to the same dinner parties, people like the Ed Ballses and George Osbornes. Jeremy has shown that, within a democratic tradition, other things are possible."[44] In 2016, he wrote a comment piece for The Guardian saying that he was happy to mock New Labour in his act but now that Corbyn was about to "reform the party in his own image – ascetic, socialist, kindly and ethical" he would stop making jokes about Labour.[45]

In May 2018, regarding the expulsion of Marc Wadsworth from the Labour Party, Sayle commented: "The Party should walk over broken glass to beg people of Marc's calibre to work with them – they are very few and Marc is one of the best. There is a battle going on to destroy and reverse the unexpected and amazing gains the left has made in the last three years. Marc is a casualty in that battle and I am joining the fight to see him re-instated to the front line."[46]

In November 2019, along with other public figures, Sayle signed a letter supporting Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn describing him as "a beacon of hope in the struggle against emergent far-right nationalism, xenophobia and racism in much of the democratic world" and endorsed him in the 2019 UK general election.[47] In December 2019, along with 42 other leading cultural figures, he signed a letter endorsing the Labour Party under Corbyn's leadership in the 2019 general election. The letter stated that "Labour's election manifesto under Jeremy Corbyn's leadership offers a transformative plan that prioritises the needs of people and the planet over private profit and the vested interests of a few."[48][49]

Involvement with accusations of party antisemitism[edit]

In January 2020, he was condemned by some Jewish groups after being one of thousands to sign an open letter criticising Rebecca Long-Bailey and other Labour leadership candidates for saying they would sign a 10-point pledge by the Board of Deputies of British Jews intended to combat anti-semitism should they be elected. The letter was organised by Momentum activist Jackie Walker and former Labour MP Chris Williamson, both of whom were expelled from Labour in relation to controversial allegations of anti-semitism.[50]

In May 2021, Conservative MP Matthew Offord wrote to the BBC's Director-General urging, unsuccessfully, that the planned broadcast of Desert Island Discs on 23 May featuring Sayle be halted on the basis that every broadcaster "should be wary of giving a platform to anyone who is seen to be 'excusing' antisemitism". There was an outcry on social media in response, rejecting the claim that Sayle was doing this, with support for Sayle (who is Jewish) from across the board and the resulting hashtag #IStandWithAlexeiSayle trending on UK Twitter.[51]



Year Title Role
1980 Repeater 2nd Detective
Transmogrification Himself
1982 The Secret Policeman's Other Ball Himself
1983 Gorky Park Golodkin
1985 The Bride Magar
The Caucasian Chalk Circle Lavrenti
The Supergrass Motorbike Cop
Ligmalion: A Musical For The 80s John Bull
1986 Whoops Apocalypse Commisar Solzhenitsyn
Solarbabies Malice, Bounty Hunter
1987 Siesta Cabbie
The Love Child The Voices (voice)
Mister Corbett's Ghost Toll Gate Keeper
1988 Jake's Journey Head Torturer
1989 Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade Sultan of The Hatay State
1992 Carry On Columbus Achmed
1993 Reckless Kelly Major Wib
Deadly Currents Seemuller
1996 Hospital! X-Ray Operator
1997 Rhinoceros Hunting in Budapest Beluga
1999 Swing Mac "Mighty Mac"
2001 Don't Walk Uncle Henry
2004 The Legend of the Tamworth Two Newspaper Editor
The Tale of Tarquin Slant Window Cleaner
2005 Upstaged Police Officer Duncan
2006 The Thief Lord Ernesto Barbarossa
2008 The Surprise Demise of Francis Cooper's Mother Narrator
2011 The Itch of the Golden Nit Planet Jimmy (voice)
2016 Redtop Colin Goodman
2017 Gloves Off Algy
2018 Sometimes Almost Never Bill
2019 How to Build a Girl Karl Marx
2023 Oh Jeremy Corbyn: The Big Lie Narrator


