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Home > People

Big Star Guests and Big Star Prizes

TFT meets Mr 3-2-1, Brad Ashton.

26 June 2003

Wiggly fingers, his and hers luggage sets, a bin on wheels, high kicking ladies, Vauxhall Chevettes and sketches set on steamships. And Brad Ashton. Behind the glamour and the glitz of 3-2-1, behind Caroline Munro and the slightly disappointing garden furniture, there was Brad. Not that you would have noticed him.

Brad Ashton is the 71-year-old unsung hero who, back in 1978, wrote the first series of the epic cabaret game show. He wasn't 71 at the time, but he is now. To mark the 25th anniversary of the first show, we asked Brad to recall those glory days. This is what he recalled:

The main reason I got to write 3-2-1-was because my agent Mike Sullivan insisted I be given the job. I had been Head Writer on The Dick Emery Show for three years for the BBC, and Dick was one of Mike's star clients.

We did two pilots of 3-2-1 which were never broadcast. Both those pilots ran far too long: one was 90 minutes and the other 70 minutes. We found it exceedingly hard to get all we wanted into the show in just 56 minutes.

Comedienne/impressionist Faith Brown was in one pilot and would have been a regular in the series instead of Debbie Arnold, but Faith got pregnant just before we started the recordings. Debbie won us over at the auditions with her amazingly accurate impressions of top singing stars including Barbra Streisand. Though I'd never met Debbie before I had written scripts for her father, impressionist Eddie Arnold 20 years earlier at the very start of my own career.

One of the regulars, Duggie Brown left the show after six episodes to star in a new sitcom alongside Victor Spinetti running a model agency. We all loved Duggie and threw a huge going-away party for him. He was replaced by comedian Mike Newman as a regular, but we also had a different Guest Star every week. One of them, as I recall, was Miriam Karlin who played a palm reader in the fairground show. She absolutely refused to do a gag I had written where she tells Premier Harold Wilson (played by Chris Emmett) that after the next election he would definitely be back at 10 Downing Street... but only to collect his luggage. Miriam, a staunch Labour supporter, insisted I replace the gag.

For the Covent Garden themed episode we booked comedian Davy Kaye to do his one-man-band act as a busker. By the time the contract was drawn up Davy had disappeared. I eventually tracked him down doing a cabaret spot in a Johannesburg hotel and persuaded him to come back for the show.

Ted Rogers, a lovely man to work with, prided himself on his sartorial elegance and had a new suit made every week by Savile Row tailor Robbie Stanford. Yorkshire TV paid 300 for each suit and Ted was allowed to buy them for half that price after wearing them on the show. Often Ted wrote his cue lines on the palm of his hands and would occasionally pretend to scratch his eyebrow so he could read what was written.

It was a happy show and we all thoroughly enjoyed working on it. I would have gone on to do the second series but was fired because of a letter I'd written supporting Derek Burrell-Davis's claim to have invented Dusty Bin. YTV's merchandising department were selling porcelain versions of the bin at 28 each and Derek threatened legal action to get a share. My letter was used as evidence of his right.

The result was that both Derek Burrell-Davis and I were dropped and replaced by producer Alan Tarrant and writer Mike Goddard. After that -3-2-1- ran for eleven more years.

In November 2001 Challenge TV threw a party for all of us they could find who were connected with 3-2-1. It was great to get together again with so many friends I hadn't see in years. Nobody could find Derek and we don't know if he is still alive, but almost everyone else was there. Ted Rogers did a comedy spot for us and kept us all laughing. It was very sad when four months later he collapsed and died of a heart attack.

Brad Ashton has been a comedy writer for 50 years. In that time he's written for Tommy Cooper, Les Dawson, Dick Emery, David Frost, Bruce Forsyth and for 14 weeks was Head Writer for Groucho Marx.

Brad is currently finishing work on his new book: 'Writing Comedy For A Laugh... And Money'. But if you can't wait, you can purchase his previous book 'How To Write Comedy' by clicking here.

For a lovely picture of Ted and Dusty in their prime, go here.

And does anyone know what happened to Derek?



Comment on this article: letters@thefridaything.co.uk

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