Obituary: Peter Dulay

Click to follow
The Independent Culture
"SMILE - YOU'RE on Candid Camera!" Although Peter Dulay will be best remembered for his on-screen hosting of Independent Television's first comedy series to play practical jokes on unsuspecting members of the public, he neither originated the programme, nor was he the original host. He was, however, a significant comedy creator as both scriptwriter and producer of many ITV series.

Peter Dulay was born in 1920, the son of William Dooley, who changed his name to sound more significant in his stage billing. Dooley senior also changed his first name, and as Benson Dulay will be recalled by old-time variety lovers as a comedy magician of some note. On the music- hall stage from his London debut at the Holborn Empire in 1913, he added comedy to his routine at the famous City Varieties in Leeds.

He added even more fun when in 1928 he added his eight-year-old son into his act, somewhat illegally. When his father appealed for an assistant, the boy Peter used to come on stage from a seat in the audience, and promptly started to upset the magician's tricks. "You don't know me, do you?" said Benson. "No, Dad," answered the cocky kid. From then on the boy ruined each and every trick his old man tried to set up.

With the outbreak of the Second World War, Dulay senior set up a magic shop, creating tricks and properties for professional magicians to purchase. Dulay junior went into the Army where he did his share of entertaining his fellow conscripts. After the war Peter Dulay became a solo stand-up comic, performing a combination of comedy and elementary conjuring tricks in variety tours, summer shows and pantomimes for such top producers as George and Alfred Black. When Max Wall left the London Coliseum production of The Pajama Game in 1955, Dulay took over his role.

During the 1950s Dulay began to write comedy scripts for other performers, including the great Copenhagen-born comedian and pianist Victor Borge, who worked frequently in England from 1956. Dulay broke into television writing in 1961, co- scripting Roamin' Holiday with Eric Sykes for Max Bygraves in a series which Bygraves made co- starring his wife and family. Bill Ward was the producer.

Dulay now worked regularly as a comedy writer in independent television. Among the many series he produced for ABC-TV were Comedy Bandbox (1962), a showcase for new comedians, including Hope and Keen, and Frankie and Bruce (1966), which co-starred two comedians surnamed Howerd and Forsyth.

In 1969 Dulay moved to Yorkshire Television for a long run as writer/producer of Sez Les, a delightful and recently re-run series starring that late baiter of mothers-in-law, Les Dawson, and his brilliant partner, Roy Barraclough, later a stalwart of Coronation Street. Back in London, Dulay scripted for London Weekend The Leslie Crowther Show, in which that pleasant comedian was backed up by Arthur ("Mum, They're Laughing At Me!") English, Albert ("Daft as a Brush!") Modley and Chick Murray, the dead-pan delivery man from Dundee.

In 1972 Dulay scripted Shut That Door for ATV, a showcase series for Larry Grayson, the comedian who shot to fame when in 1978 he took over The Generation Game from Bruce Forsyth. Later Dulay took Grayson on in a different way, becoming his agent. The last comedy series Dulay produced was called Just Like That (1978), which starred, of course, that clumsy conjuror, Tommy Cooper, being named after his catch-phrase.

Candid Camera, the only series in which Dulay actually appeared before the public, began back in 1947 on American radio. Then known as Candid Microphone, it was created and compered by Allen Funt, who had originated the concept of impromptu fun with a hidden microphone when he was in services radio during the war.

A huge and frequently hilarious success, the show's title and concept was bought by Britain's entrepreneurial producer for Radio Luxembourg, Monty Bailey-Watson. Sponsored by Pam Radios, the British radio version premiered on 2 April 1956, hosted by, of all people, Noel Johnson, the BBC's Dick Barton Special Agent. The jokes were played on the unsuspecting public by the dead-pan Jonathan Routh.

Bob Monkhouse, who had seen the visual version of Funt's series in some short films made by Columbia, visited the United States and watched the programme in production. He was more than delighted to be present when the miserable man playing tricks on patrons of a lunch counter turned out to be none other than his silent film idol, Buster Keaton. When the programme was first transmitted on ABC-TV in September 1960, it was Monkhouse who compered.

His writing partner, Dennis Goodwin, scripted the stunts, which were again pulled by Jonathan Routh. Later chair-chaps were Don Arrol (1962), the impressionist Peter Goodwright (1963) and the conjuror David Nixon (1964). It would be more than a decade later that the new series, with Dulay on screen linking the on-the-spot tricks by clumsy Arthur Atkins, revived the forgotten format that is so strong in today's television, that of playing painful practical jokes on the unsuspecting public.

After several series Dulay retired into personal management. He is survived by his wife, the dancer Deidre Morgan, and their three daughters.

Peter Dooley (Peter Dulay), television presenter and scriptwriter: born 1920; married Deidre Morgan (three daughters); died Brighton, East Sussex 29 October 1999.