Bob Monkhouse Tribute – 20 years on…

Hi and a very Happy New Year to the Beyond The Title audience and I hope 2024 brings you health, happiness and success! I’m thrilled to welcome you to this incredibly special edition of Beyond The Title. The Sherlocks among you would have already realised that I’m not Josh Barry. For those of you that haven’t realised that yet, you either need your hearing checked or get out of the bath! I’m the star of stage and screen Harriet Thorpe and for this podcast I’m going to be Josh’s voice and speak his words about his comedy hero, inspiration and idol. If you listened to Josh’s podcast with Iain Lee on Television Centre then this follows a similar structure.The 27th December 2023 marked the twentieth anniversary of a momentous moment in the history of British entertainment: the sad death of a comedy pioneer, a TV icon and one of the sharpest minds to ever grace British television (and that’s not three people!). 

Listen to the full episode below


There are just a handful of stars who, only by the very mention of their name, have the ability to excite an audience. In the case of our subject, I think it’s partly the smacking of the syllables: Bob Monkhouse, you can really accentuate the consonants so an M.C. would find it very satisfying to announce his name. But beyond that, they were excited because they knew that they were about to witness a performer right at the very top of his game. You felt safe watching him, because for most of us, he’d be a constant face on our television screens for all of our lives. Bob Monkhouse was a star from the TV Variety days of the early 1950’s to the multichannel landscape of the new millennium. Always embracing new fads, fashions and stars of entertainment, Monkhouse totally epitomised everything I love about comedy and remains arguably one of the most important and influential figures in post-war entertainment.


In a moment, I’m going to tell you why I believe that Monkhouse is so very important to the history of British comedy and Light Entertainment but first here’s some famous fans and colleagues who wanted to add their own contribution to this very special Bob Monkhouse celebration and remind us all as to why he is so significant to his industry. Here’s the legendary Jimmy Tarbuck, Ben Elton, Billy Pearce, Graham McCann, Jeff Stevenson and Jeffrey Holland to pay their own tribute to this comedy great:


Well, a big thank you to those wonderful people for their contributions – I really can’t believe we got those great and talented individuals to wax lyrical about Bob exclusively for this Beyond The Title tribute. But that really tells you a great deal about the man who we’re celebrating – he was loved by the whole industry! Adored by his contemporaries and admired by succeeding generations, I don’t think I’ve ever met a comedian who hasn’t acknowledged him as one of the greats either as a personal inspiration or just an ever present figure within the industry. Comedians right across the board cite him as one of the most influential entertainers in the profession and that can’t just be a coincidence.


 So, what do I think? Well, for me, Bob Monkhouse always embodied that British shiny floor entertainment which has become part of our national identity. We’re not talking about the usual features of British comedy. He wasn’t a sitcom actor, nor is he as universally celebrated as Morecambe and Wise. In fact when I’m asked to select my favourite comedian, people always reply:  “Bob Monkhouse? The game show host?” It really pains me that he isn’t as fondly remembered with the public as Eric and Ernie because to me, they’re on an equal footing. Monkhouse was the epitome of quintessential big budget British Variety entertainment at its very best and never short changed his audience. To me, he was the perfect definition of the British front of cloth comedian and I can’t think of a bigger and better compliment. 


Growing up in the nineties when television benefited from the hangover of Thatcherism, Light Entertainment had the financial backing to be creative with programme-making. This was a period when there was serious amounts of money being ploughed into television and Light Entertainment benefited greatly. The colourful sets, memorable theme music, games, big stars and a commanding host were all vital components to a successful family ratings winner. Whether it was Noel, Bruce or Cilla, these were the ratings equivalent of Viagra and helped to re crown Saturday night as the biggest TV night of the week. But one man never failed to capture my imagination and change my whole life without ever knowing me.


