As I was born in the late 1970’s, Bob Monkhouse was a familiar face on television. His sleek American-style , was often derided as smarmy and won him as much criticism for insincerity, but there is no doubt that he was king of the one-liner and his professionalism and hard work certainly earned him a career of enviable longevity.
Monkhouse was heir to a custard empire, but decided he’d rather write comedy than take over the family business, and started off sending strip cartoons to every comic in Britain at the tender age of twelve, his determination and dedication resulted in him earning a regular income from this by the age of fifteen.
For me Bob Monkhouse will always be synonymous with British quiz shows, but in fairness this was just a part of his 50-year career in show business. He started broadcasting in 1949 and with his partner Denis Goodwin he wrote for Hollywood stars such as Bob Hope, Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis. Working in cabaret; performing in the West End; as well as acting on film and presenting countless programmes.
Whether you loved or hated him, there is no disputing that for decades, he was a familiar prime-time presence. When he died from prostate cancer, in 2003, I felt a pang of nostalgic sadness. In my mind there is no doubt that Bob Monkhouse was a symbol of a TV and entertainment era that has long since passed.
When I was invited to attend Alex Lowe’s monologue, ‘A Man Called Monkhouse’, directed by Golding; I didn’t know what to expect. Monkhouse was played by Simon Cartwright and from the moment he walked on stage it was evident that not only was Simon an uncanny lookalike, but he had the mannerisms and lashings of Monkhouse’s unique golden smarm. Indeed Simon reminisces that Monkhouse had once said “You do me better than I do,” after watching Simon do an impersonation of him.
Set in 1995, when Monkhouse was enjoying a late career revival after years of being cast out as comedy and presenting tastes changed, it focuses on the theft of two of his joke journals as an insight into his life story and the contradictions and quirks of his character.
The theft of the journals made the headlines at the time and these meticulously compiled books were cherished by Monkhouse, having taken decades to compile and really containing the very essence of the man himself. There are the signature Monkhouse one-liners, details of his extra-marital affairs, a scene where he attempts to men a eulogy for the tragic death of his writing partner and many other scenes of sadness and humour mingled a constant stream of gags; employed to disguise his feelings. Lowe manages to show the vulnerability of Monkhouse and how he was deeply wounded by the criticism that he was smarmy and insincere, without resorting to the tears of a clown cliché.
The show was everything I expected and more. I laughed and reminisced, but came away with a snapshot of the psyche of a comedy king. Appropriately slick in execution – I think Monkhouse himself would have approved and I certainly came away thinking that Saturday night’s television is lesser without him.