WHEN Roger McGough read the results of his DNA swab test, he didn’t immediately think it was ripe material for a poem.

The ancestry analysis confirmed what he had largely suspected. His roots are in Ireland and Scotland – no surprises there given his surname and his Roman Catholic upbringing in Liverpool.

And he was not shocked by the absence of Englishness in his heritage – just 17.9 per cent or “half a buttockful,” as he puts it.

But he was puzzled by a significant portion of Spanish, Italian and Greek in his lineage.

However, it wasn’t until a conversation with fellow poets Carol Ann Duffy and John Agard that the idea of turning his test into verse was mooted.

He explains: “I just told Carol I’d had the test, she laughed and said ‘there’s a poem there, you’ve got to write the poem’. So I did.”

The result is a work titled ‘The Full English’, in which McGough imagines the liaisons his forebears may have had to ultimately produce himself.

The poem features in his new anthology, titled ‘joinedupwriting’– which he will present during the Durham Book Festival next month.

Many of the works have their roots in McGough’s childhood in Liverpool.

One poem, titled ‘The Overall Winner’ evokes one of his earliest memories – the adulation he received on winning a bonny baby contest aged 18 months, which has left him wondering if it’s “all been downhill from then on”.

His early life in post-war Liverpool was tough, as was his schooling at the strict St Mary’s College, run by the Irish Christian Brothers. But he thinks of those days mostly with affection

“Memories are very strong and I look back on those memories and growing up back in Liverpool,” he says.

“They were quite dark times really, but I didn’t feel they were dark because you don’t know anything different.

“The strap was used a lot, not only for discipline but as a teaching method. It was hard and you couldn’t be funny or witty there. If you were being witty, you were being cheeky against teachers – sometimes I was.

“Poetry became a way of sort of getting your own back.”

Some of McGough’s verse tell a story. For example, in ‘joinedupwriting’ there’s a poem titled ‘Brasso’ about polishing “the family hoard” and another, ‘Mermaid and Chips,’ is about his favourite childhood chippy.

“They’re like little films in a way,” he says.

“I quite like poems that are like that to be honest with you. I go for that type of poem, where you can see it in your head – little dramatic films and the language doesn’t get in the way.”

That’s not to say the poems are like mini documentaries and should be taken as the whole truth.

“Sometimes it’s imaginary,” he says. “Sometimes the ‘me’ in the poem isn’t the ‘me’ in reality. You can create somebody who is much wittier than you are or more violent or whatever.”

If poetry is in McGough’s DNA, then he realised it from very early on – “from my second poem,” he says.

“I didn’t show it to anybody or tell anybody about it. I thought I was about to be a discovered genius. I always had that from very early.

“Maybe you need that sort of self belief, even though you’re not sure what it is or to what extent it is. I’ve always been a poet.”

Success and acclaim came to McGough when he was in his 20s. He rose to prominence in 1967 through the publication of The Mersey Sound – an anthology featuring McGough and fellow Liverpool poets Brian Patten, and Adrian Henri.

He also found fame as a member of the comedy music trio The Scaffold, scoring several hits - most memorably Lily The Pink, which topped the UK charts in 1968.

When he was mixing with the likes of The Beatles, Jimi Hendrix and Bob Dylan, his life could have taken a different path.

“There was a crossroads where I could have gone along with something associated with the music side,” he says.

“But I didn’t, I went for poetry because that’s where I felt more at home and I felt I was better at it. And I was right. “

It was a decision which has paid off. Now aged 81, McGough has become one of the country’s best loved poets. He has written more than a hundred books of poetry for adults and children, has been honoured with a CBE for services to literature and the Freedom of the City of Liverpool.

He’s known for his wit, although he says he “fights against” using too much humour in his poems because “it comes easy to me”.

These days he’s more confident tackling darker subjects without resorting to humour and the collection of 60 poems in ‘joinedupwriting’ cover a wide range of subjects – loss and death, Donald Trump and Brexit, childhood memories and family life. There are poems about poems and the writing process and works of wordplay.

He’ll be performing poems from the book – as well as others from his extensive back catalogue – followed by a Q&A when he’s on stage at the Gala Theatre next month as part of the Durham Book Festival which runs from October 5 to 13.

Although McGough has been performing his work for years, he doesn’t consider himself a natural.

“I’m a bit shy,” he says. “I described myself once as ‘I like being on stage, but I don’t like people looking at me’.

“If you make a mistake when you’re writing and it’s not good enough, you cross it out. If you’re on stage and you f*** it up, you can’t go back and re-say it.”

He’s been called “a true original” and “the people’s poet”, but one flattering epithet which has stuck is “the patron saint of poetry”, which he was called by Carol Ann Duffy and appears on the cover of ‘joinedupwriting’.

“I’ve been a Catholic all my life,” he says. “So being a patron saint’s not not bad is it?”

l An Evening With Roger McGough at the Gala Theatre, Durham, is on Monday, October 7 from 7pm. Tickets, priced £15, and further details available from durhambookfestival.com/programme/