If Bob was around today, I think he possibly might have had his own podcast simply because he absolutely loved discussing comedy with fellow comedians. After all, he was a fantastic interviewer himself which he displayed many times over the years on various TV shows. In 1983  he actually secured his own self titled chat show where he got up close and personal with some of the biggest names in comedy both in Britain and around the world. This series remains notable for many reasons: first it featured one of the last known recorded interviews with the legendary Tommy Cooper and then the British television debut of Jim Carey. So to straddle both ends of the comedy spectrum was no easy feat but they all shared a vital common ground that they all loved Bob and that was enough to make the show work. I’m sadly too young to have been around when this aired but from what I’ve read about the series, I’d have really loved it!


Instead, the first time I actually remember seeing Bob Monkhouse was in 1993 when he stood in for Chris Evans on The Big Breakfast alongside the great Gaby Roslin. It’s a bit of a shame that I should have discovered him in this way as I later learned when he was a guest on Room 101 that he wasn’t all that keen on the show. Talking to Bob’s writer Colin Edmonds, he told me that they got up really early to have a sneak peek at the morning’s papers before formulating some topical jokes around what was happening so that every show was up to date. As a meticulous comic, he always seeked to have some bespoke material relevant to whatever gig he was doing and if that meant getting up at 4am to write some material, then that’s what he did! It didn’t matter if it was The Big Breakfast or a Friday night at the Bournemouth Pavilion, he was determined to make every show and every TV appearance different from the last. Obviously, at this point, I had no idea about Monkhouse’s significant standing in the pantheon of British comedy or his status as one of Britain’s best loved entertainers. He was just Chris Evans’ holiday cover and that was it – sorry Bob, if you’re listening somewhere – that’s probably more offensive than I thought. Yet this appearance was to change the course of my life and once I fully understood Monkhouse’s formidable contribution to comedy, it made me follow his career to previously uncharted territory.


I don’t know why but even from a young age, I realised that here was a performer who was passionate about every single aspect of comedy: a master and student of hilarity, Bob not only knew how to get laughs but also wanted to know why certain jokes were funny. Today, this passion has been handed over to people like Jimmy Carr who is not only interested in writing and delivering comedy but also how certain words and phrases are funnier than others. He is fascinated by the science of laughter and why it is that we laugh. The legendary Ken Dodd used to frequent his local library reading a whole host of books and works about laughter and why it is that humans laugh. I think it takes a certain type of comedian to want to understand the theory behind laughter and why it’s important. There must be some hidden responsibilities when you’re a big comedy star but this one never gave Bob anything but joy. Frequently he would use a visible disguise to get himself into comedy clubs to watch his favourite up and coming comics strutting their stuff. He did this so that the next time he bumped into them, he could say “I love your new routine about this”. In some situations they could have only performed the routine once or twice but somehow Bob had found a way to make himself aware of it and for some performers, this was greater than any award.


Such a prolific performer, you would assume wouldn’t have had any trouble in composing material alone, actually drafted in a team of highly experienced and skilled writers to assist with the sheer volume of material that he would deliver. Everyone has heard the incredible story of Monkhouse’s stolen joke book and the dramatic scenes that followed when he and Peter Prichard offered a reward of £10,000 for their safe return. I think this would make a great caper movie because it has all the elements of great drama: action, jeopardy, conflict and resolution but this was no fiction. Arguably this was the most sacred, important and famous joke book in the whole of comedy with illustrations, categorised subjects in a catalogue style format and over a million jokes. This was so much more than a joke book, it was a gag encyclopaedia! So for this to go missing must have been like losing an arm for Bob.


After a disastrous sixteen months without Bob’s files of funny, Peter Prichard was handed the books by a man asking for “a five-figure sum” which gave this legendary story its happy ending. Obviously this story has since become part of British comedy folklore and was just extraordinary by its dramatic twists and turns but I feel it represents how truly profound Monkhouse’s contribution to entertainment really was. There are many performers throughout history who have been prolific writers in their own right but very few who were so diligent and passionate about the art. So when people realised that the Monkhouse joke book was missing, it wasn’t just a joke book, it was a form of cultural vandalism. This book contained more than 25 years of work, including fully scripted jokes and ideas for sketches and plays. If the pages could talk it could probably narrate the story of British post war comedy so it angers me greatly why anyone would want to steal it.


