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Took, Barry (1928-2002)

Writer, Actor, Presenter

Main image of Took, Barry (1928-2002)

Although he became familiar to the public in the 1980s and early '90s as a television presenter, Barry Took (born in Muswell Hill, London, on 19 June 1928) is more worthy of recognition for his major contribution to television and radio comedy, as both writer and producer, over a period of almost thirty years.

Took began his career as a comedian, touring with the Carroll Levis and his Discoveries stage show, following his success in 1951 on Levis's BBC radio talent show. He also appeared on television in The Carroll Levis Show (BBC, tx. 14/6/1954).

Following his eventual departure from Levis, television work included hosting the variety show Round About Ten (ITV, 1956), which survived only four episodes, and a spot as resident comedian on the chat show Late Extra (ITV, 1958-59), hosted by Edmund Purdom.

By this time he had already begun to move into scriptwriting, initially in partnership with Eric Merriman, with whom he wrote Jack Hylton's Monday Show (ITV, 1958), and, for radio, the first year of Beyond Our Ken (BBC, 1958-64), starring Kenneth Horne. However, it was his partnership with Marty Feldman (whom he had first met in 1954, when both were working in variety) that would prove to be most fruitful, and in 1959 he abandoned performing for writing.

Following some radio work that year, the new partnership began writing for television in 1960, with episodes of the popular sitcom The Army Game (ITV, 1957-61). Their subsequent television output would encompass both sitcoms (including Bootsie and Snudge (ITV, 1960-63), a sequel to The Army Game) and sketch material, most notably with Feldman's own starring series, It's Marty (BBC, 1968-69), for which both Took and Feldman won awards from The Writers' Guild of Great Britain and The Society of Film and Television Arts in 1969. Despite this achievement, however, radio's gloriously risqué Round the Horne (BBC, 1965-68), the irreverent successor to Beyond Our Ken, remains unarguably the pair's finest achievement.

Throughout their partnership (which lasted until 1974 and Feldman's BBC series Marty Back Together Again), each also followed his own individual career path. For Took, this included periods as a script editor and producer, performing both roles, for example, on Horne A'Plenty (ITV, 1968-69), his only partially successful attempt to replicate Kenneth Horne's radio success on television.

Took also served as a comedy consultant, most notably at the BBC, where he was instrumental in launching both Monty Python's Flying Circus (1969-74) and The Goodies (1970-80). He also held the position, albeit briefly, of head of Light Entertainment at London Weekend Television in 1970.

Following the unsatisfactory experience at LWT, Took returned to writing and producing with such series as But Seriously - It's Sheila Hancock (BBC, 1972-73), which he produced, and One-Upmanship (BBC, 1974-78), which he wrote, adapting the Stephen Potter stories.

His personal favourite of his own works from this period was the educational series On The Move (BBC, 1975-76), created and written by Took to offer help, through humorous stories, to those with reading and writing difficulties. Its surprisingly widespread success led to two follow-up series, Your Move (BBC, 1976-77) and Write Away (BBC, 1979-80), with Took writing the former and presenting the latter.

As Write Away indicates, by the mid-1970s Took had begun to appear in front of the camera again, even starring in two comedy sketch series, N.U.T.S. (ITV, 1976) and Took and Co (ITV, 1977).

However, it was as a presenter that he found a more comfortable niche on television, a field to which his avuncular on-screen personality was well-suited; his persona was always more bank manager than clown. Between 1979 and 1986 he became a familiar face as the presenter of the viewers' soapbox series Points of View (BBC, 1961-2001). From 1990 he presented a nostalgia television slot within the review series TV Weekly (ITV, 1989-94).

Took had not written comedy material for television since the mid-1980s, and, following the demise of TV Weekly, his television appearances became infrequent. Following a long illness, he died from cancer of the oesophagus on 31 March 2002.

John Oliver

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Selected credits

Thumbnail image of It's Marty (1968-69)It's Marty (1968-69)

Marty Feldman's unjustly forgotten pre-Python sketch series

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Thumbnail image of Feldman, Marty (1934-1982)Feldman, Marty (1934-1982)

Comedian, Actor, Writer, Director