When he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, Paul Mayhew-Archer says he quickly decided to try to see the funny side.

The 64-year-old comedy writer, best known for working on The Vicar of Dibley with Richard Curtis, was told by his neurologist: “You find it quite difficult to smile, don’t you?” “I said, ‘Well, that could be because you told me I have Parkinson’s!’”, he recalls.

And six years later, it is clear that poking fun at the situation has not only helped Mr Mayhew-Archer – it has also helped countless others.

His documentary, Parkinson’s: The Funny Side, has won a string of awards. As its title suggests, it is an amusing but – crucially – touching exploration of people’s daily struggles with the disease.

“It was great fun to do”, he tells The Oxford Mail. “And it made me think I’d been in the wrong department for 20 years.

“I didn’t have any sense of the impact it would have on people with Parkinson’s and their families. Lots of people have told me it cheered them up and made them less scared.”

By laughing at something, Mr Mayhew-Archer argues, you take away its power. “That’s my aim really,” he adds.

Charities that support people with Parkinson’s often, necessarily, portray them as being needy and helpless, but Mr Mayhew-Archer says: “What that doesn’t show is there is a life before that.

“The people in my local group, for instance, are amazing. We spend an enormous amount of time just giggling away.”

According to the NHS, about one in 500 people are affected by Parkinson’s disease. Most of them do not exhibit symptoms – which commonly include shaking, slow movement and stiff muscles – until they are aged 50 or above. One in 20 may show signs when they are under 40.

But behind the jokes, does he still feel scared? “I am conscious of the progress now, yes. When people talk about Parkinson’s, they say there are periods when you are ‘on’ and ‘off’,” he says.

“I take tablets about three times a day and when they are working it’s fine. But I can sometimes droop and become quite wobbly and slow and I realise I need more.

“Until recently they have been seeing me fine, but I am conscious there will come a time when I can’t take any more to stop the effects.

“On the whole, I am fine at the moment and the more active one can be, the better. Hopefully I won’t get dementia. But I must say, I do find it terrifying.”

Mr Mayhew-Archer grew up in Bexhill, near Hastings. It has the highest percentage of pensioners in the country and Mr Mayhew-Archer says it was affectionately known as a ‘cemetery with traffic lights’. “It was inevitable I would meet my wife really because we were probably the only two people in town aged under 65,” he says. “My dad owned a hardware shop and learned not to ask people how they were because the answer would always be so miserable.”

He went on to Eastbourne College and then up to St Catherine’s College, Cambridge, where he studied English.

He moved to Abingdon with his wife, Julie, in 1976 for a teaching job and they had one son, Simon. Mr Mayhew-Archer later got his first producing job with the BBC.

His wife was a town councillor in Abingdon but he is quick to insist – perhaps a little too quickly – that The Vicar of Dibley is “in no way” based on Abingdon. “Not at all. Really!”

His other notable works include Office Gossip, a radio production of Old Harry’s Game Working and Roald Dahl’s Esio Trot, another collaboration with Curtis. But his career highlight remains Dibley, he says, and the world of showbiz has been ‘fantastic’ to work in.

“When I left teaching, the headmistress at my school said to my wife ‘I’m a bit worried about Paul going into entertainment, because it’s very dog eat dog’. But I’ve found people really delightful. Richard Curtis is simply the nicest man in the world.

“People ask what the secret is to a good sitcom and I know the answer: write it with Richard!”

His favourite character was dippy church verger Alice, played in the series by Emma Chambers, whose romance with the sweet-natured but similarly dim-witted Hugo became the “heart” of the show.

He is also full of praise for the show’s “extremely gifted” lead, Dawn French, who is “the sensible person among the lunatics”.

Now his experience with Parkinson’s has inspired him to write a “bittersweet” film for the BBC. It is based around two characters with the disease, who fall in love while attending ballet classes (similar to those Mr Mayhew-Archer attends himself).

He said: “You’d think writing about Parkinson’s might make me depressed but actually it has the opposite effect, perhaps because I’m writing about other characters and putting it in its place.”

What would he say to people with Parkinson’s? “They will find our local group, which meets on the first Wednesday of every month at 7pm in the Botley Women’s Institute, incredibly friendly.

“I tend to take every opportunity I can to tell people not to be scared. In that way, strangely, having Parkinson’s has given me purpose."

lParkinson’s: The Funny Side is available to view on BBC iPlayer.