I’m now about to reveal three things that not many people know about Monkhouse and if you’re anything like me it’s got the potential to blow your mind! The first is that the Bob Monkhouse joke book isn’t just one book – there are actually a staggering seventeen volumes! That’s seventeen thick binders of jokes all categorised into colour coded alphabetical subjects so that it made it easier for him to locate the right material for the right gigs. So if he had gig in Bristol and needed some local material, he just went to the letter B, found Bristol and then was able to formulate a routine based on the few gags that were written on the subject. A flawless concept!


The second one is that the books didn’t just benefit Monkhouse, but also those around him. As a benevolent and generous performer, Bob was happy to share material with his peers on the circuit. It’s said that when he was hosting Sunday Night At The London Palladium in 1969, he would often happily give fellow comedians a line or two if they were struggling to complete their act. Legend has it that on certain variety bills in the 1960’s Bob would provide almost every comedian with additional material so that he was actually contributing to 95% of the comedy output. Other performers would see this as giving away their own work which they’d sweated and slaved over and why should they just donate it to what some would consider to be a rival. But Bob didn’t see it like this because he just loved comedy and had a passion for the sound of laughter. It doesn’t matter who was delivering it. If the audience was laughing, he was happy!


The third is probably something harder to believe in today’s 360 content landscape, when the role of a gag writer is somewhat consigned to history. These books were the amalgamation of material from obviously Bob but also his various writers over the years because when you wrote for Monkhouse, you were exclusively writing for him and contributing to this wonderful joke encyclopaedia. Yet Monkhouse was anything but an old fashioned, wavering entertainer. A talented and prolific writer himself, Bob needed no assistance in creativity but the sheer volume of such material demanded him to assemble a company of some of the best comic minds in the business.  I imagine writing for Bob Monkhouse was incredibly difficult because you probably always held something in the back of your head that thought that whatever you were writing, he could probably phrase better or order a particular joke in a better way. After all it’s important to remember that his passion as a boy was for cartoon. A prolific sketcher in his own right, Bob spent many hours doodling and making comic strips similar to the ones that he would read in the Beano and Dandy. He even contributed material to the early versions of the magazine which became his first foray into entertainment. These strips gradually took on an extra comedic edge and inspired by his comedy hero Max Miller, they became almost like perfectly formed gags, something which would come in useful for the next chapter of his career.


It wasn’t long before these simple drawings took on an extra comedic approach and suddenly Bob was writing fully functioning gags with a setup and punchline. If he could do this in comic strip form, maybe the material would work on its own? Aged seventeen, Monkhouse joined Gaumont British Films as an animator under the supervision of the cartoonist David Low. It was here that Bob first met his hero Max Miller and fell in love with the way he addressed his audience. Miller broke down the obvious social barriers by simply speaking their language and making his material relevant for the time. As soon as he entered the stage heralding his infamous catchphrase “Listen, Listen”, the crowd were in the palm of his hand. Bob saw this overwhelming affection which the audience held for his comedy hero and wanted so desperately to emulate it. He approached Miller and showed him the joke book. The comic was so impressed by the standard of Bob’s material that he offered to buy a few from him. Thus began a long pursuit of tempting other comics to purchase gags from the Monkhouse repertoire, something which would grow increasingly more frequent as the years went by. Imagine the price of those jokes now including inflation!


This eventually resulted in his early career as a joke writer following contributing material to his hero Bob Hope. Nowadays it’s easy to forget just how big of a star Hope was in the forties and fifties and I think to have someone of that calibre give you his seal of approval must have been the ultimate accolade. So as a writer Bob was obviously making waves but the 1950’s was also a golden era to be a performer away from the depression and devastation of post-war Britain. But comedy writers were still yet to be recognised as workers in their own right. Young comic turned agent Dabber Davis had spotted a 19 year old RAF serviceman at The Nuffield Centre; the home of the entertainment corps within the RAF during the young Bob Monkhouse’s spell of National Service in 1947. This was the start of a lucrative relationship which ultimately led to Bob’s first foray into entertainment.