Year Title Role Notes
1980 – 1981 Boom Boom, Out Go the Lights Himself
1981 Wolcott Speaker In Market
1982 O.T.T. Himself
1982 – 1984 The Young Ones Jerzy Balowski / Brian Damage / Jester Balowski / Harry The Bastard / Police Recruiter / Train Driver / Billy Balowski
1982 Comic Roots Himself
The Private Life of the Ford Cortina Himself, Presenter
Whoops Apocalypse Commissar Solzhenitsyn
1984 The Lenny Henry Show Various Roles
Give Us A Break Frank Hustle, Bustle, Toil & Muscle
1985 Doctor Who D.J. Revelation of the Daleks
1985 – 1993 The Comic Strip Presents... Inspector / Dad / Bride's Father / Mog / Carl Moss / Sterling Moss / Paul
1986 Roland Rat: The Series Himself
1987 Ratman Fatman
Up Line Melvin Coombes
1988 Les Girls Mr. Korvus Prints
1988 – 1991 Alexei Sayle's Stuff Himself
1990 The Gravy Train Vlad Milcic
1991 Selling Hitler Konrad "Konny" Fischer
Big 30 Himself, Presenter
1993 Lovejoy Freddie "The Phone" Series 4 "The Napoleonic Commode"
1993 – 1994 Rubbish, King of the Jumble Rubbish (voice)
1993 Sex, Drugs & Dinner Himself, Presenter
1994 The Unpleasant World of Penn & Teller Himself
Paris Alain Degout
Drive Himself, Host
1994 – 1995 The All New Alexei Sayle Show Himself
1996 Jackanory Reader The Diary of a Killer Cat
Great Railway Journeys Himself, Host #3.2 Aleppo to Aqaba
1997 The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling Puppeteer
Alexei Sayle's Comedy Hour Himself
1998 Alexei Sayle's Merry-Go-Round Himself
2000 Arabian Nights BacBac
Animated Tales of the World Troll (voice) The Three Sisters who fell into a Mountain: A Story from Norway
2002 Tipping the Velvet Charles Frobisher
2003 – 2004 Keen Eddie Rudy Alexander
2004 Blood Matters Himself, The Narrator) What's Blood Got To Do With It?
End Of Story Himself
2005 Bremner, Bird and Fortune Pope John Paul II
2006 Rob Brydon's Annually Retentive Himself Sharon
2007 Dawn French's Boys Who Do Comedy Himself
2008 Alexei Sayle's Liverpool Himself, Presenter
2009 Agatha Christie's Miss Marple Dr. Maverick They Do it with Mirrors
2010 Horrible Histories Dr. Ushma
2012 New Tricks Anthony Marshall Love Means Nothing in Tennis
2013 Olive the Ostrich Narrator
2014 Holby City Bernie Reddy Mummy Dearest
2017 Tate Liverpool at 30 Himself, Presenter
2021 Casualty Anton Malinovsky Series 35, Episodes 26 and 29
2022 Mandy Darren Dugdale Fatberg
Dodger Mr. Elias Loomis


Year Title
1979 – 1981 Capital London
1979 Alexei Sayle and the Fish People
1980 Alexei Sayle and the Dutch Lieutenant's Trousers
1988 Lenin of the Rovers
1999 Sorry About Last Night
2006 Chopwell Soviet
2007 Alexei Sayle's Alternative Take
2008 Where Did All the Money Go?
Migrant Music
2016 – present Alexei Sayle's Imaginary Sandwich Bar
2019 – present Alexei Sayle's The Absence of Normal
2022 – present Alexei Sayle's Strangers On A Train


  • 1983 The Alexei Sayle Pirate Video (Springtime)
  • 1995 Alexei Sayle's Stuff (Paradox)


  • 2005 Alexei Sayle's Stuff Series One (BBC)
  • 2006 Alexei Sayle's Stuff Series Two (BBC)
  • 2006 Alexei Sayle's Stuff Series Three (BBC)



  • 1980: Live at The Comic Strip - compiled from mixture of variable quality bootleg private recordings by fans only available as a Tape Cassette (comedy club)[citation needed]
  • 1982: Cak! - LP/Tape (Springtime/Island)
  • 1984: The Fish People Tapes - LP/Tape (Island) (#62 UK, 11 March 1984) [52]
  • 1985: Panic - LP/Tape (CBS)


  • 1981: "Pop-Up Toasters" (as Alexei's Midnight Runners) (Springtime/Island)
  • 1982: "Albania! Albania! (Albanixey! Albanixey!)" (as The Albanian World Cup Squad) (Albaniox)
  • 1982: "'Ullo John! Gotta New Motor?" (Springtime/Island) (#15 UK, 18 March 1984) [53]
  • 1985: "Didn't You Kill My Brother?" (CBS) (#93 Canada, 18 January 1986) [54]
  • 1986: "Meanwhile" (CBS)


  • Train To Hell (Methuen, 9 February 1984; hardcover ISBN 0-413-52460-4, paperback ISBN 0-413-52470-1) – novel co-written by David Stafford
  • Geoffrey The Tube Train And The Fat Comedian (Methuen, 1987; paperback) – graphic novel, illustrated by Oscar Zárate
  • Alexei Sayle's Great Bus Journeys Of The World (Methuen, October 1989; paperback ISBN 0-413-62670-9) – collected columns from Time Out and the Sunday Mirror
  • Barcelona Plates (Sceptre, 17 February 2000; hardcover ISBN 0-340-76752-9, paperback ISBN 0-340-76753-7) – short story collection
  • The Dog Catcher (Sceptre, 19 July 2001; hardcover ISBN 0-340-81868-9, paperback ISBN 0-340-81944-8) – short story collection
  • Overtaken (Sceptre, 1 September 2003; hardcover ISBN 0-340-76768-5) – despite Train To Hell, this was publicised as being Sayle's first novel
  • The Weeping Women Hotel (Sceptre, 27 February 2006; hardcover ISBN 0-340-83121-9) – novel
  • Mister Roberts (Sceptre, 16 October 2008; hardcover ISBN 978-0-340-96155-1, paperback ISBN 0-340-96156-2) – Sayle's latest novel
  • Stalin Ate My Homework (Sceptre, 2 September 2010; hardcover ISBN 978-0-340-91957-6, paperback ISBN 978-0-340-91958-3) – autobiography
  • Thatcher Stole My Trousers (Bloomsbury, 10 March 2016; hardcover ISBN 978-1-4088-6453-1) – autobiography (second volume)
  • Alexei Sayle's Imaginary Sandwich Bar (Bloomsbury, 19 October 2017; hardcover ISBN 978-1-4088-9582-5) – radio series spin-off


  • Night Voice (1990)
  • 'Itch (1990)
  • Sorry About Last Night (1995)
  • Two Minutes (1996)
  • Lose Weight... Ask Me How (2001)



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External links[edit]