Scotsman Obituaries: Sean Lock, comedian best-known for 8 Out of Ten Cats

Sean Lock, stand-up comic. Born: 22 April 1963 in Runnymede, Surrey. Died: 16 August 2021 in London, aged 58

Sean Lock performing in aid of the Teenage Cancer Trust charity in 2009 (Picture: Jo Hale/Getty Images)

Sean Lock made the absurd funny, but he also made the obvious funny. With his spectacles and collared shirts and trimmed hair, he looked like a maths teacher.

In fact he had a single A Level and worked on a building site and as a goat herder before becoming a professional comedian and celebrity panellist.

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Lock would not mind me saying that he looked like a maths teacher or any of that. He said quite explicitly on the television show 8 Out of 10 Cats that he did not care what his obituary said. “I’ll be dead,” he told host Jimmy Carr with a straight face, as if the reasoning was obvious.

There was something almost simple-minded, about his stage and screen persona, a certain innocence that masked the mischief beneath, like the time he completely rewrote the children’s favourite The Tiger Who Came to Tea as The Tiger who Came for a Pint – the beast got barred for eating the darts team.

While many comics have their niche, Lock’s fanbase seemed to extend pretty much across everyone, male, female, young and old, and it definitely included other comedians – he frequently had Jimmy Carr in tears or braying like a jackass.

With that respectable appearance and childlike charm, Lock could get away with material that might be considered offensive in other hands, telling 8 Out of 10 Cats Does Countdown colleague Rachel Riley when she put on a big beard and a Viking helmet that she was now “a challenging w***”.

Sometimes viewers did not know if the material was rude or not, but somehow it seemed funny, because it was so simple or so absurd or both. One of his funniest moments on 8 out of 10 Cats was when Jimmy Carr presented him and fellow team captain Jon Richardson with two boxes and there was a carrot in one.

Lock could look into his box and establish if there was a carrot or not. Lock then had to bluff Richardson into either swapping boxes or keeping his own box. It was Richardson’s choice and the winner was the one who ended up with the carrot.

Lock seemed to struggle to understand the rules, looked in the box, went to take something out until he was stopped. He then announced “Oh, I’ll keep this... It’s got a carrot in it.” And so it goes, with Lock arguing that he surely cannot be made to swap against his will.

Richardson insists on a swap, commenting: “Can I just say at this point, if there is no carrot in that box, you are a genius.” There was no carrot in Lock’s box, not the original box anyway. There was a carrot in his box once he acceded to the swap request. There was a later rematch. Lock won again.

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Sometimes his comedy was obvious, sometimes it was absurd, delivered with a big, enthusiastic, conspiratorial grin, or the pained look of a child. It seemed simple, but it was hard work. Lock spent hours staring at blank paper, trying to think of something funny. One critic suggested he was like “Samuel Beckett trapped inside a Tommy Cooper punchline”.

The youngest of four children, Lock was born in Runnymede in Surrey and grew up largely in nearby Woking. His only A-Level was in English and that was an E, which is apparently a pass in that system.

His father worked in the building industry and got him a job labouring on building sites. He spent seven years at it and developed skin cancer as a result of prolonged exposure to the sun. “You could hardly ask a big Irish foreman, ‘Please could you rub some Ambre Solaire on my back’,” he said later.

He also spent time hitching around Europe and had a stint herding goats in France, before attempting to break into the comedy circuit. His slow-burn, observational humour did not play well at his first gig – he was booed off and bottles were thrown.

But he persevered, working on building sites during the day and appearing in clubs at night. He enrolled on a drama course, appeared on the sketch show Newman and Baddiel in Pieces and began writing for TV.

In 1998 he received his own late-night show on Radio 4 called 15 Minutes of Misery. He won best live act at the British Comedy Awards for 2000. A regular at the Edinburgh Fringe, he was nominated for the Perrier Comedy Award that year for his show No Flatley, I am the Lord of the Dance, but lost to Rich Hall.

15 Minutes of Misery evolved into 15 Storeys High, a television sitcom set in high-rise flats. There were two series in the early 2000s, with Lock as the downbeat central character Vince, but Lock discovered that appearing on panel shows was a lot easier than writing and appearing in sitcoms.

He was involved in 8 Out of 10 Cats from the outset in 2005 and remained with it for 18 series, though he also appeared regularly on other shows too, including Have I Got News for You and QI.

It was his unpredictability as much as anything that made Lock such a hit. Harry Hill summed it up neatly when he said: “If you tell jokes for a living it’s hard to enjoy a comedian in the same way that a punter would, because you know all the tricks, you can see where a gag is going and often arrive at the punchline long before the comic telling it. Not so with Sean, that’s why we comics loved him. Often I had absolutely no idea where he was heading with a routine.”

Lock is survived by his wife Anoushka Nara Giltsoff and three children.

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