In 1948 Bob had a unique encounter in a department store when he was served by a sales assistant called Denis Goodwin, this almost sounds like the setup for a romantic comedy or a comedy whodunnit but this was actually how the pair met.  Instantly they both realised that they had a rapport and both wanted to enter into the world of comedy. In the era before the age of the TV script writer, those who created jokes for performers predominantly went under the radar and never got recompensed for their efforts. Now together with Dabber Davis, the pair began penning material under the registered trademark of Monkhouse and Goodwin Limited. It wasn’t long before the pair attracted International acclaim for their craft and comedy superstars including Bob Hope were lining up to obtain some of the best lines in the business. 


I can’t even begin to explain how revolutionary this was for its time in an era before the television scriptwriter. Apart from the likes of Spike Milligan and Eric Sykes, the subject of claiming rights for scriptwriters had always just gone under the radar. But Bob actually saw the huge value in the material that he and Goodwin were writing and as it evolved he wanted to obtain ownership over the material he created. I had the absolute honour to interview the now late great Dabber Davis about ten years ago and he told me that once the agency had begun they were inundated with writers and indeed performers who were just looking for fair representation. So without Bob the television scriptwriter may never have been celebrated or credited in the way that they are in today’s entertainment landscape. I think you can’t overlook his contribution to this. 


This was the era of nightclub review and theatres including The Windmill played host to adult shows where nudity was high on the performance agenda. Comics were hired as a light interlude to the frank titillation of the young girls who it’s said would frequently parade around the stage naked. It was a tough grounding for any aspiring comedian and for Bob this was a rude awakening to a life under the spotlight. Yet this was a great opening for any young aspiring performer who had their sights firmly set on a career in Variety and the roll call of comics who made their name at the infamous Windmill reads like a Who’s Who of British Comedy: Benny Hill, Bruce Forsyth, Frankie Howerd, Barry Cryer, Tommy Cooper and many more. It was clear that Monkhouse was definitely in good company. This was where British comedy really came of age and Monkhouse was at the very epicentre of it.

Admittedly, The Windmill remains frequently the subject of controversy over the representation of naked women and I’m not even about to address that debate. However, if you were a budding comedian in the 1950’s then The Windmill was the place to be. But it definitely wasn’t a walk in the park: six shows per day, six days per week gave Bob the ultimate schooling. Appearing alongside fellow future comedy royalty including Tony Hancock, Frankie Howerd, Bruce Forsyth and a little known duo called Morecambe and Wise gave Bob the opportunity to flex his comedy muscles. But personally what I think set him apart from his peers was his ability to pause and analyse people and situations as they were happening. His analytical mind made him want to understand and appreciate what made other performers tick. By their very nature, comedians are extremely unique individuals with a particular view of the world. They’re ardent exhibitionists who thrive on a stage but the moment they come off, they seek that drug of laughter and find it incredibly difficult to cope without it. Thankfully Bob always knew how to control this through a healthy work/life balance but he still witnessed many of his peers fall victim to this inescapable reality.

Yet the sacrifices that these entertainers made in the name of comedy led to the start of a golden era of British light entertainment as for the first time ever both theatrical impresarios and TV executives saw the potential in upscaling this brand of entertainment for mass audiences. Of course at this time nobody had a clue how absolutely revolutionary this was – why would they, comedy had never been showcased on such a national scale before and this generation were the pioneers. But Bob’s precise, analytical recounting of this period provided some evidence to suggest that he had some idea of the magnitude of what was happening. It’s an interesting thought and I guess we’ll never know but I wonder if there was something Machiavellian about his approach to comedy.

Monkhouse was a visionary both in his attitude to comedy and pushing the boundaries of television. Unlike many of his peers, he was never afraid of the medium and instead wanted to use it to its fullest potential, in the same way that he was drawn to recording comic material. This made him an obvious choice to front the ATV prank video series Candid Camera in 1960 where he presided over members of the public who were the unsuspecting subjects of elaborate pranks. Over twenty years before Jeremy Beadle, this was the first time that television had been used to make the audience the stars of the show. Yet it was the art of recording which was to ignite Bob’s imagination which would ultimately transcend Bob’s work and become a hobby. Whether it was a clever joke written down on paper or the recording of one of his favourite performers, this method proved very important to him until the day he died.

