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Monkhouse, Bob (1928-2003)

Actor, Presenter, Writer

Main image of Monkhouse, Bob (1928-2003)

Comedian Bob Monkhouse always polarised opinion, engendering either affection or outright hostility in his audiences. Those entrenched firmly in the latter camp denigrated him for being, amongst other things, 'smarmy', 'insincere' or 'greasy', accusations that derived from his smooth performance style, modelled on slick American performers such as his hero Bob Hope. His predilection for hosting bland game shows further tarnished his image with his critics.

He was born Robert Alan Monkhouse in Beckenham, Kent, on 1 June 1928. A precocious child, he sold his first cartoon to a comic at age 12 and his first joke to a comedian at 15. Success as a comedian in his own right seemed to come relatively easily to Monkhouse - not for him years of playing ''the halls'' before becoming a ''name''.

Although he had little experience of performing as a comedian outside amateur revues, he made his television debut on the talent show New to You (BBC, tx. 29/1/1948). The same year, a successful BBC radio audition led to spots on a number of shows, sometimes as the resident comedian. He was still only nineteen.

It was also in 1948 that Monkhouse met an aspiring comedian/writer by the name of Denis Goodwin, who expressed an interest in writing with the up-and-coming comedian. Together they would write, and sometimes perform in, many successful BBC radio shows throughout the 1950s.

The duo's radio success led to them being offered their own television show, Fast and Loose (BBC, 1954-55), a critically well-received sketch series. Their other television work included Television's Christmas Party (BBC, tx. 25/12/1954); a variety special, simply billed as Variety, to open the ATV Midlands network on 17 February 1956; the situation comedy My Pal Bob (BBC, 1957-58); five comedy specials called The Bob Monkhouse Hour (ITV, 1958-59) - Goodwin, despite the title, co-wrote and appeared in all of them, as well as co-creating a poorly-received sitcom starring Monkhouse, The Big Noise (BBC, 1964).

As those last series indicate, it was Monkhouse who was perceived as the star half of the partnership (Fast and Loose was always billed as 'Bob Monkhouse in'). British comedy's 'golden boy', he was a self-assured, confident artiste; Goodwin was the opposite, a reserved and physically uncomfortable performer when in front of an audience.

Throughout their years of working together, Monkhouse maintained a solo career, hosting, in October and November 1957, Val Parnell's Sunday Night at the London Palladium (ITV, 1955-69), and the practical joke series, Candid Camera (ITV, 1960-65; 1974; 1976), from the outset to March 1962. He also appeared in a number of feature films, including the first in the perennial film comedy series, Carry on Sergeant (d. Gerald Thomas, 1958).

It was no surprise when, following years of prevarication, Monkhouse finally dissolved his partnership with Goodwin in November 1965.

In the years following the split from Goodwin, Monkhouse was to become closely associated in the minds of both television audiences and critics with game shows. By the time of his death he had hosted up to thirty such programmes, unsurprisingly earning the title 'King of the Game Shows'. Such a catalogue of work did little for any credibility he may have had as a razor sharp wit.

He began with Do You Trust Your Wife? (ITV, 1956-57), later renamed Bury Your Hatchet, co-hosted by Goodwin, followed by For Love or Money (ITV, 1960). His major breakthrough in this field was with his hosting of The Golden Shot (ITV, 1967-75), which occurred during a slump in his career. He began with the fifteenth episode on 14 October 1967, continuing through to January 1972 and then returning in July 1974 to host the series up to its demise. Its popularity revived his career, and it dominated the Sunday afternoon schedules throughout its run.

Other game shows included Celebrity Squares (ITV, 1975-79; 1993-97); Family Fortunes (ITV, 1980-2002), which he hosted from its inception up to June 1983; Bob's Full House (BBC, 1984-90); the talent show Bob Says Opportunity Knocks (BBC, 1987-89); and finally Wipeout (1994-2002), succeeding Paul Daniels in 1998.

This is not to give the impression that his post-Goodwin television work was entirely dominated by game shows - it just felt like it. Some of his later comedy work includes the sketch shows The Bob Monkhouse Comedy Hour (ITV, tx. 19/4/1972), I'm Bob, He's Dickie (ITV, 1977-78), co-starring Dickie Henderson, Bonkers! (ITV, 1979), and The Bob Monkhouse Show (BBC, 1983-86). He also presented and produced through his own company a series on silent comedians, Mad Movies (ITV, 1966-71), using footage from his own large collection of films.

He made his first venture into 'serious' acting with an adaptation of John Willard's The Cat and the Canary (BBC, tx. 9/5/1959) in Saturday Playhouse, a further instance of him emulating his hero Bob Hope, who had played the same role in the 1939 film version.

He was offered the occasional straight role throughout his career, becoming more convincing as he aged, notably in All or Nothing at All (ITV, 1993) and 'The Scented Room' (BBC, tx. 7/2/1998), an episode of the detective series Jonathan Creek (BBC, 1997- ).

Diagnosed with cancer in 2001, Bob Monkhouse died on 29 December 2003. He was awarded the OBE in 1993.

John Oliver

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Selected credits

Thumbnail image of Carry On Sergeant (1958)Carry On Sergeant (1958)

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