OBITUARY : Dick Bentley

Dick Bentley, the Australian comedian, joined the BBC radio series Take It From Here in 1948, when he was 41, and remained 21 years' old ever after - according to a gag run by the programme's scriptwriters Frank Muir and Denis Norden.

Bentley was the oldest of the programme's original trio of comedy stars, and Joy Nichols, also an Aussie, and Jimmy Edwards let everyone know it by constantly calling him "Master" Dick Bentley. Unfortunately, Bentley's age eventually weighed against him, and television and film appearances dwindled rapidly after the golden years of radio. Sadly, even the medium that made him could find no space for him, despite his melodic light baritone or his humorous collection of comic voices, and his last years were spent in unjust neglect.

Born Charles Walter Bentley, in Melbourne in 1907, he took his childhood nickname, "Dirty Dick", for his show-business career. He began in popular music, having learnt the violin at the age of seven. He joined a local dance band when he was 16, doubling on saxophone and clarinet. Crooning came easily to him, and after numerous broadcasts he came to England to try his luck. Snapped up by the commercial station Radio Luxembourg, Dick sang a song or two for The Ovaltineys' Concert Party, then formed a comedy double-act with the veteran whistling comedian Albert Whelan, another Australian. Together they compered The Merry Andrews Show ("Be clean inside as well outside with Andrews Liver Salts"), sharing the jokes between them. "And now I'd like to sing the prize- fighter song 'I Can't Give You Anything But Glove, Baby'."

A more substantial double-act was born when Bentley teamed up with the solo comedian George Moon. Together they compered one of the BBC's most successful pre-war series, Lucky Dip. This magazine format show combined a little of everything, including a weekly serial starring every boy's favourite detective, Sexton Blake. Lucky Dip ran for 45 consecutive weeks, a record for those days, before being shut down by the declaration of the Second World War.

Bentley speedily returned to Australia where he entertained the troops in the down-under equivalent of ENSA. His many recordings of those days included "Praise The Lord and Pass the Ammunition" with the George Travares Australian Dance Orchestra, newly issued in Britain on a cassette set entitled The Greatest Victory Album.

After the war Bentley came back to Britain to find that his old partner George Moon had formed a new double-act with the pianist Burton Brown. He returned to radio as the compere of Beginners Please (1947), a Saturday- morning talent showcase. This developed into a more sumptuous series entitled Show Time (1948). In the first programme Bentley introduced a newcomer called Terry Scott, and a week or so later a young impressionist named Peter Sellers. The series was scripted by yet another new name, Denis Norden.

Meanwhile another famous wartime radio show was wound down. Navy Mixture, compered by Petty Officer Jack Watson, had featured the attractive Australian vocalist Joy Nichols, and the burlesque lectures of Professor Jimmy Edwards as written by one Frank Muir. The producer Charles Maxwell now combined these two big talents with the vocal and comedy powers of Dick Bentley, added Muir to Norden, and called the result Take It From Here (1948). This new series was soon a success, with Bentley conducting double entendre interviews with Joy Nichols as the giggly Miss Arundel, whose boyfriend was the unheard but sex-mad Gilbert. The best- remembered bit from the early TIFH (as the title was shortened to, following the ITMA tradition), is Bentley's lovelorn lothario whose weekly paeans to his beloved brought the house down: "Oh Mavis, how ravishing you look in your neglige [pronounced "nee- glije"] with its tantalising glimpses of vest!"

The show's success may be judged by the excellent strip cartoon version which ran in Radio Fun from 1949. The BBC's refusal to allow use of their title caused the editor to change it to We're Telling You.

Two of TIFH's catchphrases were built around Bentley, both exclaimed by the ebullient Edwards: "Gently Bentley!" and "Blackmark Bentley!" The former became the title of his own series, a lightweight affair co-starring the popular singer Alma Cogan. Their duets were delightful, and Cogan was chosen as one of the two replacements for Joy Nichols when she left TIFH. The other was June Whitfield, who speedily became established as a leading funny lady with her repertoire of comic voices. The most famous of these, was, of course, the whining Eth, whose cry of "Oh Ron . . ." would invariably be interrupted by the roaring arrival of Pa Glum, played by Edwards, with a shout of "Ullo, ullo, ullo!" The dim-witted Ron ("Come on Eth, just a kiss!") was, of course, Bentley. Beginning as the "typical British family" in cod documentaries the Glums were soon promoted to fill half of the show. Eventually they turned up on television, but too late for the ageing Bentley to play the young twit, and the role was portrayed, and excellently, by Ian Lavender of Dad's Army fame.

After a run of 12 years, TIFH was finally chopped, but while both writers and performers moved successfully to television, Bentley was less than lucky. He made a few pleasant appearances in films, including the war comedy Desert Mice (1959), In The Doghouse (1961), with Leslie Phillips and Peggy Cummins, The Sundowners (1962), a Deborah Kerr-Robert Mitchum period piece that took him home to Australia, and another Australian-slanted film, Barry Mackenzie Holds His Own (1975), starring Barry Crocker and Barry Humphries. In the cast were several other veteran comedians, including Tommy Trinder and Arthur English.

Bentley was successful in only one television series, Some Mothers Do Have 'Em, in the mid-Seventies, in which he played Michael Crawford's Australian uncle. He lived his last years in St John's Wood, where he retired with his wife Petronella, "Peta" for short.

Denis Gifford

Charles Walter Bentley, comedian, actor: born Melbourne, Australia 14 May 1907; married; died London 27 August 1995.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Ashdown Group: HR Assistant (Events business) - Central Manchester - £20K

£18000 - £20000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Assistant (Events busi...

Recruitment Genius: Project Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This privately-owned company designs and manuf...

Recruitment Genius: Human Resources Officer

£22000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity has arisen at th...

Ashdown Group: HR Manager - London - £40,000 + Bonus

£36000 - £40000 per annum + Bonus: Ashdown Group: HR Manager (Generalist) -Old...

Day In a Page

NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own