While television made him a star, it was Monkhouse’s stand-up and cabaret performances which endeared him to his fellow performers. It’s become a cliche but he was by his very nature a comedian’s comedian. Always caring about crafting a gag in the right way and knowing that just by changing a word he could turn a joke from a little titter to a belly laugh. On simply seeing jokes on a page, he knew instinctively what material would be funny and understood the significant difference between a good joke and whether it would get a laugh. As an accomplished writer himself, Monkhouse not just understood but mastered the art of verbal dexterity and so was equipped with an unrivalled nose for comedy. Therefore while writers like the great Colin Edmonds, John Junkin and Jez Stevenson were absolutely crucial to his longevity and popularity, there was very little that he couldn’t do himself.

This is the unique thing about Bob Monkhouse – his output was prolific! Nowadays comedians can take up to five years to produce a new stand up tour which might last three months before doing a TV series or reality show and then starting the process again. Yet Bob and his writers were creating material like a factory. And it was always to an extremely high standard. Whether it was delivering a few topical gags at the start and end of a family television game show or filling a theatre full of punters, he had the unique ability to take extraordinary care of every joke, every line and every laugh he ever created. It’s difficult to think of another performer who had the ability to juggle a successful live act alongside being one of the most popular television personalities of his generation. If he had been around today he would have definitely been playing the O2 and had more than enough talent and ability to be a one man band. Over the years Monkhouse became known to millions of viewers as the unrivalled king of the British game show yet this was only half the story. Like most entertainers, laughter was a drug that satisfied Bob and as long as audiences were laughing, he was happy!

Blessed with an extraordinary unique style of delivery, he thrived on the ability to play around with language and inference. Sometimes he would only have to allude to a punchline and the audience would start to laugh. Like all great comedians, he understood that half the time it wasn’t what he said that would get a laugh, but what he wouldn’t. It’s difficult to think of many other performers who have such a complex relationship with their audience. It’s very difficult to stand on a stage and tell jokes which make an audience laugh out loud. But that’s not what Bob did, he took subjects and developed them so the audience thought they knew where he was going but then at the last moment he would veer off to an area where you didn’t even see coming and for an audience, that’s absolutely beautiful. It may look easy but by god it’s not! The poise, the composure, the confidence of knowing that you’re in full command of the crowd in order to exploit the false sense of security that you’ve created…now, that’s magic!

Other than possibly Tommy Cooper’s Doctor jokes, all of my favourite one liners come courtesy of Mr Monkhouse. Every time I hear the line “I’m still having sex at 75” it makes me absolutely howl with laughter because I know what’s coming. “I live at 76 so it’s no distance”. It’s such a simple joke which essentially juxtaposes age with house numbers but with his precise delivery and the utter stupidity of the concept, it just makes me laugh every single time I hear it. There’s nothing clever or intellectual about it – it’s incredibly silly and juvenile but I think that’s why it appeals so much to me. It’s the thought of this ageing man attempting to get his end away with some floozy down the road. It just paints such a vivid picture in my head and that’s what’s funny. That was the utter genius of Monkhouse: he just knew how to create vibrant images in your head and could play around with them for comic effect.

The other routine that he did which always makes me laugh is about dogs. “Don’t you hate it when dogs stick their faces in your crotch and wave them around…but of course little dogs, you have to lay on the ground for them to do it.” I think it’s his mannerisms and facial expressions that make this joke work because despite being a comic, there was always something authoritarian about Monkhouse and to think of him getting on the ground to let a dog lick his crotch was just a hilarious idea. Again, such a simple joke entirely based upon imagery which had you laughing throughout the routine, sometimes merely because of a pause or the use of a particular word or phrase.

