The Den of Geek interview: Dusty Bin

He once devised a hand gesture that changed the viewing habits of a nation. And now Dusty Bin is spilling the beans on the dark side of 3-2-1...

The 1980s threw up many interesting talents and creative personalities including the irrepressible Dusty Bin. He came from relative obscurity to headline one of the most successful quiz shows on British TV, which even when it was axed it was still pulling 12 million viewers. Dusty took time from his hectic schedule to chat about his rise to fame, and what he’s doing now.

Dusty, you’ve been in show business for a long time, can you tell me about the early days.

Please, call me Dustin. Originally I was assistant stage manager, but they couldn’t keep me off the stage! If anyone was ill I’d do the part; it didn’t matter what age or sex they were. Then I did the northern stand-up circuit for a while, but I don’t think people quite got my act. It was a tough time. I nearly went back to the family removals business a couple of times. Starting out breaks are always hard to come by. Finally I was lucky enough to find some consistent work on Swap Shop holding the ‘swaps’. I didn’t get much profile, but it was regular work and Noel even said ‘hello’ to me once, I recall. But that was only on for part of the year so I was always looking for alternative income.

I believe you even tried out for Star Wars, is that true?

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Well, I’m actually in it somewhere for three or four frames (laughs). I was invited to Pinewood to meet George, and we got on well, and he asked me if I’d like to be in this ‘space’ film he was making. I was going to be ‘lead robot’, and I’d get lines and such, it was all very thrilling.

What went wrong?

George wasn’t very good with dialogue, I was told, and couldn’t be bothered to write my part, so they gave it to R2 because he just beeped – and people could just imagine what he was saying. I got demoted to a minor character called RU12 who appears in the Cantina scene, but I’m obscured by some huge blue creature that looks like an elephant. I was crushed. It should have been the breakthrough role I so desperately wanted.

What happened after that?

Oh, I just fell back into the usual cycle of repertory and panto, I started out on the stage and felt most at home there.

How did you get onto 3-2-1?

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Well, I was ‘resting’ between parts in a Tapas bar in Marbella, and they had this quiz show on called ‘Un, Dos, Tres’ that everyone liked. So I rang my agent, and discovered that Yorkshire TV was interested in doing a UK version. I got an audition, and the next thing they told me was that I’d be fronting the show!

Did that surprise you?

Gosh yes, when I saw the Yorkshire TV logo transform into me I was gobsmacked! But even then I noticed that things weren’t going exactly my way.

Did you not get on with Ted Rogers?

No, Ted was fine although he did seem to act like it was his show on occasion. My first warning sign was when they let Ted do the 3-2-1 hand gesture, which had been designed by me. Ted kept telling them that as I had longer fingers it made more sense if I did it, but they insisted he do it despite his arthritis. I almost walked over that, Ted was in pain all the time! From originally being told I would be hosting the show, they then started giving more of my part to other people, I never really knew why.

So did things go downhill quickly?

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To be honest the first two or three years went fine, I got top billing and they made my entrance spectacular by dressing me up as a spaceman or deep-sea diver or whatever. I was now an ‘A’ list celeb, and life was good. But then they started making the prizes bigger and wanted to cut cost where they could find it. But I also felt that some of the people on the show didn’t much like me.

What did they do?

It started in minor ways, like for a joke someone would drop an empty coffee cup in me. But then it became a full one, and three or four times a day! At the end of each season we’d have a big party and get very drunk. I recall that in the 1986 one I woke up handcuffed to a cross channel ferry filled with empty beer cans, that wasn’t very nice.

Was that when it all came to a head?

No, it was a couple of months later when I discovered that they’d done a deal with Hasbro to make dolls of me without my agreement. I went ballistic and resigned, it was the last straw. They did the last two seasons without me, and Ted told me later that it was never the same show after I left. After the show ended for me someone at Yorkshire TV put out a press statement suggesting that I was ‘animatronics’ and not a real person at all. That hurt.

Did you retire after 3-2-1?

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Yes, effectively. Although I’d do the occasional run at Stratford if the RSC got into a bind. I was financially secure by then, so it was a nice situation.

What are you doing now?

Well, I’d almost cut out all public appearances and then about a year ago the phone rang and it was Ken Livingston. He asked me to chair a committee on Refuse Management and Green issues, which is just up my street – so to speak. I’m now working with councils across the country developing recycling projects, it’s all very exciting!

Dustin, it’s been great to talk to you!