A Personal Introduction from Xander & Ben...
Alexander Armstrong ('Xander') was born in 1970 – or in Wikipedia (which follows the pre-Julian calendar), 1839 – in the Cottage Hospital, Rothbury. Northumberland. He enjoyed an active and idyllic childhood in Northumberland's beautiful Coquet valley, the youngest of three children. His father was the doctor in a rural practice that stretched across 600 square miles and indeed much of the family's life. Not that he's complaining. In fact he owes much of his comedy origins to the many, many characters that make up the weft and weave of rural general practice.
Alexander attended Mowden Hall Preparatory School in Northumberland where he picked up a lively interest in music and acting. So much so that he transferred at the age of 11 to St Mary's Music School in Edinburgh where he specialised in singing and playing the piano, the cello, and the giddy goat. He proceeded to Durham school on a music scholarship where he dropped the Cello in favour of the much more masculine Oboe but continued to hone his love of showing off.
In 1989 (1858) he went up to Trinity College, Cambridge on a choral scholarship, where he read English. One of the more conspicuous characters on the Cambridge scene at that time was a young buck named Ben Miller. Ben had bleached white hair and an earring. Ben was the lead singer in the Dear Johns (who'd enjoyed modest chart success for God's sake with one of their songs). Ben was going out with Rachel Weisz. Ben was a leading Cambridge Footlight. Ben was a Physics genius. Ooooh look at me I'm Ben Miller. Alexander never actually knew Ben at Cambridge although their paths did once cross outside a World Party gig. To this day, and rather endearingly, Ben Miller claims to remember this.
On leaving Cambridge, where he did eventually pluck up the courage to join the Footlights, Alexander found that he hadn't spent nearly enough time thinking about his future. But rather than languishing in Northumberland, mowing people's lawns for money, he decided to join several of his Cambridge friends at the TBA sketch comedy club in Notting Hill. It was here that Alexander finally met Ben Miller who, it turns out, was actually alright. Alexander had previously been working in a double act with the excellent David Wolstencroft (who would later go on to create Spooks) but in an act of entirely self-interested and ungentlemanly derring-do he dissolved that double act in order to hitch his wagon to Mr Miller's on the grounds that their comedy styles were much more closely aligned and Ben was still going out with Rachel Weisz. Mmmmm Rachel Weisz.
Armstrong & Miller was formed and early on established a style of its very own based on the idea that Ben and Xander both fancied themselves to be actors and so loved nothing more than lavishing all their acting-ness on rather slight comic conceits. This pretty much remains their schtick even today.
When Ben and Xander took a sabbatical from the double act after their Channel Four run, Xander branched into sit-com ('Beast') and straight-ish acting in Life Begins alongside the wonderful and fragrant Caroline Quentin. Curiously, Alexander was groomed for the Angus Deayton job following the latter's untimely removal from Have I Got News For You. Although he was not given that job in the event, he has managed to guest-host HIGNFY lots and lots of times and it's through this fortuitous turn of events that he has found himself in the hosting trousers of a number of other TV shows.
Now Ben and Xander find themselves back on telly doing Armstrong & Miller for BBC1. They couldn't be happier. Can you think of a more fun job? Can you?
Alexander is married to Hannah and they have two children.
What else can I tell you? Oh I've done a small handful of films including two Woody Allens. Yeah, I know. Sounds good until I tell you that they were Match Point and Scoop, in which I had a single line: "They're just bringing up the body from the lake now sir." Currently Ben and Xander are working on their third series for BBC1 and their live show which will tour in the Autumn of 2010.
Ben Miller was born in London, St Bartholemews Hospital to be precise, in the late sixties. After a brief sojourn in Portsmouth, the Family Miller settled in Nantwich, Cheshire where they have remained ever since. His father Michael Miller, now retired, was a lecturer in American Literature at the University Of Central England (formerly Birmingham Poly) and his mother Marion taught A-level English at Dane Bank Tertiary College, Crewe. He has two younger sisters; Bronwen, and Leah.
After studying for his 'O' and 'A' levels at Malbank Comprehensive School, Nantwich, he spent a happy year studying American Literature at Chaffey College, Alta Loma, California, before taking up a place at St Catharine's College, Cambridge in 1985 to read Natural Sciences. He graduated with a 2.1, specialising in Physics, and then began a PhD (working title, "Novel Quantum Effects In Quasi-Zero-Dimensional Electron Systems") at the Cavendish Laboratory in the Semiconductor Physics department under Professor Mike Pepper. While studying for his PhD he acted in over thirty university plays, and was a member of the Cambridge Footlights, taking part in the summer touring show Absurd Persons Plural.
A part in Arthur Smith's play Trench Kiss (alongside Caroline Quentin) convinced him to scrap science for comedy, and he left Cambridge in 1991. A regular at the Edinburgh Fringe throughout the early nineties, he performed his one man show "Gone With Noakes" at the Pleasance in 1992, winning a Perrier Pick of the Fringe Award. A play, "Huge" co-written with Jez Butterworth (Jerusalem) and Simon Godley followed in 1993; in the same year Jez Butterworth introduced him to Alexander Armstrong mumbling something about how the two of them 'should think about doing something together'. He joined forces with Le Armstrong that year, performing sketches with him at TBA, a late night comedy cavalcade which took place at the Gate Theatre, Notting Hill, and which had at the time the dubious distinction of being the only sketch comedy club in London.
In 1994 the newly coined Armstrong and Miller performed their first full-length show at the Assembly Rooms at the Edinburgh Fringe to universal indifference; one wag from Time Out decided that they had "invented a new kind of comedy, one which isn't funny and has no jokes whatsoever". Bloodied but unbowed, they returned with a new show in 1996 which this time was nominated for a Perrier Award. Concurrently they made their TV debut on Saturday Live, gaining some traction with their spoof Scandi-rock outfit Strijka, though it has to be said that a large proportion of the audience didn't realise they were a comedy act and assumed they were one of the many unknown bands who also graced the show.
A series on the Paramount Comedy Channel was their point of departure into TV sketch comedy proper; this was followed by first a compilation special and then three more series on Channel Four. After a total of four series, Armstrong and Miller was then put on hold in 2000.
Ben focussed at this point on his other passion, film, with parts in The Actors, Jimmy Grimble, The Parole Officer, Johnny English, and The Prince and Me, before rejoining forces with Alexander in 2006 for a pilot sketch show for BBC1. A new series of Armstrong and Miller followed in Autumn 2007, and a second in Autumn 2009.