However, it wasn’t just one liners that packed a punch. The story about him getting home from the airport is just perfect! He’d been away on business and was really looking forward to seeing his wife. When he unlocked the front door, he got butterflies in his stomach at the thought of seeing her. On opening the door, there was a path of objects leading him up the stairs to his bedroom. As he opened the bedroom door, he saw his wife handcuffed to the headboard looking windswept to which he said “We’ve been learning some naughty tricks haven’t we?! To which she replied “We’ve been burgled, you stupid bastard!”. Well, it doesn’t get much better than that – the setup to that joke was so carefully crafted like a painting which for a moment makes you think that this isn’t a joke at all. It might be purely a sentimental dedication to the lovely Jackie who was more often than not, the butt of his jokes. But then he subverts it with a killer punchline which is quick but so effective…it’s just genius!

Some of his material never really needed a punchline as he knew that the audience would always be that one step ahead. This allowed him to be slightly more smutty on occasions when he knew he could push it but he was never ever vulgar simply because he didn’t need to be – he was far too intelligent and dignified. He just knew exactly how far to push his material for the maximum effect. To many, he was a shiny floor game show host and to reverse the stereotype of those cheesy one liners associated with the genre, he had to be slightly more fruity. One of my favourite Monkhouse one liners “difference between a solicitor and a superhero: a superhero plucks defiance whereas a solicitor…he didn’t even need to complete the joke as he knew his audience would be more than intelligent enough to do the work themselves.

So, having such a great command over an audience, it seems utterly ridiculous that he was criticised by a small section of the comedy community for fronting too many game shows. Even Bob himself may acknowledge that there may have been some truth in this claim but in order to fully appreciate this it’s important to understand what was happening in television entertainment at the time. The late 1960’s brought big changes for television not only as a result of the dissolution of ATV and Associated Rediffusion which resulted in a television revolution but also the end of television variety which ended the career of many a variety stalwart.  

When Sunday Night At The London Palladium closed its doors for the final time in 1969, television had yet to establish a new platform to showcase the entertainers and comedians who shone brightly on that famous stage. TV executives had no idea what to do with this generation of entertainers because for the first time there was no variety for them to fall back on. Up until this point it was easy for executives to shoehorn comedians into any variety show because they were just produced like any other theatrical performance but when television actually came into its own executives shit themselves because they thought ‘oh, fuck, what are we going to do with them?’. Performers like Monkhouse were too good just to be a star on the pop shows of the day, they needed a vehicle of their own. The game show became the most logical format to continue the comedian’s TV dominance and it didn’t take Bob long to get to grips with the disciplines of the genre. He approached this like any other comedy show and forever looked for the opportunities to insert a gag. After all, this was Light Entertainment and what’s Light Entertainment without comedy?! Therefore every rule of the game was another opportunity for a joke, every contestant was another ally or stooge for a gag and of course the shows were always bookended by a Monkhouse monologue which became like a miniature comedy routine. It may have been sandwiched inside a gameshow format but Bob was savvy to take advantage of every single opportunity for comedy, after all that was what he did. 

While other performers may have been frustrated by this new purpose of his generation of comics, Bob thrived upon the opportunity to showcase his vast comedic talents. His slick, sharp delivery was the perfect accompaniment to live alongside the workings of the game. The great Jimmy Tarbuck once told me that the secret to a successful game show is simplicity and Bob understood the vital importance of this. If it’s too complicated then the audience won’t invest in it and ultimately won’t care if the contestants win or lose. This understanding was also shared by Bob’s agent and manager Peter Prichard who began his entertainment career under the supervision of Lew and Leslie Grade so he realised the value in matching television formats to an individual star. The relationship between Peter Prichard and Bob Monkhouse would become one of the most successful in entertainment history. Towards the end of the sixties, whilst in America, Prichard came across a game show entitled Family Feud where two sets of families battled it out in a series of games based around opinion polls – sounding familiar? “Our survey says…”

As we all know, Family Feud became the more recognisable Family Fortunes and became an instant hit for ITV for the next thirty years. However, the amazing creativity, foresight and incredulity of both Monkhouse and Prichard gave this format its legs. Nowadays it seems that almost every entertainer has their own production company or content creator and we’re very accustomed to stars being an executive producer. Yet in 1980 it was extremely rare for performers to have autonomy over their own shows but this was just another example of how Bob was years ahead of his time. A meticulous performer with an exquisite eye for detail, Monkhouse instinctively knew what would work for television and despite never obtaining a production credit as producer, there was no doubt that he would have made a supreme TV auteur.

