NEXT week John Henshaw will get the chance to throw open the doors of The Grapes as the cult comedy Early Doors hits the stage for one last time.

John plays Ken, the landlord of the back street boozer, home to a rag bag collection of regulars, and he’s delighted the head back to The Lowry.

Early Doors proved to be the surprise hit of the year last year. Initially scheduled for a limited run, the demand for the stage version - 14 years after the TV series was screened on BBC2 - was such that the cast including writers Craig Cash and Phil Mealey took it on tour around the country including dates at the Hammersmith Apollo and Manchester Arena,

Now the show is heading back to where it all began with a limited run at The Lowry, Salford Quays.

“What happened last year was amazing,” said John. “Little old old Early Doors playing Manchester Arena, who’d have thought it?

“I think we were all a little bit nervous about the idea of taking the show to the stage, especially after all those years but perhaps we shouldn’t have been. I can honestly say that even before we did the live shows someone would mention Early Doors to me at least once a day, so I knew there was a lot of love out there for the show.

“Then as soon as we started out on the road, the reaction was terrific.”

John was invited to join the cast of Early Doors after appearing on a Christmas special of the Royle Family, written by Craig Cash and Caroline Aherne.

John recalls: “Craig rang me up and said we’re doing this thing about a pub and you remind me of a landlord. I’m not sure how that was meant whether it’s because I’m an imbiber or because I’ve got the physical attributes of what you normally expect from a landlord but I said great, ‘yeah I’ll do it’.

“Then Caroline jumped on the phone and said ‘and I’m going to play your wife and there’s going to be loads of sex’. Unfortunately that didn’t work out in the end but I’m so l glad I took took up the offer from Craig all those years ago.”

Fans of Early Doors praise its gentle humour and the disparate characters for whom The Grapes is home.

“It’s the quality of the writing that makes Early Doors so special,” said John. “There is so much rubbish out there. Sometimes you’ll see things and wonder ‘how did that get on?’ but Craig and Phil are so clever. It’s very subtle and beautifully observed.”

Early Doors is very much a northern comedy set in a mythical Manchester pub but that didn’t stop the stage show selling out around the country last year.

“I’ve been in Scotland, in London in Newcastle - all over the country and I’ve had people come up to me and say they know where that pub is,” said John. “It was actually recorded in the ballroom which was part of the old Granada Studios tour but people recognise the characters and they relate to them.

“When we went out on tour Craig said ‘I don’t know what we’re going to do in London – we’re going to need subtitles’. But it was great. The Hammersmith Apollo was amazing.

“We kept getting texts from people saying things like ‘David Bowie, Pink Floyd ....Early Doors’. It was incredible that our little show was on that stage.”

John, 68, has become an in-demand comedy and character actor. He’s been in TV series including Born and Bred and The Cops and starred in a number of films, but he came to acting relatively late on in life.

“I was 39 before I started acting, before that I’d been driving a bin wagon for 10 years,” he said. “I’ve said it many times before but I’ve worked with a lot of people who trained at Rada but I trained at Asda and the university of life. But I think that’s helped me as an actor.

“When you’ve got stuff that’s a bit emotional, you need a bit of recall. It helps if you have had those life experiences.”

Virtually all of the original TV cast returned for the stage show and as John puts it - ‘the family’s getting back together again’ for the final live run.

“Even though we did around 40 shows last year so many people said they’d miss out so we’re bringing it back to give them one last chance to see it,” said John. “I don’t know if Craig and Phil are going to write any more but I think that this will be it for this particular show.”

But he’s delighted to be reunited with his fellow cast members.

“We have such a laugh together,” he said. “Even when you are rehearsing which can be a bit of a slog, we’re watching what each other does and laughing. These guys all have funny bones.”

John is very much the central character who holds the whole thing together and he’s used some personal experiences to shape the character of Ken

“My uncle had a pub in Ancoats and I used to work behind the bar sometimes,” he said. “It was a bit like the Grapes. We’d get the coppers coming into the pub. They thought they were incognito but you could always spot them because they had shiny shoes. Every pub had characters like you see in Early doors.

“Sadly there aren’t too many of that type of pub left now. The idea of going for a pint early doors has chanced now - people will have one then head off home. In them days you never went home - at least I know I didn’t!”

Early Doors, The Lowry, Salford Quays, Wednesday, July 24 to Saturday, August 3. Details from