Obituary: Ken Hoare
Friday 21 November 1997
From the 1960s onwards Ken Hoare wrote for the brilliant Glaswegian entertainer Stanley Baxter. "His mimicry had a cutting edge," wrote Hoare, "drawing blood and proving that imitation is not always the sincerest form of flattery."
His association with Baxter lasted more than 30 years, producing such programmes as Stanley Baxter's Big Picture Show, Stanley Baxter's Picture Annual, Stanley Baxter's Christmas Hamper, Stanley Baxter's Xmas Box and Stanley Baxter's Christmas Special, which was shown last December. The Yuletide specials produced such joys as Baxter's imitation of Noel Coward, singing Ken's neat lyric: "Why can't we cancel Christmas?/ Why can't we pack it in?/ The kiddies all adore it and they make a joyful noise./ They lie on the mat,/ And neuter the cat,/ With educational toys."
In 1953, newly married and living in a chilly house in Stroud Green, I spent a lot of time writing comedy scripts in the local public library, which was infinitely warmer. The librarian there was Ken Hoare, a shy, likeable young man who had recently come to London from Torquay to pursue a writing career. One morning, knowing we shared an interest in film as well as in comedy, I told him about a very funny monologue I'd heard the previous night in a fringe-theatre revue; credited to "Kean Shore"; it was a speech delivered by the organiser of a suburban film society. Hoare revealed that he'd written it, and had anagrammatised "Ken S. Hoare" in case the piece failed to register. "At dress rehearsal", he added, "I wished I'd chosen a less obvious anagram!" Thus began a valued friendship that was to last for 44 years.
"I broke into television in 1955", wrote Ken, "by picking the lock on the door of Associated-Rediffusion." After writing comedy sketches for various variety programmes, he sold his first television play, The Outing (1956). One of the many scripts that followed was The Cage, broadcast in the late Fifties, a mystery thriller which became even more mysterious during its live transmission; realising the play was 15 minutes too long, the director ordered frenzied last minute cuts, rendering the story so incomprehensible that calls from baffled viewers nearly reduced the switchboard to meltdown. The following day, to its author's perverse amusement, the play was hailed by one newspaper critic as "boldly innovative".
In the early 1960s Hoare's agent introduced him to another of his clients, a radio writer named Mike Sharland, and the two decided to collaborate on television comedy. "We started by writing a pilot show based on Ken's library experiences," said Sharland, "but it never saw the light of day because we could never think of a second episode as funny as the first." Although their next sitcom script was turned down by ITV, it found a home on BBC-TV's Comedy Playhouse, and became Beggar My Neighbour (1967), which, with Peter Jones, June Whitfield, Pat Coombs and Reg Varney in the cast, ran for four series.
Yorkshire Television's Mr Digby, Darling (1969), which starred Peter Jones and Sheila Hancock, also notched up four series, and His and Hers (l971), with Ronald Lewis and Sue Lloyd, ran for three. Turnbull's Finest Half Hour (1972), their no-holds-barred lampoon of television broadcasting, worried Yorkshire TV who, afraid it was too "in", kept burying it in obscure time-slots. The show nonetheless developed a cult following (which included Alan Bennett), and ran for two seasons.
For his last 28 years, Hoare's companion was the actor Alan Helm. They left London briefly in the 1970s to run a small cinema in Suffolk, where Hoare also wrote in his spare time. Although an amusing collection of autobiographical pieces failed to find a publisher, his book Stanley Baxter on Screen was published in 1980. A stage play Glyn and It, which involved an imaginary encounter between Elinor Glyn, the author of the novel It and Clara Bow, the "It Girl", opened at the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre in Guildford in February 1994, before embarking on a nationwide tour with Penelope Keith as Glyn.
During his career, Hoare won six Writers' Guild and Press Guild awards and a BAFTA award. Whenever comedy writers forgather to discuss favourite pieces of television comedy, someone inevitably mentions Hoare's classic lampoon of the crime shorts made for the cinema by the criminologist Edgar Lustgarten in the 1950s, and relentlessly televised in the 1960s and beyond. Smudgily filmed on appropriately flimsy sets, Lustgarten (Stanley Baxter) recounts a case in which a number of people died from the same cause - Deadly Boredom. After finally revealing that these deaths were caused by his own films, Lustgarten vows: "When the doors of Wormwood Scrubs open again, I shall be back to claim further victims with grainy film, pedestrian plots and sluggish direction. Goodnight."
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