Ricky Gervais

Ricky Gervais shot to fame in 2001 with his portrayal of nightmare office boss David Brent - a middle-aged nobody who believed he was a somebody. Now, many years after The Office first got TV audiences chuckling, his facility for writing comedy has made Ricky that somebody - David Brent's wildest dream come true.

The youngest of four siblings, Ricky Gene Gervais was born and grew up in Reading's southern suburb of Whitley, on a council estate. He owes his French surname to his soldier father, who came to England on duty from the francophone Canadian province of Quebec during the Second World War.

After school Ricky went on to University College London in 1979 to study biology, later switching to philosophy. While there he also tried his hand at pop with his New Romantic student band Seona Dancing. "We got signed, released a single and it failed, and that was it," he remembers of the time. "We thought we were Tears For Fears for a bit."

He remained in London after graduating and met his long-term girlfriend Jane Fallon, a fledgling producer who went on to work on This Life and EastEnders. While Jane began to carve a name for herself in the world of TV, Ricky took a job as an entertainments officer for the London's students Union. The job, he says, provided him with lots of material for cringe-making moments in The Office, after he spent "years and years standing round a student bar hearing bad comedians".

From there he moved to alternative radio station XFM, in 1996. It was there he met Steven Merchant, then in his early 20s, who would become Ricky's collaborator in much of his later work. The pair found they shared the same sense of irony-laden humour, and would often put their official duties aside to work on routines together.

When Ricky was given his own radio programme he impressed the people behind Channel 4's The 11 O'Clock Show so much they invited him to fill the slot left by Sacha Baron Cohen's character Ali G. That in turn led to Meet Ricky Gervais, which lasted a series.

Meanwhile Steven Merchant was asked to submit a short film as part of a BBC production course. He made a mock-documentary set in an office, starring his pal Ricky as a character they called "Seedy Boss", and David Brent was born. The film found its way into the hands of the head of BBC2, who commissioned a pilot. The first, six-episode series of The Office aired in the UK in the summer of 2001 to little fanfare or attention. But news of the series spread like wildfire, and word-of-mouth, repeats and DVDs built up a huge cult following in time for the second series in September 2002, which topped ratings with over four million viewers. The show was eventually adapted for American audiences, with Ricky and Steven taking production credits.

After the huge success of The Office, which won two Golden Globes in 2004, offers of work and film scripts came pouring in. Under Stephen"s guidance Ricky was selective about which offers he accepted, though. One proposal which he snapped up straight away was the chance to write and appear in an episode of The Simpsons.

Ricky became a huge star in the US after his 2005 series Extras proved a massive hit. The Emmy-winning show, which was written and directed by Ricky and Steven, centred around a character called Andy, a struggling gaff-prone actor who mainly did background work. Success at the Golden Globes helped the British creative secure a host of Hollywood stars for guest appearances on the series, including Ben Stiller, Kate Winslet and Samuel L Jackson in series one, and Orlando Bloom, Robert De Niro and David Bowie in series two.

Ricky had still to make it to the big screen, however, something he achieved in 2006 when he played a nit-picking museum director in Ben Stiller's comedy Night At The Museum. After the film's success it grossed $30.8 million in the US on its opening weekend - he was signed to appear in the fantasy adventure Stardust, with Michelle Pfeiffer and Sienna Miller, and romantic comedy Ghost Town.

Success may have come late in life for Ricky - he was 40 when The Office first aired in the UK - but when it did arrive, it was in a big way. Numerous TV and film triumphs apart, Ricky"s achievements also include being a 2006 world record holder, after his podcast The Ricky Gervais Show became the world"s most downloaded. He has also enjoyed considerable success in standup comedy with his UK tours Animals, Politics and Fame.

With a £3.5 million mansion in Hampstead and a bunch of Tinseltown pals, the David Brent creator is clearly a long way from his modest beginnings on a Reading council estate. Ricky insists he has never been driven by money or fame, however. "Being recognised is the worst bit of the whole package," he insists. "It's very, very strange that people can be happy just from the recognition. I'm sick of the sight of my face, so Christ knows what other people think of it."
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