Wednesday, 6 May 2015

Comedy Spotlight - Bob Monkhouse

Bob Monkhouse  (Full name Robert Alan Monkhouse), was a British comedian whose career spanned over 50 years.

I, like most people my age, first came across Bob when he was presenting one of many game shows he hosted throughout the 1980s, I forget which one exactly as he presented so many in my lifetime.
At first, I was not aware he was a comedian, but what impressed me about him was his extremely amiable and easy going manner, as well as his quick witted quips. The first time I actually saw him as a comedy performer was in 1994, when he was one of many comedians who ITV devoted one of their "An audience with..." programs to, and then a year later, the BBC gave him a series titled "Bob Monkhouse: On the spot". Both these shows highlighted his quick wit and ability to make just about anything amusing, particularly so when he performed a routine he called "Bobs comedy connections", where he would ask the audience to give him two completely unrelated subjects and would then perform a 10 minute routine in which he would make up a series of gags which would connect the two subjects (something which I have yet to see ANY other comedian do half as well as Bob could).Bobs showbiz career began in his teenage years, however he didn't begin with comedy, instead, he began as an illustrator, doing artwork for various British comics such as The Beano and The Dandy, nether of which he received any artists credit for, as was the rather odd tradition of the time.
Later, Bob and his life long friend Denis Gifford formed their own publishing company, specialising in comic artwork, gag writing and rather oddly, erotic fiction.
After he completed his national service, Bob tricked his commanding officer into signing a letter stating he was a war hero and recommending that the person reading it should give him a job, which Bob then used to secure employment at the BBC, thus beginning the career which would serve him well for the next 50 years.
Initially, Bob worked as a gag writer and comedy performer for radio shows, but soon enough he began to diversify into writing material for other well known comedians of the 1950s, such as Arthur Askey, Max Miller and Bob Hope,  he also began making a name for himself on the club circuit as a double act with Denis.
Bob began presenting TV shows in the mid 50s, mainly game shows, where his wit quickly garnered him a reputation as a household name in his own right, and thus secured him more work on stage and screen.
The early 1960s marked the real beginning of Bobs comedy career, as Denis, taking Bob quite by surprise, decided to dissolve their partnership and move to America where he had managed to secure work as a gag writer for numerous American comedians (although Bob admitted in his autobiography that he had begun to tire of having to carry Denis, who, although a good gag writer, was not a very good comedian or comedy performer, as he lacked the wit and charisma required to be successful on the comedy circuit)

Bob began appearing in numerous films (The first "Carry on" film, "Carry on Sergeant" being one of the most notable) and on TV programs, although his presence on television didn't become secure until the mid 60s, when in 1967 he became the presenter of the hugely popular TV show "The Golden Shot" (again, Bob admitted in his autobiography that he, via a series of well placed negative comments to the producers, managed to get them to sack the original presenter Jackie Rae, and hire him, again, citing that Jackie was not really suitable for the job as he lacked the charisma and wit to engage with the audience both at home and in the studio). What followed from then was five years of uninterrupted work and huge success, however the good times began to turn bad.
Firstly, Bob had invested in a nightclub venture with an acquaintance of his, which seemed to be turning a decent profit, unfortunately though, Bobs faith was misplaced, as his "friend" ran off with a lot of the money and the nightclub ended up being an expensive white elephant that barely attracted customers.
Bob also engaged in a series of extra marital affairs during the 50s and early 60s, including an admitted single sexual encounter with a male-to-female transsexual (although Bob stated he was not aware of this until after he and the trans woman had had sex and Bob made a comment about her vagina seeming to be somewhat smaller than he was used to). Bobs most famous, and most dangerous bit on the side though was an affair with actress Diana Dors, who at the time as married to
small time gangster and all round bastard Dennis Hamilton. Bobs autobiography states that when Dennis eventually found out that Bob had been shagging his Mrs (via having people follow her and listening to her phone calls) he confronted Bob as he left a party in the early hours of one morning, producing a straight razor and saying he planned to "slit (bobs) eyeballs", to which Bob admits that purely out of terror he engaged in the only fist fight he had in his entire life, resulting in Hamilton receiving a knee to the groin and Bob dislocating his knee cap due to the sheer amount of force he put behind it.
The final nail in the coffin which saw Bob disappear from screens for a while came in 1972, when the producers of The Golden Shot came to believe that Bob was accepting bribes from companies to feature their products as prizes on the show, so he was "released" and replaced with black comedian Charley Williams. Bob stated years later that at no time had he accepted any bribes, and that the reason for his sacking was due to a misunderstanding when a friend of his, who happened to work for razor and knife manufacturer "Wilkinson Sword" was seen handing Bob an envelope which contained a rare book Bob had been looking for as a gift. It didn't help that a few weeks later some of the prizes featured on the show were Wilkinson Sword products, which Bob had seen and said he thought they would make a good prize for the show.

