Every year, for some reason a trio of entertainers must die between Christmas Eve and New Year's Day.
Perhaps it's because people get so enamoured with ginger wine they forget to check respirators or that those trapped in decaying bodies would rather stop their own hearts than face yet another disappointing New Year’s Eve party. I don't know.
This year we've seen death notices for Alan Bates, Bob Monkhouse and Dinsdale Landen (I thought John Mills might go, but by God that man’s got a good constitution - and I had my fingers crossed that Martin Lawrence would see an untimely end in some kind of horrific head through windscreen meets pine tree trunk incident).
Incidentally, Dinsdale Landen may be the most unknown of this trio and the news teams didn’t bother with a mention, but you would know him if you saw a photo, especially if it was taken from the excellent Digby The Biggest Dog In The World where he played the bumbling army officer.
But what of Bob Monkhouse? Now he’s dead, people as usual are rushing forward to declare him one of the greatest comedians this country has ever seen. This is of course the normal nonsense that gets spouted after the death of an entertainer. I miss the days when Ernie Wise seemed to be totally unemployed, save for his frequent appearances on the TV news, popping up to bemoan the loss of another “fabulous entertainer who was just as funny off stage as he was on”. I had hoped that when his own death was announced, Ernie would have had the foresight to have prerecorded his own well-chosen words about just how marvelous he was, but there had been an omission of thought somewhere along the line.
The truth is that Bob Monkhouse was not one of the greatest stand ups this country has ever produced, but he was undoubtedly one of its most brilliant gagmen. His ability to both write and then recall gags for any occasion was phenomenal and it was quite clear that he really loved comedy.
There seems to be a bit of historical rewriting with his career now, with suggestions that he was overlooked for some years and then rediscovered. If this did happen, it was very much of his own making. For most of our youths Bob Monkhouse was that cheesy gameshow host, a job he was both very good at and made a fortune from. If any one sold Monkhouse short artistically to the general public, it was Monkhouse himself. This is not to say he wasn’t performing around the country and writing joke after joke, but the oily persona was one of his own making, not merely a creation of bon viveur Rory Bremner, and it was that persona that was most visible.
Monkhouse’s rejuvenation seemed to occur with the publication of Crying with Laughter, an apparently honest and slightly raw autobiography that showed the integrity behind the golden smile and also contains an interesting anecdote about attempting to have sex with a post-op transsexual chorus girl.
Having seen behind the façade of Monkhouse, even his gameshow hosting became palatable again, and he also got called up by all the cool shows and started to become both fashionable and deservedly admired. Though it doesn’t make a blind bit of difference to him now, he has died at a time when he was at his most respected. That’s all well and good though, now what about his film career?
Bob’s main contribution to the history of British cinema was the character of David Cookson. What do you mean you have no recollection? David Cookson was one of the first in line of the rich tradition of British comedies funny dentists. Without him strange animal fetishist Carla Lane may never have created Geoffrey Palmer’s sober dentist in Butteflies and Fred Barron may not have come up with all those funny scenes between comedy dentist Robert Lindsay and his series one sidekick Daisy Donovan in My Family.
Monkhouse played David Cookson for a series of two films – Dentist in the Chair and then Dentist on the Job (whose opening credits appear for the first three minutes of the Monty Python and the Holy Grail DVD). Dentist in the Chair had a fine British film industry pedigree having been directed by Don Chaffey, who went on to direct Jason and the Argonauts and some of Hammer’s hairy sandal films (Viking Queen, Creatures that time Forgot). The screenplay was written by Val Guest, one of the most versatile men in cinema - his best screenwriting work includes the fabulous Day the Earth Caught Fire and Hell Is A City, both of which he also directed.
His big screen career ended with a remake of the Will Hay film Ask a Policeman, it was retitled the Boys in Blue and became the one and only cinematic outing of Cannon and Ball (I have two enormous original posters for this film and the 7” single of the soundtrack – when I was a youth I would write to all the film distributors with some lie about doing a display at my school about film or whatever and bloody Rank kept sending me bits from their mountain of unused Cannon and Ball memorabilia). The film also had a brief appearance from Sheree Winton, mother of Dale.
Dentist on the Job had slightly less prestigious credits. It was directed by C.M. Pennington Richards (where are those names now?) who also Inn For Trouble with Peggy Mount and Mystery Submarine, and it was written both by Monkhouse himself and Hazel Adair , the creator of Crossroads. Adair also made one of the most terrible sex comedies I have witnessed entitled Keep It Up Downstairs, a show that is inexplicably shown at least twice a year on terrestial television despite being devoid of both sex and comedy.
Monkhouse is fine in both films, which are little more than low budget vehicles for a TV comic and now seem to be hidden in the doldrums of some archive in Borehamwood.
His most famous screen work is Carry on Sergeant starring popular racist timelord William Hartnell, the first in the lengthy line of Carry on films.
Monkhouse was offered a part in the follow up, but refused as the pay was so lousy.
I have never seen Weekend With Lulu, but this person from Tampa liked it
And we shall never forget that he was in Thunderbirds Are Go.
Rest in piece, Bob. You'll be sorely missed.