Bob Monkhouse (1928-2003)

Veteran British comedian, actor and television presenter Bob Monkhouse was one of Britain’s best known entertainers. He enjoyed a long career in television as the genial host of game shows such as Celebrity Squares, Family Fortunes and Wipeout, but he was also an accomplished comic actor, appearing in films such as Carry On Sergeant (1958), Dentist In The Chair (1960), Dentist On The Job (1961), She’ll Have To Go (1962) and The Bliss Of Mrs Blossom (1968). In 1966, he provided the voices for Zero X space navigator Brad Newman (left below) and the Swinging Star nightclub compere in Gerry Anderson’s Supermarionation feature film Thunderbirds Are Go (1966). He also narrated the British theatrical trailer for the movie.

Born in Beckenham, London on June 1st, 1928, Robert Alan Monkhouse was educated at Dulwich College and by the time he was 12 he was illustrating strip cartoons for children’s comics. After leaving school he found work as a cartoon film animator but went on to try his hand at a variety of jobs including journalist, magazine editor, novelist, songwriter, guitarist, vocalist and commercial artist before being called up for National Service as a corporal in the RAF. He made his radio debut in 1947 on the BBC’s Gang Show series and the following year he made his television debut in the corporation’s talent showcase series New To You. He became the first comedian to be signed to an exclusive contract by the BBC, appearing regularly on radio in popular programmes such as Variety Bandbox and Workers’ Playtime, and on television in shows such as Rooftop Rendezvous, Variety Parade, This Is Show Business and Garrison Theatre.

With his long-term writing partner Denis Goodwin, Monkhouse scripted more than 650 radio and television programmes over the next ten years, advertising their talents with the tagline ‘Accuracy is our motto – we never make misteaks’ [sic]. In 1954, they wrote and starred together in the BBC sketch series Fast And Loose and went on to both write and star in the sitcom My Pal Bob, but their partnership ended in 1962 when Goodwin was offered work in the USA as a member of Bob Hope’s writing team. As a solo performer, Monkhouse became even more popular, appearing in a string of comedy sketch and standup performance shows for ITV, including The Bob Monkhouse Comedy Hour, I’m Bob, He’s Dickie and ITC’s Bonkers! He also hosted Val Parnell’s Saturday Night At The London Palladium, Candid Camera, Mad Movies and Bob Says Opportunity Knocks, and became British television’s most prolific and durable quiz- and game-show host with stints on Do You Trust Your Wife?, For Love Or Money, The Golden Shot, Quick On The Draw, Bob’s Full House, $64,000 Question, Bob’s Your Uncle, Gagtag and Monkhouse’s Memory Masters.

In the mid-Eighties, Monkhouse returned to the BBC for The Bob Monkhouse Show, a long-running comedy standup and interview series in which Monkhouse introduced familiar British comedians and new talent from America – notably Joan Rivers, Sandra Bernhard and Jim Carrey. He later presented the BBC’s National Lottery show, took the straight acting role of Sylvester Le Fley in The Scented Room, an episode of the BBC’s Jonathan Creek, and voiced the character of Johnny Saveloy in the stop-motion animated series Rex The Runt. More recently, he voiced the title character in the animated Aaagh! It’s The Mr Hell Show! series, guested in an episode of Big Bad World, and presented Behind The Laughter, a two-part programme about British comedy performers.

Awarded the OBE in 1993, Monkhouse was also the recipient of a lifetime achievement award from the Television and Radio Industries Club in March 2003. In April, he was the subject of This Is Your Life. He had battled prostate and bone cancer for more than two years and died peacefully in his sleep early on the morning of Monday, 29th December 2003, aged 75. He leaves his wife, Jackie, and step-daughter, Abigail. His two sons, Gary and Simon, predeceased him – Gary from cerebral palsy and Simon from a heroin overdose.

Originally published in FAB 48.