TELEVISION Heroes of Comedy (C4) He's dead brilliant that Arthur Haynes. Brilliant but, alas, dead. By Jasper Rees

Heroes of Comedy is an essay on the fickle nature of posthumous fame. While posterity has been kind to Tommy Cooper and Joyce Grenfell, it has danced on the grave of Arthur Haynes. Arthur who? I hear you ask, and indeed - though a reviewer of television courts unemployment to admit it - you hear me ask.

Though this tribute didn't address it, there seems to be a complex network of reasons why Haynes's erasure from the collective memory happened so quickly. For a start, he timed his death less expertly than his punchlines. He went in 1966, before the advent of colour or pre-recording, which shortened the shelf-life of what he left behind.

The comedy itself doesn't appear to have dated: in his ATV show Haynes played the tramp, the burglar, the working-class man with a bumbling, uppity style that was underdone but never soft-centred. His scriptwriter was Johnny Speight, who took up gag-writing inspired by the still living George Bernard Shaw, and created in Haynes - and then Alf Garnett - customised models of a Shavian politicised common man. Perhaps Haynes, the left-wing version, wasn't hectic enough for subsequent taste, but the actual material has been dulled by time far less than its recently repeated contemporary, the first Likely Lads series.

Granted his time again, he might find himself feted anew. The youngest keeper of Haynes's flare is Paul Merton, who last week celebrated the 10th anniversary of the Comedy Store, a temple of improv where Haynes might have felt at home. His technique was modern, only the ancient technology has dented his celebrity.

But there's more to it than that. Haynes was ATV's riposte to the BBC's Tony Hancock, who because of his more colourfully anguished personality, culminating in a sore dramatic exit, is still a household name. Haynes, meanwhile, led a life quiet enough not to have merited attention here. With ghoulish synchronicity, a clip from Doctor in Clover found him in a hospital bed, complaining to James Robertson-Justice of suffering a "corona". He duly succumbed to a fatal one later that same year, in the prosaic way most comedians seem to.

This was surely scant reward for giving Nicholas Parsons the sack not long previously. It is Parsons's theory that Haynes was perturbed by the plaudits conferred on his straight man. Haynes would therefore be mortified to learn of the notoriety that Parsons basks in 30 years on, and that enjoyed by other hands hired to feed him gags: a young Wendy Richard, a raven-haired Patricia Hayes, a junior Ronnie Barker, and even - a collector's item from 1962 - a vocally unchanged Michael Caine.

When Speight learnt of Haynes's death, he assumed, as any comedian will, that the bearer of bad tidings was referring to a stage death rather than the real thing. That misunderstanding has come oddly true, and in death Haynes has become a victim of injustice like the characters he played in life.

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