Mark Steel

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Mark Steel
Mark Steel (cropped).jpg
Mark Steel in 2008
Born (1960-07-04) 4 July 1960 (age 55)
Swanley, Kent, England
Medium Stand-up, television, radio
Years active 1983-present
Genres Political satire
Subject(s) Politics
Influences Alexei Sayle
Notable works and roles The Mark Steel Lectures
The Mark Steel Revolution
The Mark Steel Solution
Mark Steel's in Town

Mark Steel is an English comedian, broadcaster, newspaper columnist and author.[1] A stand-up comedian known for his left-wing beliefs (he was a long-standing member of the Socialist Workers Party)[2] he has made many appearances on radio and television shows as a guest panellist, and has written regular columns in The Guardian and The Independent. He is perhaps best known for presenting The Mark Steel Lectures, The Mark Steel Revolution, The Mark Steel Solution, and Mark Steel's in Town.

Early life[edit]

Steel was adopted 10 days after he was born.[3] His adoptive father worked in insurance and his mother was a housewife who supplemented the family's income through factory work and working as a lollipop lady.[4] He had a close relationship with his adoptive parents.[5] He grew up in Swanley, Kent. He traced his biological mother later in life but she said that she did not want to know him.[3] She died soon after Steel attempted to contact her. He learned that she was from a Scottish working-class family with an active involvement in left-wing politics, and that she had subsequently married an Italian and lived in Rimini. She had met his biological father, an Egyptian Sephardic Jew whose family left Egypt after Gamal Abdel Nasser became president in the 1950s, at a party in London. His father had subsequently become a multi-millionaire trader on Wall Street, as well as a backgammon champion.[4]

In the late 1970s his father suffered a mental breakdown and was placed into care at Stone House Hospital. He says that his first encounter with social injustice was when he saw how mentally-ill patients were being treated in that hospital. The shabby conditions of the home reinforced Steel's political beliefs.[5]


Steel has given varying accounts of his early life: he became bored with constantly being asked how he had started in comedy and took to telling the questioner the first thing that came into his head. He is often described as having worked as a television repair man[6] but confesses that he has no technical ability whatsoever. He worked the comedy circuit for several years, and then in 1992 presented a satirical radio show The Mark Steel Solution on BBC Radio 5, consisting of half-hour monologues which offered solutions to social problems. It ran to four series. It's Not a Runner Bean, a comic autobiography, was published in 1996, and this led to a column in The Guardian.

Steel wrote a column for The Guardian between 1996 and 1999. According to Steel he was sacked because the newspaper wanted to "realign towards Tony Blair", though The Guardian denied this. In 2000 he started writing a weekly column for The Independent, which appears in the Wednesday Opinion Column.

He has written and performed several radio and television series for the BBC, and authored several books.

In 2005 he toured the UK and Ireland, where he discussed the French revolution in a light-hearted style.

Personal life[edit]

Steel is a supporter of Crystal Palace F.C. and Kent County Cricket Club and enjoys watching both play on occasion. He was interviewed by Jonathan Agnew on Test Match Special during the South Africa series, giving an interview on his love of cricket.[7]

He has a son and daughter from a relationship that ended in 2006.[8]


During the premiership of Margaret Thatcher, when he was in his 20s, Steel's objections to society's injustices were vented by political protests, punk rock and poetry.

Viewing the Soviet Union as "shit", and as a state capitalist system rather than truly socialist, Steel joined the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) instead of the Communist Party of Great Britain.[5] He supported strikes and demonstrations, and was present in Southall during the riot in which the killing of Blair Peach occurred. In the early 1980s he also persuaded his mother to allow striking steelworkers to spend a night in the Steel residence.[5] By the end of the '80s, he had moved into a squat with his old friend Mick Hannan, before taking up residence in a flat.[5]

In 2000 Steel took part in the London Assembly elections on behalf of the London Socialist Alliance (part of the Socialist Alliance) in the Croydon and Sutton constituency; he received 1,823 votes (1.5 per cent of the vote).

In 2007 he left the SWP and justified his decision in his book What's Going On? In the book he wrote that he left the party because whilst the membership base had become smaller and smaller, the members that remained became increasingly deluded regarding the size and relevance of the organisation. He also condemned the manner in which, at a time when there was broad public support for socialist ideals, increasingly bitter and futile in-fighting on the left made political success impossible.

Alex Callinicos, International Secretary of the SWP, reviewed the book in the Socialist Review, arguing that it "evinces a kind of grandiose ignorance" and that "the only principle one can detect here is that the SWP is always in the wrong".[9] Literary critic Nicholas Lezard praised the book in The Guardian, particularly for its discussion of the break-up of Steel's relationship, which "gives it a poignancy and depth which at its outset one might not have expected".[10]

In February 2013, Steel was among those who gave their support to the People's Assembly in a letter published by The Guardian newspaper.[11] Steel spoke at a press conference to launch the People's Assembly Against Austerity on 26 March 2013[12] and regional public meetings[13] in the lead up to a national meeting at Westminster Central Hall on 22 June 2013. Steel also gave a speech at the People's Assembly Conference in Westminster.

Prior to the 2015 UK general election, he was one of several celebrities who endorsed the parliamentary candidacy of the Green Party's Caroline Lucas.[14]

Radio and television[edit]


He has also contributed to or appeared on the following shows:


He also appeared in the following shows:


  • Audiobooks
    • Reasons to Be Cheerful: From Punk to New Labour Through the Eyes of a Dedicated Troublemaker (2001) cassette ISBN 0-7435-0062-8

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Question Time". BBC. 29 March 2002. Retrieved 18 June 2013. 
  2. ^ "Last week's panel". BBC News. 29 March 2002. 
  3. ^ a b Wade, Michael (7 November 2011). "The week with George Galloway - Nov 4". Talksport. Retrieved 24 August 2013. 
  4. ^ a b Lee, Veronica (27 June 2015). "Mark Steel: Finding out who I am". The Guardian. Retrieved 27 June 2015. 
  5. ^ a b c d e Steel, Mark (2001). Reasons to be Cheerful. Scribner UK. ISBN 0-7432-0804-8. 
  6. ^ " How did you get into comedy?". Open University. Retrieved 2008-10-18. 
  7. ^ Interview on BBC's Test Match Special, 1 August 2008
  8. ^ "Anatomy of a break-up". The Independent (London). 24 September 2008. Archived from the original on 20 February 2009. Retrieved 2009-03-31. 
  9. ^ Callinicos, Alex (September 2008). "What's Going On?". Socialist Review. Retrieved 16 November 2010. 
  10. ^ Lezard, Nicholas (11 April 2009). "Few things are funnier than ageing and disillusionment". The Guardian (London). Retrieved 16 November 2010. 
  11. ^ People's Assembly opening letter 5 February 2013, The Guardian Newspaper.
  12. ^ Mark Steel, Right that's enough now what are we going to do about it?, ‘‘Independent, 18 February 2013
  13. ^ Marc Rath, “Popular writer joins comedian at anti-cuts rally“ ‘’This is Bristol’’ website, 30 May 2013
  14. ^ Elgot, Jessica (24 April 2015). "Celebrities sign statement of support for Caroline Lucas – but not the Greens". The Guardian (London). Retrieved 22 July 2015. 

External links[edit]

Audio files