But Monkhouse was so much more than a game show host and for anyone merely to use this term to describe his work was to miss the point entirely. In fact the biggest reason as to why he claimed the prestigious title as the master of the game show may have been because of his effortless comedic patter which became a staple of each and every show he fronted. Slick yes, smooth definitely, but smarmy never! This was because of the simple reason that beyond his undeniable genius for comedy was also a natural flair for broadcasting which meant that he could instinctively take care of all the administrative responsibilities that come with the game show format and was remarkably comfortable doing so. As soon as he stepped out in front of an audience, he felt at ease and while he still suffered with nerves, both his theatrical training and unrivalled preparation never let him down.

Nowadays anyone can be a game show host and formats are handed out to almost anyone: TV presenters, actors, singers even dancers have secured their own format and I doubt it’ll be too long before a YouTuber gets the opportunity. Yet throughout the seventies and eighties the British game show was the intended vehicle for comedy stars and occupied a significant portion of the Light Entertainment TV output and was treated with the utmost respect by both the audience and TV management. Comedians were the perfect choice to front these shows because they were never stuck for a line or a gag. They knew instinctively when and where not to play on something in order to make the viewing experience for the audience both in the studio and at home. There was an art form to presiding over a quiz show which sadly may have been forgotten in this modern era. The actual game was secondary to the hilarious exchanges between the host and contestants. Producers loved these formats because they were very cost effective for studio time and had very little financial outgoings apart from the prizes. Therefore multiple episodes could be filmed in a day which would give networks enough content for a week’s worth of programming. For legendary performers like Bob, this could be extremely lucrative and the working hours were sociable – what wasn’t there to like?! Monkhouse did extremely well out of the game show format but not without his fair share of criticism.

The Golden Shot, Family Fortunes, Celebrity Squares, Bob’s Full House, Bob’s Your Uncle,The £64,000 Question, Monkhouse’s Memory Masters and not forgetting Wipeout, Bob presided over an unprecedented number of game shows both for BBC and ITV spanning over four decades. Forever the master of self deprecation, this would form a regular part of his live comedy act when he would end with the line “look at me with some respect, I’ve been able to get away with substantial amounts of crap on British television”. But of course the irony is that in the hands of Bob, no TV was ever crap simply because he was the master, the OG, number 1. In my opinion no one has ever chaired a game show in the slick and smooth way as Monkhouse. No one’s ever understood the intrinsic purpose of a TV game show either as well or as comprehensively as he. He was born to thrive in front of a studio audience and these shows allowed him to do just that!

Apart from Beat The Clock at the Palladium and Hughie Green’s Double Your Money, before Bob, television had yet to make the game show its own. In such primitive years for the new medium, television had little idea of the impact that stars and shows would have on the watching audience. Yet as soon as Bob made an appearance on television, he was there to stay and being one of the only entertainers to fully grasp this new medium, his popularity soared and never seemed to wain. Always moving with the times and embracing new stars, styles of comedy and attitudes to TV, Bob was relevant for every generation simply because he absolutely loved it! Smart enough to understand the fashions of comedy and talented enough to be able to stay relevant to them while staying true to his slick, sharp patter which his audience adored him for, Monkhouse was the man for all seasons.

Thankfully during the nineties, Monkhouse was able to step out from his game show shadow, and remind both audiences and TV execs that he was so much more than a two dimensional television host. In the early nineties Bob was invited to be a guest on the satirical juggernaut Have I Got News For You. In 1994 the heavyweight panel show was reserved for the sharpest minds on the Alternative Comedy circuit and the figures of Bob’s generation were frequently the subject of Merton and Hislop’s acerbic commentary. So Bob’s appearance on the show may have been seen as a big gamble for the now veteran entertainer. But of course, we’re talking about one of the sharpest minds to ever grace British comedy so he obviously had no problem with keeping up with the sharp patter of contemporary satire. This appearance reintroduced Bob to the comedy elite but I have to ask why was it ever in doubt? Here was a guy who’d collaborated with the majority of the funniest people of the twentieth century, so a panel show would surely be a walk in the park.

