Bob Monkhouse, joke-writer to the stars and the long-reigning king of prime-time comedy, dies at 75

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Bob Monkhouse, one of the most enduring figures of British comedy, died at his home in Bedfordshire yesterday aged 75.

Monkhouse, who was renowned for his endless store of quick-fire jokes, polished persona and permanent tan, had been suffering from prostate cancer for more than two years. Peter Prichard, his manager for 38 years, said Monkhouse's second wife, Jackie, was at the comedian's side when he died. Mr Pritchard said Monkhouse was "one of the finest men I've ever known", adding: "We've lost one of the greatest comics England has ever produced."

Originally a radio comedy writer, Monkhouse went on to become a mainstay of popular prime-time television light entertainment beginning with Candid Camera in the 1960s and continuing to the National Lottery. He hosted The Golden Shot, Celebrity Squares, Family Fortunes, Bob's Full House and Bob Says Opportunity Knocks. He also appeared in several films.

In common with other performers of his era, Monkhouse's popularity revived in recent years as he earned plaudits for his skill and professionalism from a younger generation of comedians who had once criticised him for his "mother-in-law jokes".

Ian Hislop, the editor of Private Eye and panellist on Have I Got News For You, met Monkhouse when the comic appeared on the show in 1994. "He was extremely good," Hislop said. "He just came on and blew everybody away. He had a reputation for being cheesy and smarmy but he had millions of good jokes. Nobody could stop him, he was like a machine gun." Monkhouse also appeared on Room 101 and helped host The Big Breakfast.

Despite his illness, Monkhouse continued working until recently. "I'll never stop working," he once said. "I want to die in the saddle. A day is wasted for me if I haven't done something even mildly creative." For many years he was a stalwart of the cabaret club and corporate dinner circuit.

At the Television and Radio Industries Club awards in March, where he was honoured for his contribution to the entertainment world, he said: "I discovered about two years ago that visits to the loo were less and less profitable. I saw a specialist who asked me: 'Are you familiar with the phrase faecal impaction?' I said I think I saw that one with Glenn Close and Michael Douglas."

Born in Kent, in 1928, and educated at Dulwich College, Monkhouse had a troubled personal life that belied the silky charm for which he was known. According to his frank autobiography, Crying With Laughter, he was neglected by his parents. They refused to speak to him after his first marriage, to Elizabeth, when he was 20. He never made up with his father and only got back on speaking terms with his mother shortly before she died 20 years later.

Monkhouse's first son, Gary, suffered from cerebral palsy and died in the early 1990s while his second son, Simon, fell out with his father and died of a heroin overdose in 2001.

Monkhouse's permanent tan was not simply due to having a second home in Bermuda, but also because he wore make-up to cover the skin condition vitiligo.

Although his 1993 autobiography is credited with rejuvenating his career, it was at the price of revealing his promiscuity. And in an interview in 2000 he also confessed to drinking two bottles of wine and half a bottle of whisky a day.

Of his rehabilitation, Monkhouse said: "People who hadn't noticed me, or who had written me off as a game show host, started to reassess me. There were people who hadn't seen me as a stand-up artist and liked it. Suddenly I was in fashion again."

In 1995, two notebooks containing a large portion of his vast collection of jokes, notes and cartoons went missing from a BBC locker and Monkhouse offered a £10,000 reward. They were eventually found two years later. Monkhouse was also a collector of movies and was once charged for illegal importation of films. Although acquitted, he forfeited most of his stock.

Barry Cryer, the comedy writer, paid tribute yesterday to Monkhouse's amazing memory for jokes. "We used to say he had a computer in his head. His memory was astonishing."

The veteran entertainer Max Bygraves, a friend for 30 years, said: "He knew the entertainment game backwards and understood the mechanics of comedy like no one else.''

Jim Moir, controller of Radio 2, described Monkhouse as a "giant" of the entertainment industry. "Since he was a schoolboy, [he] worked to perfect the art of comedy. He became a brilliant technician. His gift for laughter-making and entertaining the British public embraced cinema, stage, radio and television. He was a giant, unique and irreplaceable." Obituary, page 14

The humour of Bob Monkhouse

  • The last time I was in Spain I got through six Jeffrey Archer novels. I must remember to take enough toilet paper next time.
  • I can still enjoy sex at 74 - I live at 75, so it's no distance.
  • Marriage is an investment which pays dividends if you pay interest.
  • My wife said: "Can my mother come down for the weekend?" So I said: "Why?" And she said: "Well, she's been up on the roof two weeks already."
  • When the inventor of the drawing board messed things up, what did he go back to?
  • A tom cat hijacked a plane, stuck a pistol into the pilot's ribs and demanded: "Take me to the canaries."
  • Silence is not only golden; it is seldom misquoted.
  • How can we expect a politician to believe in the wisdom of the people when he knows it was the people who voted him in?
  • I'm not saying my wife's a bad cook, but she uses a smoke alarm as a timer.
  • Real happiness is when you marry a girl for love and find out later she has money.
  • People always say: "You're a comedian, tell us a joke." They don't say: "You're an MP, tell us a lie."