Comedian Sean Hughes dies aged 51

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Media captionSean Hughes: A career in comedy

Irish stand-up star and BBC quiz show panellist Sean Hughes has died aged 51.

Richard Bucknall, his former agent and promoter, said the “formidable” comic died in hospital on Monday and would be remembered for his “superb wit”.

Hughes was a team captain on Never Mind the Buzzcocks on BBC Two and had his own Channel 4 sitcom, Sean’s Show.

Fellow comedians, including Al Murray, Katy Brand and Jason Manford, have been paying tribute to the performer, who was also a writer and actor.

Image caption Hughes (right) with fellow Never Mind the Buzzcocks regulars Phill Jupitus (left) and Mark Lamarr

In 1990, Hughes – then 24 – became the youngest person to win the coveted Perrier Award – now known as the Edinburgh Comedy Award – at the Edinburgh Festival.

“I was told that I had won the Perrier award as I walked off stage after another sweaty performance,” Hughes later wrote in The Guardian. “The judging panel rushed on to the stage to congratulate me.

“‘Will it go to his head?’. I doubt it. If the panel had made it 10 minutes earlier, they would have seen two people walking out of my award-winning show.”

Nica Burns, director of the awards, remembered him as “a huge talent” and “a very good writer” who had “instinctive timing from day one”.

‘Terribly sad news’

Comedian Al Murray recalled being inspired by the star’s off-beat humour.

“Sean Hughes won the Perrier the summer I decided to try being a comic,” he said. “He was being daft, meta, ironic and Byronic all at once, after a decade when stand-up had reinvented itself.

“He made stand-up look fun, glamorous and above all a creative place where you could play. It’s terribly sad news to hear of his passing.”

Katy Brand described him as “a brilliant comedian”.

David Schneider said he was “an engagingly funny man.”

Manford described Hughes as “a brilliant comic and a lovely bloke”.

Richard Herring described the news as “a punch in the soul“, while Sarah Millican said Hughes had been the first comedian she saw live.

Jack Dee said he had “started on the circuit with him back in the day“, while Jim Moir – aka Vic Reeves – said his death was a “sad loss“.

And TV and radio presenter Dermot O’Leary said Hughes was “a genuinely lovely, clever man“.

Image copyright Rex/Shutterstock
Image caption His stand-up work earned him the Perrier Award

Hughes had a varied career, including a role in the hit film The Commitments, in which he played Dave, a talent scout for Eejit Records.

The London-born Irish star also played station master Mr Perks in the award-winning London play, The Railway Children.

To many, though, he will be best known for the six years he spent on Never Mind the Buzzcocks matching wits with Phill Jupitus and Mark Lamarr.

Kate Phillips, the BBC’s controller of entertainment commissioning, said his “unique wit, dry delivery and ability to engage” had helped make it “one of the most memorable panel shows of all time.”

Sean Hughes’s career

  • The Commitments: Hughes played Dave, an A&R man for Eejit Records, in Alan Parker’s classic 1991 film The Commitments. He also had roles in Snakes and Ladders, Puckoon and The Butcher Boy
  • Sean’s Show: He was the loveable loser in his own surreal sitcom, in which he received messages from God on his answering machine, spoke to a spider who was actually Elvis Presley and made catchphrases out of saying “hiya!” and “buh bye”
  • Never Mind the Buzzcocks: Between 1996 and 2002, he was one of the team captains on the madcap BBC music quiz, poking fun at the boy band members and minor celebrities who appeared alongside him
  • BBC 6 Music: When BBC 6 Music launched in 2002, Hughes hosted its Sunday morning show, The Sunday Lie In, which promised “informed cynicism, easy listening and dysfunctional pop”
  • Coronation Street: In 2007, he spent a couple of months on Coronation Street playing womanising travelling salesman Pat, who started an affair with Eileen Grimshaw
  • Novelist: Off-screen, he wrote books including It’s What He Would’ve Wanted, following an alienated thirty-something searching for answers after his father’s suicide, and The Detainees, about a man who decides to take revenge on an old school bully.

On TV, he also starred in ITV series The Last Detective, where he played Mod Lewis, friend to Peter Davison’s title character, DC “Dangerous” Davies.

As well as his role as Pat on Coronation Street, he also appeared in BBC One’s Casualty in 2015.

Hughes last tweeted on 8 October to say he was in hospital. He is survived by two brothers, Alan and Martin.

A cause of death has not been confirmed.

In his own words

  • I went to the hospital with my psoriasis. They gave me a DVD of The Singing Detective and said “Good luck with your life”.
  • I went into one of those cheesy bars the other day. Or a delicatessen as you’d call it.
  • I thought when I was 41, I would be married with kids. Well, to be honest I thought I would be married with weekend access.
  • I know that the English always say that Irish pubs are so friendly. Let me tell you something: we don’t even know you’re there.
  • You know city centre beat officers? Well, are they police who rap?
  • Everyone grows out of their Morrissey phase. Except Morrissey.

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