LESS than a minute after meeting Clive Anderson I’m aiming a slap at his 66-year-old head.

Not the best way to begin an interview, I can hear you thinking, but here’s the context.

We’re outside a pub in Islington, meeting to talk about his upcoming Fringe shows (more of later) but the front man of TV’s Whose Line Is It Anyway and Radio Four’s Loose Ends, has arrived all hot-shuffle and half an hour late.

“If someone had kept me waiting this amount of time I’d be rather cross,” he says, full of apology, which I take to mean he’s prepared to be chastised. Thus, the mock slap. And to be fair, he ducked and laughed.

The playful slap, however, was also a subconscious tester. The best interviewers are almost invariably the worst interview s course, once a barrister.

Will he be open to a little cross examination? Will he reveal the sense of fun he expected of the likes of Cher, of whom he once asked: “You look like a million dollars. Is that how much it cost?”

Anderson is the son of a ‘Presbyterian’ Glaswegian bank manager. Was he strict?

“Well, he wasn’t Captain Mainwaring-pompous. He was quite funny. And while we did attend the Presbyterian Church of England, it was really a meeting place for ex-pat Scots who moved to London.”

Anderson studied Law at Cambridge? But what was the teenage Clive Anderson like? “Much as I am today, only with a thinner waist line and thicker hair.”

He laughs a lot. His humour is often dark and sardonic – rather Scottish? “Possibly. My dad came out with a lot of jokes. But like him I use humour to puncture, to avoid conversation.” To avoid others asking questions of him? “Yes, to avoid difficult questions like this one,” he says, deadpan.

The presenter certainly admits to being natural pessimist.

That’s why he straddled two jobs – a barrister during the week and a stand-up/writer/ presenter – at weekends, for some years.

“The opportunity came up when I got the chance to front the radio programme Whose Line Is It Anyway? which then transferred to television. But I can remember actually saying it was best for Whose Line to remain on radio another five years before transferring.

“You see, I thought I’d do just enough telly to disrupt my legal career, but not enough to get going. But Channel 4 decided to keep me. And even when Dan [Patterson, his producer] said later I should do a chat show I said, ‘Let’s let Whose Line bed in.’

“Luckily, I was late for the meeting to decide all that – I’d been held up in court – so thanks to the jury coming back late I had a chat show.”

He fronted the likes of Clive Anderson Talks Back, which ran from 1989 for seven years.

“Then when I was at the height of my, you know, fame I tried not to do too many things. It was suggested by a BBC controller I do Holiday and programmes like that, but I supposed people didn’t want to see me all that much. Looking back, that was a mistake.”

Hang on, Clive. This reluctance to seek the spotlight contrasts with being president of Footlights at Cambridge, where you once admitting being “seduced by laughter.” Doesn’t this suggest someone paddling in the direction of performance?

“I did the warm-ups for Smith and Jones on TV, and every now and then Mel would say I should do my own show. But that never occurred to me.”

Anderson wrote the smart, sharp, sometimes risqué, TV head-to-heads for Smith and Jones. He also delighted in writing for Frankie Howerd, who had a rep as being rather lascivious with young men. Did he ever chase you around the table? “Yes, a little,” he says, grinning. “Frankie was always interested in expanding his realm. But he was so much funnier than these computer-generated comedians of today.”

Anderson became very much his own man, his schtick being the upbeat, cheeky, sometimes rude questioner, the deliverer of sharp one-liners.

We loved it when the all-too serious Bee Gees stormed out of the studio in 1996. It was fun to see Piers Morgan reduced to petted-lipped schoolboy on Have I Got News for You. ‘What do you know about newspapers, Clive?’ the then News of the World editor demanded, only for Anderson to counter, ‘Almost as much as you.’ And it was a delight to hear him ping pong with Richard Branson, resulting in the Virgin boss pouring water over Anderson’s head. “I’m used to that. I’ve flown Virgin,” quipped Anderson.

He reveal his worst interview, when punched in the stomach by Brian Clough.

“At the beginning of the interview he punched me on the stomach. It wasn’t quite hard enough to leave me in pain and winded, but it wasn’t soft enough to allow me to laugh it off.

“I don’t think he was threatening to attack me – more an extreme version of the very strong handshake.”

Does the pessimist within allow him to assume people will come to see him in Edinburgh, for his Whose Line reprise and his one-man show, Me, Macbeth and I.

“I don’t know,” he says, with an exaggerated grimace.

What’s the Macbeth show about? “It gives me a chance to explore various themes.” Such as? “Well, I can talk about Scottishness and Englishness – I identify with Scottishness although I don’t think audiences will see me as Scottish. And it’s about the truth of Macbeth.” He grins: “But it could also be about telling anecdotes about my career.”

What’s becomes evident is that Anderson shelters from the big questions, he’s a natural worrier, a little anxious, a little risk averse.

For example, what can I tell readers about Clive Anderson they don’t know? He hums and haws for the longest time and declares; “OK, I’m much nicer than people think I am,” he says, grinning. “I’m actually Mr Amiable.”

What’s inarguable is he’s good fun. As mischievous as he was as a schoolboy. And he smiled at the head slap. The Fringe shows will most certainly be a hoot.

Clive Anderson, Me, Macbeth and I, is at Assembly Studio 3, Edinburgh, from August 3- 25. He will also host Whose Line Is It Anyway? from July 31-August 26 @ Underbelly McEwan Hall, Edinburgh