Comedian Bennett Arron hit the headlines in 2006 when he stole the identity of former home secretary Charles Clarke - after being a victim of ID theft himself. Prior to his appearance at Ruislip's Comedy Bunker next week, SIBA MATTI spoke to him about the reasons behind his 'crime' and the
VICTIM is perhaps not a word you would associate with a comedian who has held Edinburgh Festival audiences in the palm of his hand in yet another hilarious stand-up routine. But for Bennett Arron, as Charles Dickens once wrote, life has seen the best of times and the worst of times.
One of the lowest points was falling prey to an identity fraud scam nine years ago.
Bennett explains: "I had just married my wife, Rosy, and we were living in a rented flat but looking for somewhere to buy."
"We got a mortgage and made an offer on a property - but I got a letter from my bank manager saying we had been declined, as I was apparently thousands of pounds in debt to mobile phone companies, catalogues and department stores.
"At the time, identity fraud was unheard of and the police and bank just didn't take it seriously - but we ended up homeless and penniless because of what had happened, leaving us with few options other than to stay on friends' sofas.
"We later found out that, after I had applied for the mortgage and moved out of the rented flat, although the post was meant to be redirected, someone living at my previous address had used my personal information."
Six years later, Bennett wrote a comedy show about his experience,
entitled It Wasn't Me, It Was Bennett Arron, a disturbing yet razor-sharp account of how he felt when his identity was stolen. Little did he know that his story of survival would resonate with crowds across the country, propelling him into the limelight.
"I began my career writing for comedy shows such as Hale and Pace, The Freddie Starr Show and VGraham Norton, but I was just starting to do stand-up when my identity was stolen, so it was good exposure as well as being a cathartic experience," Bennett muses.
Following the show's success, Channel 4 approached Bennett to present, write and direct How To Steal An Identity, the infamous documentary which saw former home secretary Charles Clarke's identity being hijacked.
"The programme was all about showing how easily someone's identity can be stolen," Bennett reveals.
"While filming, I contacted the Home Office several times to set up an interview with Mr Clarke, but two months before the show was due to air, I became increasingly frustrated that our meetings were continually cancelled.
"Desperate to prove my point, I set out to steal his identity. I applied for a copy of his birth certificate, which was sent the next day, then used it to obtain a driving licence in his name from the DVLA - even though picture ID is meant to be mandatory.
"It worked, but I was soon found out and police came to my house to arrest me and threatened to throw me in jail. Luckily, I eventually managed to get a lawyer and was given a caution."
But Bennett's brief brush with the law proved to be fruitful, with more than half a million viewers watching the documentary, which was listed as pick of the week in the TV guides of The Guardian and The Telegraph, as well as being shortlisted for a BAFTA.
More importantly, perhaps, the comedian negotiated an agreement with Credit Expert, which is part of Experian - one of the largest credit reference agencies - to provide anyone with a free credit report.
"That's one of the most positive things about my entire experience -
being able to use it to prevent other people from suffering the same ordeal.
"Identity theft is often perceived as a victimless crime because what has been stolen is intangible - you can't see what has been stolen, but the consequences are devastating. I expect I will get over it any day now," Bennett smiles wryly.
The issue of identity has always been an important one for the comic, even before his own was stolen, with his Jewish and Welsh roots being a regular source of inspiration for his routines.
"I grew up in a little Welsh village called Baglan, which is quite a small place up in the mountains with a very tight-knit community. When I moved to London, I was very naive and it was quite a culture shock, which is often something that many people can identify with. I would say my humour is a cross between the paranoid angst of Max Boyce and the colloquial valley style of Woody Allen, but I have also been inspired by the likes of Tommy Cooper and Morecambe and Wise."
Bennett's unique style has led to him winning numerous accolades, including the TAPS Comedy Writer of the Year Award and the BBC Wales New Writer's Award. Despite this, he claims his proudest achievement was coming third in the 1982 Boy Scout Disco Dancing Championship!
"I don't think even an Oscar could top winning the Boy Scout competition," Bennett jokes. "It truly is the biggest honour ever bestowed on me!"
As for the future, Bennett has some projects in the pipeline with his production company, Silly Papi, and he is regularly asked to speak about identity fraud. "I feel proud that I have made a difference to what is said to be the UK's fastest-growing crime, and that people are more aware of the problem," he says. "All I really want is to continue with my career and for life to stay as sweet as it is now."
[25cf] Bennett Arron is at The Comedy Bunker on Wednesday, February 18. Show starts 8.45pm, doors open 8.15pm, at The Fairway/Ruislip Golf Centre, Ickenham Road, West Ruislip, HA4 7DQ (opposite West Ruislip Tube and BR Station). Find out more at www.comedybunker.co.uk.