As the new millennium dawned, Monkhouse had rightfully earned his legendary status within the annals of British comedy. In 2001 it was revealed that he was undergoing treatment for prostate cancer which he took just like any other aspect of life by incorporating it into his stand up routine. In 2003, just months before his death, Bob turned his hand to documentary making when he told the unabridged story of British comedy through the eyes of its biggest stars. This was unlike anything that I’ve ever seen before and was brave enough to reveal some dark secrets of showbiz past. In the hands of any other star, such a documentary would have the potential to be a little superficial and phoney. After all, it was taking quite a brutally honest glance at historical events from British Light Entertainment in an unbiased and factual manner. This wasn’t your normal retrospective nostalgic TV documentary, it was looking at the stories that we all knew but through the eyes of the performers who lived through it. Bob Monkhouse: Behind The Laughter proved one of his last TV vehicles but it almost seemed a fitting way for him to bow out by fronting a documentary which he was so passionate about. 20 years on, this remains my favourite factual documentary ever!

As we all know, the 27th December 2003 shall forever be a dark day for British comedy. I distinctly remember waking up early because I had the dentist and my Dad turned BBC Breakfast on to reveal the sad news. Those images of him at the Royal Variety just thirteen months previously now took on an extra significance as for many, this was the last time they ever saw him doing what he did best. People like him don’t retire, it would be utterly pointless because TV execs would forever be enticing him back for one man shows, specials and retrospective interviews. So there was never even scope for retirement and he worked right until the end simply because he loved what he did.

Indeed, his last professional gig came just weeks before he died when he personally invited an audience of his favourite comedians to the cellar bar in the Albany pub in central London where they were treated to an exclusive routine courtesy of the man himself. Such a high profile public figure like Bob is always going to create speculation about his health especially when he’d revealed his cancer diagnosis in 2001. He was one of the most famous and revered figures in the country so his illness had been well documented throughout the media including a very intimate interview with his great friend Michael Parkinson. Yet he made a huge effort to play it down and continued to work regardless. Comedy was in his blood and he didn’t know anything else so this was what kept him going.

It takes a brave performer to want to purposefully entertain an audience of fellow comedians who are all there to watch you. Coupled with the fact that, by this time, he wasn’t a well man, it seems absolutely miraculous that he was able to deliver a flawless ninety minute stand up set….that’s just unbelievable! This was very different from his 1994 LWT An Audience With – it was more rustic and embryonic with an audience made solely of up and coming comedians who he greatly admired. It was Monkhouse’s career swan song and he wanted to do it in the same style as the rest of his career by giving a platform to the comedy stars of tomorrow. This night has gone down in British comedy history as one of the defining moments as one of the all time greats signed off in style. What a brilliantly fitting way to end one of the most successful careers in all of British Light Entertainment.

75 is no age to die in today’s society when medical advancements continue to defy the odds and give a lifeline to so many people. Yet Bob Monkhouse crammed so much into his 75 years on earth and the British comedy community shall forever be richer for it.

So in this podcast, I just wanted to convey how very important he was to almost every aspect of Light Entertainment. In the era of the disposable celebrity who comes and goes just like seasons, Bob Monkhouse was a household name for fifty years and his fame never wavered. For me he was the absolute embodiment of everything I love about comedy: the sharp one liners, the perfect host and the hilarious showbiz stories. Having Cerebral Palsy, I frequently wonder what I would have been if I didn’t have a disability and a stand up comedian is always at the very top of the list. To command an audience with the same poised control as Monkhouse would be so very rewarding but while I can’t perform myself I can still appreciate great comedy. I could give you a whole series of analytical remarks on Bob’s engagement with an audience or his huge significance to the story of British  comedy. Yet why is he still remembered over twenty years since his death? Simply because he’s the best!

Thank you so much for listening to my random ramblings about my comedy hero perfectly delivered by the wonderful Harriet Thorpe. And let’s keep keeping the Monkhouse legacy alive so that new audiences and new generations can discover this giant of British comedy. Thank you and see you next time!