We first met Brian Potter and the staff of The Phoenix Club on Channel 4 in 2001. Although the series hasn't been repeated for several years it's stayed in the minds of the British public and is widely regarded as a comedy classic.
It could be that Peter Kay has become a national treasure, and 'Garlic Bread' is now a national catchphrase, but if you mention Phoenix Nights to comedy fans then you're likely to get a wide smile and a barrage of quotes recited back at you.
It wasn't surprising, therefore, that two live Phoenix Nights shows at the Manchester Arena, in aid of Comic Relief (who are celebrating 30 years of the charity this year), sold out in just 15 minutes, and a further 13 nights were eventually added.
Neil Fitzmaurice was co-writer of the two series of Phoenix Nights, alongside Peter Kay and Dave Spikey, and played DJ Ray Von. He's back with the entire original cast for the shows and looking forward to working with everyone again.
"We all met up to do the advert and it was great. To get all the cast there was lovely."
Fans of the series are ridiculously excited about the live shows and are keen to know what they are going to see, but when I spoke to Neil rehearsals hadn't started yet:
"I'd love to say it's all been meticulously planned but it hasn't. Dave, Pete and I wrote the entire first series in 8 weeks, which is unheard of in comedy writing, so we kind of know where those characters are and how they're going to be. But Pete's done a hell a lot of work on it. Pete's always been like that, once he gets a idea of what he wants to do then he's a massive driving force."
So what can people expect from the live shows?
"The idea of the show is it's not an episode of Phoenix Nights. It's a two hour show so that would be like writing 4 episodes of a series. The idea is it's a fundraiser that Brian is getting together and people are doing bits interacting with each other in 10 minute slots. So it's not something you can over rehearse and the show never was anyway, it was always off the cuff.
"Everything I did as Ray Von I just made up on the day. I just used to piss about on the mike."
It may have been a long time since the series were shown on TV, but as Phoenix Nights is one of the biggest selling comedy DVDs of all time, fans still remember the classic lines and situations from the series. Can we expect anything familiar in the live shows?
"We want to give the audience what they're expecting. There's no point going to a concert and hearing a load of new songs. You don't want to hear the new stuff you want to hear the stuff you remember. So we will be giving a strong nod to the series and doing what people expect. Reach for the Lasers, Shabba, it's all coming out, don't you worry, that and much more."
Neil's looking forward getting back to being Ray Von but this time things will be a little more comfortable for him.
"Such was the budget of the series when we did it, I had the wig of someone who was on Stars In Their Eyes and it never fitted me properly. I just used to squeeze my head into it. For the live shows someone came to my house and fitted me for it."
And the cast seems just as pleased to see the old characters, as the fans will be:
"We shot the advert in a theatre in Manchester and I had the wig on and I heard Paddy McGuiness ding dang dooing down the stairs and I jumped out and he said "Oh God it's Ray" and he just pissed himself laughing."
After the second series finished in 2002 it was widely reported in the press that Neil and Dave Spikey had fallen out with Peter Kay over writing credits for the shows, so what persuaded Neil to agree to the reunion?
"It's a massive charity event we can always look back on and say 'I was a part of that'. To know it's going to help so many people and raise such a vast amount of money. It's a great coming together of fans and cast to help a lot of people out so it's great."
So was there ever any ill-feeling or was it blown out of all proportion by the press?
"Things happen and you react to it accordingly. As time goes by you realise there're more important things in life. We've all got wives and kids and families and stuff and we're older now and you can either let those things tear you up or you can say 'whatever'.
"What happened is we all got successful from it and it took us in different directions and then of course you don't get in touch so much but time heals all the cracks. Don't get me wrong there were times when things were said or not said that would annoy you, but we didn't fall out. There was never any official falling out, it was just that we didn't speak to each other. But whenever Peter called or I called him there was never any animosity, it was always really friendly conversations and catching up on family matters."
The speed and volume of the ticket sales for the shows have amazed the cast, so how did they feel when 2 nights turned into 15?
"Incredible, because it's an incredible testament to what people think of the show, and that in a sense makes you feel very humble. The fact that we only put it up for two nights and we thought "well let's see how that goes" and then they kept extending it. You can't help but be incredibly proud of that, for a show that hasn't been aired for over 10 years!
"We kept getting email updates saying we've had to put another day on and another day on and we thought wow this is incredible. We've also all had a lovely e-mail from Richard Curtis, one of the founders of Comic Relief, saying thank you so much for giving your time up."
Finally the inevitable question comes up: will there be a third series or even a film off the back of these live shows?
"Not that I know of and hand on heart it hasn't been discussed. In truth I'd love to do another one, certainly now with this gap, because we left the Phoenix club on the rise again and I like the whole idea of wondering where they'd be now. It takes 3 people to do it so during the course of these shows I would love to sit down with Pete and Dave and say 'where are we with this?'. But I can honestly say the three of us have never discussed it. We know there's an undercurrent of people who are desperate to see it back because it left such a great mark with people. "
Whether that discussion happens and whether it brings about a much anticipated and longed for third series remains to be seen. However, with no plans to tour or film any of the shows for DVD release, if you've got a ticket then you'll be present at a very unique comedy event indeed.
Phoenix Nights Live is being staged at the Manchester Evening News Arena from Saturday 31st January to Saturday 14th February 2015.
Here's a selection of Ray Von scenes from the original TV series: