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Laugh and world laughs with you
Meeting Eric Morecambe’s son Gary on the set of Paul Burton’s short film at Elstree reminded me when I once met his dad.
I would have had the pleasure of a second meeting when I invited him to the first Elstree Film Evening in 1984, but sadly Eric died the month before at far too early an age. However, Ernie Wise did attend one of our events.
Still, at least they are widely and fondly remembered today, which I guess can’t be said of some of their contemporaries. For instance, who today remembers, or talks about the likes of Harry Worth, Dick Emery or Mike and Bernie Winters?
Over the years I have met many comedians and they have been a mixed bunch off screen.
Sometimes it was a pleasure, as when I was able to reunite Peggy Mount and David Kossoff at one of our events, 40 years after they starred together in a successful comedy TV series called The Larkins.
Sadly, Peggy was nearly blind and ended her days in a home run by an entertainment charity.
Frankie Howerd attended a couple of our events and I employed him in the Eighties to appear at the Hillside School community theatre. He did his one-man show and only cost about £1,500, as his career was in the doldrums a bit.
In private, Frankie seemed a sad, insecure character who was loathe to admit he was gay.
You had to watch yourself with him, but in a way it was quite amusing. His show was very funny in contrast to a TV recording I saw him in once at ATV.
He was doing a guest spot on some show, but the studio audience found his jokes unfunny and you could see the beads of sweat appear on his face. The item was cut from the show.
Reg Varney was a nice guy, as was Norman Wisdom. I met Spike Milligan at an Elstree event towards the end of his life, but he sat slumped in his chair and seemed a bit out of it.
Molly Sugden and Barbara Windsor were great fun to meet and Barbara kindly sent me a Christmas card this year.
Stanley Baxter is a modest character, but I eventually got him to attend one of our events. Before then, we used to speak on the phone and he would adopt the voice of Jack Hawkins, Richard Burton, or some other long-dead star when telling an anecdote, which was spooky but entertaining.
I visited the set of the film versions of Are You Being Served? and Rising Damp at Elstree and in the case of the latter, found Leonard Rossiter to be very serious off set. On George And Mildred, I got to interview Brian Murphy and the late Yootha Joyce, who sadly died not long after, I believe from complications arising from a drink problem.
It is surprising how many comedians seem to be rather tormented, or even sad figures in everyday life.
Charlie Drake was another who was not well liked by his colleagues and I found John Cleese a bit cool when I met him on location at the Edgwarebury Hotel.
The last time I spoke to John Inman, he was in tears as the car had failed to turn up to bring him to one of our studio events where he was to have been a special guest.
George Cole always politely declines any invites I send him as he is a very private person and hates showbiz events.
Alistair Sim was the same, and he even declined giving autographs as he thought it a silly celebrity practice. Arthur Askey, Bob Monkhouse and Ron Moody were all great fun to meet, as was Nigel Hawthorne, although I could not believe how nervous he was when I asked him to give a five-minute impromtu speech.
I sat next to Donald Sinden and Joanna Lumley at Peter Cushing’s memorial service and got to meet the legendary Bob Hope in Hollywood.
The list goes on and on and I can only express my sincere thanks to them all for the laughter they have brought us over the years. It is the best medicine in the world and I think they undertake the hardest role in showbusiness on screen and off.
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