DJ Taylor: The journalist who suggested national treasure Brian Micklethwaite was "not as nice as he looks" got hate mail for weeks


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The Independent Online

People unfamiliar with the world of light entertainment who have the good fortune to be introduced to Brian Micklethwaite are sometimes hard put to account for his very considerable celebrity.

At first sight, Mr Micklethwaite ("Call me Brian, lad") is a somewhat unprepossessing character: a pudgy, diminutive Yorkshireman in his late sixties with a red face and wisps of grey-white hair plastered over the crown of a head that newspaper caricaturists regularly render as a billiard ball. Brian, in fact, cries out to be underestimated: it takes a trawl through back numbers of the Radio Times or The Sun TV Annual to mark the true measure of the man.

How did Brian acquire his fame? Well, there is his 20-year stint in Imbroglio, a staple of the afternoon schedules, in which he plays bluff Sam Farnaby, licensee of the Smuggler's Rest, a horse brass-festooned pub somewhere in the West Riding. Then there are the three volumes of autobiography (Nobbut a Lad from Leeds, 'Appen I Shall and 'Appen I Did), which chart his rise from abject northern poverty via a chance appearance on the stage of a local repertory theatre to the legendary "Micklethwaite's Musings" column, whose unveiling in the Daily Mirror may be said to have made his name.

But more even than this, there is his ubiquity. Pick up a newspaper and the chances are you will find a photograph of him receiving his OBE from the Queen ("A champion lass," Brian loyally declares). Turn on the television in the early evening and 10 to one his jowly visage will be regarding a barbecue manned by a celebrity chef or gazing myopically from the prow of a yacht cruising the Norfolk Broads.

None of this, naturally, could be accomplished without a degree of astuteness that is altogether lacking from Brian's public manner. He was, for example, a great crony of Jimmy Savile, but managed to throw him over before the mud began to stick. Similarly, the five minutes of a Channel Four documentary about Robert Maxwell devoted to his friendship with the great man never did get past the lawyers. On the other hand, his private life – a much-publicised marriage to the devoted Edna – is blameless and his charitable work raising funds for Yorkshire orphanages the stuff of legend.

The broadsheet journalist who once suggested that he was "not as nice as he looks" got hate mail for weeks.