I have recently lectured on the P&O ship Oceana, giving seven talks over a 14 day period. The first four talks had already been previously written and presented, the last three researched, written and learned over a four week time scale. At 45 minutes each lecture, it meant that I had to present almost 5 ½ hours of talks.
My theme is They Made Us Laugh, a series about some of the greatest comedians the UK has produced in the last seventy years. Talk number five was about Bob Monkhouse. Each one has slides, usually in the region of seventy, with a story, fact, or anecdote to accompany, so you can appreciate that I have a lot in my head to remember. People love to come up to me afterwards and chat about the person I have just been talking about, and Bob was no exception. There were four or five people around me at the foot of the stage, as I walk down the steps to have a chat. One man informed me that he wanted to correct a fact that I had mentioned.
In 1959 Bob had been in the very first ‘Carry On’ film. William Hartnell was the sergeant instructor with new recruits. Bob was 31 when he filmed, so maybe was a little old, but still ready to be instructed with the others for his National Service. His girlfriend was played by Shirley Eaton, a very attractive Rank starlet who had blonde hair, superb acting ability, and a bust that required little support. She was Bob’s girlfriend, working in the NAAFI on the same training camp that he was posted to.
The class of about thirty men was being instructed by Sergeant Hartnell how to take a rifle to pieces, then reassemble. Monkhouse was paying no attention at all, because his ladyfriend was outside making eyes at him. The sergeant decided that he was going to pick on Bob, so he again had the rifle in bits, with the main stock ready to receive the parts to attach. He called him to the front, telling him that as he knew so much that he didn’t require instruction, he might as well show the class how to put the rifle back together again. This Bob did in a very quick and efficient manner, with lots of laughter from the men, and amazement from William Hartnell.
‘How did you do that so quickly?’ asked the sergeant.
‘Well, before I was called up, I worked in the factory and we used to assemble them all the time’
This was greeted by much ribald laughter from the classroom recruits.
This gentleman from my audience wanted to establish something to make sure that I was going to be accurate for further lectures.
He told me ‘when the sergeant takes it to pieces, it isn’t a rifle, it’s a Bren gun.’ Now I don’t know how you would have reacted, but I had learned seven talks lasting just under five and a half hours, and I was being picked up on one little fact that only the most ardent Carry On and Bob Monkhouse fan would have known. He hadn’t corrected me on anything else, only this one little known snippet of factuality. It was just my luck that this man was on my ship, let alone in my audience, standing in front of me quite secure in the knowledge that he was right.
Good manners got me through the next few seconds, when I thanked him profusely, yes, I would most certainly remember it for the next time I gave the lecture, and I was really pleased that he was there to remind me that I had been less that mindful of the truth. Of course he was gracious in his superior knowledge, happy in the confidence that he knew something that the P&O lecturer didn’t. Strange to say, we didn’t see each other during the next few days.
Another amusing incident came when I gave my Max Miller talk. Max was a renowned mean man, and in the mid-1930s a song writer accosted him at the stage door after another performance. He was selling a tune called ‘Mary From the Dairy’, which Max bought for 4 guineas (approx. £4.20). as part of my lecture I have a huge screen, with my photos showing for the benefit of the audience. This time I also had the words to this song, so, telling them that I was going to sing, they were very welcome to join in if they so desired.
The whole song was sung just by me, no backing track, and my singing voice is not the best, maybe a little flat if I am being a little truthful. When I got to the end of the tune, it was silence. So I said ‘normally when I finish singing Mary From the Dairy I get a round of applause’, of course with amusement in my voice as it was intended as a joke. The audience started clapping, but I said ‘no, no, if I have to ask for it, I don’t want it.’ That got the intended laughter.