With work on TV suddenly drying up, Bob returned to stand up and gag writing, but also diversified into after dinner speaking. These projects did Bob well, but he really wanted to get back on TV, he didn't have to wait long as in 1974, the producers of The Golden Shot, who were unhappy with Charley Williams performance as host (and the subsequent massive drop in ratings), came and asked Bob to return to the show, Bob agreed, although his salary was drastically increased, and he was allowed to pursue other projects whilst working. Bob later wrote that he bore ATV (the company that produced the show) no ill will, but he was slightly miffed at the fact that he had been sacked without being given the chance to explain or defend himself from the accusations of bribery, and found it somewhat amusing that they came crawling back to him after he was told that he "wasn't important to the shows success".  The Golden Shot did enjoy renewed success after his return, but was eventually cancelled following the end of the 1975 season.

By the early 80s, Bob was still working as a writer and after dinner speaker, but had largely given up on stand up due to the proliferation of early 80s "alternative" comedians, whose material and routines he considered to be vulgar and no better than the extremely offensive "blue" comedians who dominated the club scene from the mid 70s through to the early 90s (throughout his career, Bob eschewed extreme racist and homophobic material, and very rarely used words such as "fuck" in his act). He also became an object of ridicule for some of the impressionists of the time, and suffered the humiliation of being branded as being "smug" and insincere whenever he made an appearance on TV, although he presented a few game shows in the 80s, including Family Fortunes and Bobs Full House, but had very little comedy related stuff going on on the telly.
Bob enjoyed a career renaissance in the mid 90s, when he found himself being booked for live shows on university campuses following his "Audience with...." appearance and a guest spot on "Have I got news for you". Following this, he also released a series of live stand up videos, which, unlike his TV appearances, featured much more "Adult" oriented material (such as frank discussions about his many sexual liaisons and various sexual problems he encountered as he got older), but still retained his signature quick wit and mastery of ad-lib material.
He returned to daytime TV by presenting a series of game shows, such as the £6400 question, Wipeout and Celebrity squares, and was a regular guest on chat and variety shows.

Bob only made national "scandal" headlines twice in his life, the first occasion in 1979 when he was accused of making and selling illegal copies of movies from his vast collection (Bob was an expert on early cinema, and had an extensive collection of silent movies and early TV programs on cine film, many of which had thought to be lost until the British Film Institute inventoried his collection after his death). The case went to court and he was eventually cleared, although he later wrote that he found the whole experience humiliating.
The second time Bob hit the headlines was when in 1995, a thief stole his archive of "gag books" containing a lot of his original material which he had written down since the beginning of his career. Bob offered a reward of £15,000 for their return, but no one came forward. The thief was eventually arrested and the books returned 18 months later.

Bob died in 2003 from prostate cancer, which he had been receiving treatment for but it was not successful as at the time, prostate cancer was not well understood and effective treatments had not been developed. Death didn't stop Bob from returning to TV screens though, as in 2007, Bob appeared in a series of adverts to promote "Male cancer awareness week", in which he made various quips about how prostate cancer kills more men than his wife's cooking. The campaign was a success and led to increased research and more effective treatments for the condition.

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