BOB Mills has learned his lesson when it comes to visiting the Highlands.
Back this weekend to headline shows in Aviemore and Nairn, it is not so long since the veteran stand-up and star of television’s In Bed With Me Dinner and Win, Lose or Draw made his first visit to the Highlands.
"Earlier I signed up to do a tour of RAF bases," he explained.
"There was a tour bus and they did all the driving, so I didn’t have to worry about all that, and they’d pick me up at 3pm and I’d go to Somerset or Wiltshire or somewhere. Then they phoned up and said the next day’s pick-up is at 6.30. ‘So is it not very far away then?’ And they said: ‘No — it’s 6.30 in the morning.’
"They picked me up at 6.30am in Muswell Hill and we arrived at Kinloss at 7pm, did the gig there and stayed over night then did another one at Lossiemouth."
So this time, Mills is flying up from London, although he admits that the 12 hour road journey on his earlier trip did help him appreciate just how big Scotland is.
"I hope it doesn’t come across as facetious, but you are talking to someone very English and when someone says ‘Scotland’ to us, you think of Edinburgh and Glasgow," he said.
"When someone tells you they have this other gig in Scotland, you think: I’ve done Glasgow and Edinburgh, there’s not much above there. It’s a big country, int’it? It goes up a long way. Edinburgh and Glasgow, they’re basically border towns."
This trip will be a bit more leisurely than that last one. Mills and his wife are making a little holiday of their Highland excursion and taking the time to look around. They might even take "the Michael Portillo train" — "At least that’s what we call it down here," Mills explained — over to Kyle of Lochalsh.
It will also give him a bit of time to look around and learn a bit more about the Highlands, some of which might find a way into his act in Aviemore and Nairn.
"I have a comedy set where I start from the first word and get to the last in about 45 minutes," he said.
"That would work in Nairn and it would work in Aviemore, but if I have to do that, I’ll be tremendously disappointed. Nothing compares with just talking to people about where they are."
It also might mean Mills delves into Scottish politics and that vote in September.
While he revealed that one of his friends, a well known Scottish comedian, kept noticeably quiet on the issue when they appeared on an edition of Radio 4’s The News Quiz for fear of the response it might provoke, Mills has no such qualms of talking about independence.
"Strangely enough, I’m a big fan of it and have been since Winnie Ewing, back in the day," he said.
"Years ago I did an episode of Have I Got News For You with Alex Salmond and I thought he was a nice bloke.
"It’s a strange anachronism in this day and age. When the Soviet Union broke up even places like Belarus have a separate identity, but these four enormously different countries are still bound together and it’s not an equal partnership, let’s be honest, because you have the Parliament in London."
For Mills himself, there seems to be an awareness that in Scotland he is playing to a different country.
"When you play Glasgow or Edinburgh, you could be in London or Dublin because they are such cosmopolitan places," Mills said.
"The Scots are very warm people, but not cloyingly warm. In Glasgow and Edinburgh, everyone’s your best mate, but in the rest of Scotland you’ve got to give it a minute and if they like you, they’ll go with you 100 per cent.
"You can play Glasgow and Edinburgh and you’d never think of them as foreign, but once you get up those hills into Inverness and Nairn and Lossiemouth and certainly beyond that to places like Wick, you’re in a different country. They are coming to see something foreign, basically. One thing you have to be very wary about in Scotland is talking about Scotland because they are very wary of the English view of them. And they don’t like stereotypes. The Irish can of accept it and go along with it and the Welsh have no choice in the matter, but the Scots don’t like it."
He jokes that the one way of ensuring independence would be to give the English a say "because we’re fed up of all you Scottish football managers from the same square mile of Glasgow coming down and taking our jobs."
However, get Mills on the subject of English football and the Talksport and BBC Radio 5 regular becomes serious.
"It’s the most humiliating thing," he said of his national side’s World Cup exit.
"We had this thing on Talksport about who would have slept all right in the plane on the way back and thought they did their best and which ones would have felt guilty, but I don’t think any of them would have thought about it like that. There was no scapegoat. They were all equally feckless, especially when you’ve been watching Costa Rica and Chile and America and even Australia and Iran and the joy they have in football and the incredible heart they’ve put into it.
"But it’s a road we’ve been on for the last 25 years and it’s a simple thing — the Premier League is more important than the national team by the longest of chalks. If you are a fan of Chelsea or Arsenal or Man United or Liverpool, that’s who you support. England come a very poor second. No one at those teams is sitting at the moment going: ‘What plan can we put into place to change this?’ No. They’re sitting there thinking: ‘I wonder how much that bloke from Nigeria costs — or Shaqiri, who got the hat-trick for Switzerland?’ "Liverpool or Arsenal would beat England — even if they had players in the England team, they have enough other players in the squad to all beat England. The team that played in the World Cup would probably finish fifth or sixth in the Premier League, but the England team should be the best players playing in England and they not. There were players in the team who weren’t regular starters for their club sides. It’s nonsense!"
Ironically, despite Scotland’s failure to qualify for 2014, Mills reckons we are in a more optimistic position than England.
"The bubble is starting to burst because of the Rangers thing," Mills said.
"All that needs to happen is for someone to say they can’t even afford to go to Norway, like we used to, and bring someone over on a trawler. And you know what? Someone will say: ‘If you go to the local park, there’s a young Kenny Dalgleish or a young Graeme Souness or Jimmy Johnstone.’ Seriously, I think you’re in a better position than we are."
Although Mills says simply that "stand-up is what I do", there were a few years when he stepped off the stage to concentrate on a screenwriting career that saw him pen Michael Barrymore vehicle Bob Martin for ITV, BBC comedy-drama Stan The Man and Christmas Lights and its sequels for Robson Green and Mark Benson, and go into darker territory with the feature film Pierrepoint, starring Timothy Spall as the long serving British hangman.
"I wrote a film — well, I wrote the script for a film — but you don’t make a film on your own, it’s all done by committee," Mills said.
"Nothing compares with stand-up. You go on stage and it’s just you and however many people in the room. There’s no middle ground, they either like your or they don’t like you and if they don’t like you. At the end, if it’s gone well, you don’t have to thank the other writers or the band, it’s just you. And you can’t beat that."
• Bob Mills joins former prison officer turned comedian and columnist Ava Vidal and Australian-born Yianni Agisilaou at Wildnight’s comedy night at the Peregrine Suite at the Macdonald Aviemore Resort, Aviemore, on Friday 4th July at 7.30pm and at Nairn Community Centre on Saturday 5th July at 8.45pm.