John Junkin

Comedy writer and performer


John Francis Junkin, writer and actor: born London 29 January 1930; married 1977 Jennifer Claybourn (one daughter); died Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire 7 March 2006.

The glum-looking John Junkin was a familiar face in television comedy for more than 30 years, during which his hair-line receded beyond sight, but he was also one of a band of writers who contributed to the revolution that brought anarchic humour to the small screen.

His career was launched in 1956 when he tracked down and persuaded Spike Milligan to read one of his scripts. He ended up writing for Milligan and his fellow Goon Peter Sellers, and some of those who went on to form the Monty Python and Goodies teams.

For It's Marty (1968-69), an award-winning sketch show starring the bug-eyed comedian Marty Feldman, Junkin lined up alongside such comedy writers as Tim Brooke-Taylor, Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Terry Jones, Michael Palin, Frank Muir and Denis Norden. Also appearing in the series, Junkin was on the receiving end when Feldman and Brooke-Taylor, dressed up as an old couple, reduced him to a quivering wreck in the roles of travel agent, marriage counsellor and Post Office counter clerk.

Born in Ealing, west London, in 1930, Junkin worked as a teacher, lift attendant and labourer before turning to writing professionally. After meeting Spike Milligan, he joined the team on the zany sketch show The Idiot Weekly, Price 2d (1956), which included writers such as Ray Galton, Alan Simpson and Johnny Speight, with Eric Sykes as script editor.

Junkin wrote more conventional humour for two series of The Ted Ray Show (1958-59), starring the popular comedian who had made his name in music hall, then contributed to The World of Beachcomber (starring Spike Milligan, 1968), According to Dora (with Dora Bryan, 1969) and the first series of Hark at Barker (featuring Ronnie Barker as the decrepit peer Lord Rustless, 1969), as well as to sitcoms such as The Army Game (1960-61) and Hugh and I (1962-67). Later, he was script editor for all four series of Home James! (1987-90), starring the comedian Jim Davidson as chauffeur to a millionaire factory owner. With Barry Cryer and others, Junkin contributed to The Morecambe and Wise Show during the duo's heyday at the BBC, and he and Cryer were principal writers for the first two programmes when they switched to ITV in 1978. He also wrote routines for Little and Large, The Jim Davidson Show and Mike Yarwood in Persons.

By then, Junkin was also well known in front of the camera. His acting career had begun in 1960, when he joined Joan Littlewood's Theatre Workshop, set up to give a voice to working-class and left-of-centre voices. Within two weeks, he was appearing in its most famous play, Sparrers Can't Sing, and, over the next year, he played roles as diverse as a gay Liverpool tennis player and a mad German scientist.

On television, he appeared on and off as the milkman, Wally, in Johnny Speight's Alf Garnett sitcom Till Death Us Do Part (1966-75), starred in the battle-of-the-sexes marriage comedy Sam and Janet (1967-68) and played the exasperated building-site foreman Charlie Cattermole in On the House (1970-71).

In the cinema, he was seen as a policeman in Doctor in Love (1960), a reporter in Heavens Above! (starring Peter Sellers, 1963), Shake, one of the Fab Four's two road managers, in the Beatles film A Hard Day's Night (directed by Richard Lester, 1964), a chauffeur in The Sandwich Man (1966), a truck driver in Eric Sykes's wordless comedy The Plank (1967) and a surveyor in Wombling Free (1977).

During a fallow period for British cinema, Junkin also appeared in the sex comedies Confessions of a Driving Instructor (1976), Confessions from a Holiday Camp (1977), Rosie Dixon - Night Nurse (1978). His later films included A Handful of Dust (1988) and Chicago Joe and the Showgirl (1990).

As Junkin's writing became more infrequent, he took dramatic roles on television, in series such as Juliet Bravo (1982), The Professionals (1983), Blott on the Landscape (1985), All Creatures Great and Small (1988), Inspector Morse (as a chief inspector, 1992) and The Bill (1999). In Coronation Street (1981), he played Bill Fielding, a roughneck picked up in a pub and taken home by a drunk Elsie Tanner (Patricia Phoenix), resulting in a jealous wife's breaking into Elsie's house and tearing up her clothes. More recently, in EastEnders (2001-02), he was Ernie Johnson, a mysterious pensioner who appeared in the Queen Vic pub. Ernie left shame-faced after it was revealed that he had physically abused Billy Mitchell at a children's home many years earlier.

In the 1990s, Junkin had been through a bad spell after losing £70,000 in a failed legal action against a television producer over a game show he had devised, and receiving a tax demand for £80,000. "I did anything that came my way to earn money," he said. "I got up at 4.30am every day to write a page of jokes for a disc jockey's early-morning show in Newcastle." That decade also saw the break-up of his marriage.

Then, after a long break from writing for the screen, Junkin contributed to The Crazy World of Joe Pasquale (1998) and The Impressionable Jon Culshaw (2004), but, he reflected in 1997,

Television now seems to be made for people who sit in the Groucho Club rubbing each other's egos with a Nivea bar. It's certainly not what people want to watch. That's why they still enjoy the old comedies like Dad's Army, Morecambe and Wise and Steptoe and Son . . . It strikes me that the new generation running television today has forgotten how to make people laugh.

Anthony Hayward

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