I’ve recently, after a long break, uploaded some archive bits and bobs to my YouTube channel, including this two part documentary from 2003.
Sadly part one cuts out early (presumably there was a late schedule change and the timer let me down) whilst uploading part two is proving to be rather problematic, since BBC Worldwide appear to have a block on even short clips of Tony Hancock’s BBC shows. Quite why they should be so protective of him is a bit of a mystery. I’ll have another go at uploading part two – I’ll probably just cut the whole Hancock section out to be on the safe side.
Although it wasn’t known at the time, Monkhouse was reaching the end of his life and this might explain the downbeat tone of the piece. Heroes of Comedy this certainly isn’t ….
But whilst Monkhouse does dwell on the self destructive nature of some of Britain’s comedy greats, he also acknowledges their undoubted skills – even if, as with Frankie Howerd, he also admits that he never understood his appeal.
Part one tackles Tommy Cooper, Benny Hill, Frankie Howerd and Ken Dodd. There are no major revelations, since the frailties of Cooper, Hill and Howerd were already well known (had the recording not cut out I’d assume that the only living subject – Dodd – would have received an easier ride). The most absorbing sections occur when Monkhouse relates his own personal experiences with his subjects. Frankie Howerd, painted as an unpleasant sexual predator, certainly comes off worse here.
In part two, Monkhouse turns his attention to Morecambe & Wise, Peter Sellers and Tony Hancock. The character flaws of Sellers and Hancock were also very familiar, although again the personal touch from Monkhouse is of interest (he claims that Tony Hancock and Morecambe & Wise were rather condescending towards him).
Monkhouse’s comedy partner, Denis Goodwin, who took his own life at an early age, is also discussed, which fits into the general tone that comedy can be bitterly self-destructive.
Not always an easy watch then, but Bob Monkhouse doesn’t seem to have an axe to grind and – unlike some talking heads who have passed judgement on these people in other documentaries – at least he knew and worked with them.