Monday, 9 August 2010

The Unforgettable Bob Monkhouse

I don't normally bother posting my documentary reviews for Orange, but the sub there was complementary about this one, so here goes.

I suppose it's also of interest because it offered a nice reminder that Bob Monkhouse was a tireless and prolific writer above anything else.

Plus, I guarantee that you'll tell the 'roast beef/pea soup' gag before the end of the day. 

(The documentary should be available on ITV Player for about a month.)

For those of us who grew up in the 1970s and 1980s, serial game-show host Bob Monkhouse was part of the TV furniture. However, we were only seeing one side of him, as both a person and an entertainer. This excellent documentary shed light on his whole career, and gave a few more clues to understanding his complex personality.

Even at an hour in length, the show had to race through his long and varied career. As a skilled cartoonist he started out spending his school holidays filling in for artists on the Beano and Dandy. However, the teenage Bob soon developed into a compulsive gag-writer, hanging around stage doors to sell his jokes to popular comedians.

He soon became a prolific writer and performer on the radio, and it wasn't long before his slick style propelled him to TV stardom. Meanwhile, he also had a parallel career as one of the country's most in-demand cabaret comedians – an arena where he could let down his game-show persona and deliver much edgier material.

The programme was peppered with brilliant archive material that made it a bit of a wet dream for us telly addicts. Every stage of his career was covered, from his very first appearances to the final months before his death from prostate cancer at the age of 75. Even with a terminal prognosis hanging over him, he continued to forge his experience into polished gags.

We also got an insight into his complex and sometimes traumatic personal life. He had a troubled relationship with his parents, his unhappy first marriage ended in divorce and, tragically, his two sons both died before him. Candid interviews also revealed his resentment of some people's perception of his stage persona as smarmy and insincere.

This was a well-researched and respectful biography, featuring people who knew him rather than Rufus Hound humming the tune to Bob's Full House in a closed nightclub somewhere. It's easy to write off previous generations of comedians as dated and irrelevant, but this documentary presented a worthy tribute to a comedy giant whose biggest problem was that he made it look too easy.

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