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.

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