Willie Rushton, humorist, satirist, artist, dies at 59

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The Independent Online
Willie Rushton, the comedian, satirist, author, actor and a man who listed his recreations as "losing weight" and "gaining weight" has died after a heart operation at the age of 59.

Rushton one of the architects of the Sixties satire boom, co-founding the magazine Private Eye and appearing on the seminal TV programme That Was The Week that Was alongside David Frost in 1962.

But his versatility was greater than many of his more lauded colleagues. It extended from a stage debut in Spike Milligan's The Bed-Sitting Room in 1961 to the authorship of best selling novels and such reference works as How To Play Football: The Art Of Dirty Play; Pigsticking: A Joy For Life.

On radio he broadcast in 27 series of the anarchic game show I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue. As a cartoonist he ranked among the best. Examples of his work are at present on display at the National Portrait Gallery.

Rushton's genial demeanour and quickfire repartee made his chunky, bearded frame a staple on television comedy and quiz shows from the Sixties onwards.

And in the last few years he had been enjoying a spirited comeback as a stand up comedian in a double act with his fellow comic Barry Cryer. Their show, Two Old Farts, delighted audiences at the Edinburgh Festival and on subsequent nationwide tours.

Rushton, who was married with three sons, died at the Cromwell Hospital in London after a short illness, his agent Roger Hancock said. It is understood he had a heart operation, but suffered a reaction.

His comic leanings began among a starry generation at Shrewsbury School where he fell in with a group that included his future Private Eye co- founders Richard Ingrams, Paul Foot and Christopher Booker. A lack of Latin O Level prevented Rushton from joining his friends at Oxford University.

But he rejoined them at Private Eye where he contributed cartoons as well as writing. On That Was The Week That Was he mimicked Harold Macmillan with a patrician accent he was to use to great effect in many future impersonations. Last night Sir David Frost paid tribute saying: "Willie Rushton just went on getting wittier and funnier with every passing year."

In November 1963 he took political satire out of the studio and on to the hustings, standing at the Perth and Kinross by-election against the Prime Minister, Lord Home, who needed a seat in the House of Commons. Rushton only managed 45 votes, but addressed a large public meeting where he denounced "the completely arrogant way Lord Home has moved into Downing Street."

Richard Ingrams said he was "terrifically shocked" by his friend's death. He said: "I think he was the most talented of my contemporaries by far. He had a brilliant spontaneous wit. I knew Willie from the age of 12, when we first started doing jokes together and he was a very good cartoonist even then. He was a brilliant cartoonist, a born cartoonist who had no training. It was completely natural to him.

"He was very well adjusted to things. When he became diabetic a few years ago, he took it in his stride and said that he was grateful because it made him give up drinking."

A keen cricketer, Rushton was a member of the Lord's Taverners. Yesterday, the comedian Barry Took remarked: "I can't imagine the Lord's Taverners or British life without him. He was a decent honest man, who laughed a lot."