In 'Bob Wilson – Anchorman', Half Man Half Biscuit's quest to understand how a former Arsenal goalkeeper became the host of Saturday afternoon's Grandstand, they sought the views of ITV Sport's stalwart Jim Rosenthal. They 'found him on his knees a the Wailing Wall', bemoaning Wilson's inexplicable good fortune.  Elis James didn't need to travel nearly so far.


No, Rosenthal appears everywhere that James goes, like an avenging apparition in the image of The Count from Sesame Street.  The crux of James' latest Fringe outing is a meeting between the two at a hotel breakfast room, where a pre-pubescent James was struck into silence by the magnitude of Rosenthal's stardom.  If this seems unlikely, then I should explain that James grew up in Swansea at a time when the most famous person you could ever hope to bump into was Bonnie Tyler.

James makes great play of the awkwardness of his younger self and has a handy knack of telling you now in a few hundred words the emotion that he was unable to vocalise back then.  Appearing naturally loquacious, James has evidently conquered any problems of self-expression, but the wide-eyed charm remains.  With irrepressible good humour, James recounts accident after mishap: near death experiences at the theatre reveal his mother's politeness; his first kiss relies on dubious dealing by his mates; a carol singing round is undertaken during an Indian Summer.

For James, comparisons with Rhod Gilbert are as frequent as they are pointless.  Aside from an over-developed capacity for obsessing about detail and a capacity for sharing things that others would bury (they are comedians, after all), comparisons amount to an accident of geography.  Russel Kane is what you might call 'high energy' and is from the South East.  It doesn't make him Michael Barrymore.

Impish, softly-spoken and with a nice line in self-deprecation, James is a thoroughly likable performer – the kind you root for, particularly when he hits a sticky patch at the three-quarter mark of his set, some of his more parochial material failing to travel well.  James, though, has the guile and verbal dexterity to go round the problem to reach a winning conclusion.

Drawing on the power of coincidence, Rosenthal features heavily in a playful closing sequence in which James is at his most animated, re-engaging a tough crowd with a final confession.  James will doubtless enjoy better nights than this during his Fringe run, but he has the makings of something very good here.

Veteran sport presenters should be vigilant.  Elton Welsby: next time, it could be you.

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