Underrated: Eyeball to eyeball: Marty Feldman

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The Independent Culture
The Bounty is tossed by a fierce storm. Captain Bligh bellows at the back of his first officer: 'Mr Christian. Mr Christian, sir. MISTER Christian.' The officer, alias Marty Feldman, turns round, bulging eyes, generous nose and ear-to-ear grin, to say with an exaggerated Jewish accent: 'Has he got the wrong person]'

This is one opening sketch from Marty Feldman's Sixties TV show that sticks in the memory. And stick in the memory it must, for amid the fuss about the BBC showing too many repeats, this is one series that never is.

Feldman, who died in 1982 at the age of 49, was an original, at home with both verbal and visual comedy. I remember as a teenager rolling on the floor, helpless with laughter. His dishevelled hair and wild-eyed look (the result of an operation for an over-active thyroid) provoked laughter even before he spoke, be it as a con artist Bishop who led hymn singing in a train carriage before fleecing his fellow passengers, or the Uruguayan footballer at Wembley who on being presented to Princess Anne chased her around the pitch.

Feldman's style of zany random sketches undoubtedly pioneered the format taken up by the Monty Python team (he scripted the Python forerunner, ITV's At Last The 1948 Show, which starred John Cleese). But his humour was if anything even more anarchic. It takes a surreal vision to have a householder ring up the council because he has woodworm and find, a few minutes later, a couple of Chicago cops on his doorstep asking 'Where's da woim,' and 'has he got a broad wid him?' before embarking on a below-floorboards gun chase of the gangster woim and his moll.

Feldman it seems has been forgotten. Cleese and co don't tend to acknowledge his influence. The BBC doesn't repeat his shows. Even the current West End hit Dead Funny, about a group of British comedy obsessives, mentions all the key TV comics of the last 30 years apart from one. Feldman went to Hollywood to mixed success, but his last television series, broadcast back in 1974, contained a completely original and influential comic talent that is simply undiscovered for most people under 30.

(Photograph omitted)