Obituary: Roberta Huby

In its heyday intimate revue tutored many great talents, including those of Hermione Gingold, Max Adrian, Joyce Grenfell, Harold Pinter, Peter Cook, Alan Bennett, Maggie Smith, Kenneth Williams and John Mortimer. It also tutored the lovely Roberta Huby's.

Alan Melville's sketches (and Gingold's larking) packed the Ambassadors with the Sweet and Low series of revues during the Second World War. But half a century onwards the art of revue is like the dodo.

It is true that The Shakespeare Revue (managed by Michael Codron, who put on some of the best of them in the 1950s and 1960s) has been well received at the Vaudeville. It certainly reminds us what it used to be about. But the best of the old revues did not have a "theme" or revive stuff from old revues. They had personalities.

Revue in the bubbly Huby's day could fill large theatres as well as small. At the Palace she was with Jack Hulbert and Cicely Courtneidge, Flanagan and Allen or Florence Desmond in shows called Hi-de-Hi or Keep Going (the war was on); at the Palladium it was Tommy Trinder and Ben Lyon in Gangway; and at the Prince of Wales it was the great Sid Field and his straight man Jerry Desmonde in Strike It Again.

What revue would draw to it, apart from new talents, was new audiences. To a schoolboy like myself it made a break from Shakespeare (Richardson's Falstaff, Gielgud's Macbeth, Wolfit's Lear), and Strindberg (Wilfrid Lawson's The Father).

Roberta Huby steered clear of all that kind of thing. It was her femininity, her sense of comedy and her lightness of touch that kept her busy. Her finest moments came with Ian Carmichael, Joan Heal, Dora Bryan and Jeremy Hawk in the long-running Lyric Revue, when it transferred from Hammersmith in 1951. This was a truly intimate revue, of the kind in which she had begun 10 years earlier at the Ambassadors.

That show - The New Ambassadors Revue - was my first revue. An accompanying parent described it as "satirical", whatever that was. He had some difficulty in finding a definition.

It was Huby's first West End appearance. She had a song dedicated to the invisible and always male newsreaders on the so-called wireless who we are told wore dinner jackets; and who, as a concession to a cosier relationship between the BBC and its listening millions had begun, after saying, "This is the news", to add, "And this is so-and-so reading it."

Such informality from such a pompous source was material for a satirical shaft. Thus it was that, seated under a spotlight and holding in her hands a sheaf of papers, the poised, decorous and alluringly blonde Huby, without a flicker of an eyelid or a hint of hilarity, purred into one of those old-fashioned table microphones on the table before her, as if addressing each one of us individually - and I can hum the tune to this day:

Perhaps you have heard of Alvar

Lidell

Well, this is me reading it . . .

We all fell about. Everybody knew Alvar Lidell's authentic tones as he delivered the nine o'clock news; the irreverence of it was splendid. I was converted. Wherever a new revue was playing I would be there; until it was supposedly wiped out by the satire boom of the 1960s.

Huby must have enjoyed revue or she would could never have taken a chance on, say "an intimate revue from the Norwegian of Finn Boe", Rendezvous (Comedy, 1952), with such revue stalwarts as Walter Crisham and Chili Bouchier.

What could be better training, though, for musical comedy and farce? There was the Drury Lane musical Plain and Fancy, and an Aldwych farce to end all Aldwych farces under Peter Hall's direction, Brouhaha (Aldwych, 1958), in which Huby played up gamefully as Mrs Alma Exegis Diddle to the elusive Peter Sellers.

There were also films - with Arthur Askey in I Thank You (1941) - and there was television (Jezebel Ex UK and A Voice in the Sky): but isn't that medium often blamed for the demise of satirical revue?

Adam Benedick

Roberta Clarice Huby, actress: born London 29 September 1913; married 1941 John Roberts (died 1972; one son; marriage dissolved 1959), 1959 Jack Melford (died 1972); died Kingston-upon-Thames 19 November 1995.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Recruitment Genius: HR Manager

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are in need of a HR Manage...

h2 Recruit Ltd: Business Development Manager - HR Consultancy - £65,000 OTE

£35000 - £40000 per annum + £65,000 OTE: h2 Recruit Ltd: London, Birmingham, M...

Day In a Page

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'