Bob Monkhouse

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Bob Monkhouse
BornRobert Alan Monkhouse
(1928-06-01)1 June 1928[1]
Beckenham, Kent, England
Died29 December 2003(2003-12-29) (aged 75)[2]
Cause of deathProstate cancer
Years active1952-2003
Spouse(s)Elizabeth Thompson (1949-72)
Jacqueline Harding (1973-Death)
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Bob Monkhouse
BornRobert Alan Monkhouse
(1928-06-01)1 June 1928[1]
Beckenham, Kent, England
Died29 December 2003(2003-12-29) (aged 75)[2]
Cause of deathProstate cancer
Years active1952-2003
Spouse(s)Elizabeth Thompson (1949-72)
Jacqueline Harding (1973-Death)

Robert Alan 'Bob' Monkhouse OBE (1 June 1928 – 29 December 2003)[2] was an English entertainer. He was a successful comedy writer, comedian and actor and was also well known on British television as a presenter and game show host. Monkhouse was famous for his one-line jokes.


Early life and career

Bob Monkhouse was born at 168 Bromley Road, Beckenham, Kent, the son of Wilfred Adrian Monkhouse (1894–1957), and Dorothy Muriel Monkhouse née Hansard (1895–1971). Monkhouse had an elder brother, John, born in 1922. Monkhouse's grandfather was a prosperous Methodist businessman who co-owned Monk and Glass, which made custard powder and jelly.[3][4]

Bob Monkhouse was educated at Goring Hall School in Worthing and Dulwich College, from which he was later expelled. While still at school, Monkhouse wrote for The Beano and The Dandy and drew for comics including Hotspur, Wizard and Adventure comics.[2] He established a comics writing and art partnership with Dulwich schoolmate Denis Gifford and the two formed their own publishing company in the early 1950s. Among other writing, Monkhouse wrote more than 100 Harlem Hotspots erotic novelettes.[2]

Monkhouse completed his national service with the Royal Air Force Regiment in 1948. He won a contract with the BBC after his unwitting RAF Group Captain signed a letter Monkhouse had written telling the BBC he was a war hero and that it should give him an audition.[5]

This anecdote was among many which Monkhouse recalled in the BBC Radio 2 documentary Caught In The Draft, written by Terence Pettigrew and presented by Michael Aspel. The programme took a nostalgic look at compulsory national service, which operated in Britain from the wartime years until the beginning of the 1960s. Taking part in the programme along with Monkhouse were Leslie Thomas, the author of The Virgin Soldiers, and the BBC Radio 2 presenter John Dunn.

Before establishing himself as a successful writer and comic Monkhouse appeared on stage in London, first as Aladdin in a stage show of the same name written by SJ Perelman and Cole Porter. Then in the first London production of the musical The Boys from Syracuse (Antipholus of Syracuse) in 1963 at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, alongside Ronnie Corbett.[6]

Writing and acting success

Monkhouse's adult career began as a scriptwriter for radio comedy in partnership with Denis Goodwin, a fellow Old Alleynian with whom he also compèred Smash Hits on Radio Luxembourg. Alongside performing as a double act, Monkhouse and Goodwin wrote for comedians such as Arthur Askey, Jimmy Edwards, Ted Ray and Max Miller.[3][7] In addition, Monkhouse was a gag-writer for American comedians including Bob Hope when they wanted jokes for British tours.

In 1956, Monkhouse was the host of Do You Trust Your Wife?, the British version of an American game show. He went on to host more than 30 different quiz shows on British television.[3] His public profile growing, Monkhouse also began appearing in comedy films, including the first of the Carry On film series, Carry On Sergeant in 1958. He appeared in Dentist in the Chair and later regretted not choosing the Carry Ons over the dental comedies. Other presenting jobs in the 1960s included hosting Candid Camera and compèring Sunday Night at the London Palladium. Around 1969 he was a partner, with Malcolm Mitchell, in the London Agency Mitchell Monkhouse. In 1979 he starred in a sketch comedy television series called Bonkers! with the Hudson Brothers, a job he hated.

In the early 1970s he appeared on BBC Radio in Mostly Monkhouse with Josephine Tewson and David Jason.

Stand-up comedy

Monkhouse was a respected stand-up comedian. Known for his talent at ad-lib, he became a sought-after speaker for dinners and similar events. In 1976 he was the speaker at the Mars, Incorporated sales conference at the Excelsior Hotel on Bath Road opposite Heathrow Airport. He had been in a television advert for Polaroid cameras, and he told the joke, 'I am the only man ever allowed to say on television "you take it out and hold it in your hand, and in only 20 seconds it develops - or a minute if you want it in colour."'

Game shows

Monkhouse was well known for hosting television quiz shows. One of his biggest successes was The Golden Shot during the late 1960s and early 1970s. This was broadcast live for 52 weeks a year and drew in up to 17 million viewers.[7] His tenure ended with allegations, which he denied, that he had taken bribes to include branded goods on the programme as advertisements.[8] He returned in 1975.[8] The dozens of other shows Monkhouse presented included Celebrity Squares, Bob's Full House and Family Fortunes. Audiences regularly topped 15 million.[2] In the late 1980s he hosted two series of the revival of the talent show Opportunity Knocks which aired as Bob Says Opportunity Knocks. He then moved to ITV to front two more game shows, Bob's Your Uncle and the $64,000 Dollar Question, neither of which were popular successes.

Between 1996 and 1998, Monkhouse presented the National Lottery show on Saturday evenings on BBC One for which he created the catchphrase "I know I'm a sinner, but make me a winner!" The opening to each show would see him deliver several minutes of topical jokes, and on one occasion where his autocue failed, he improvised a new and still topical routine. This talent was used in Bob Monkhouse On The Spot, a return to pure television comedy, in which audience members suggested topics and Monkhouse came up with a routine. Monkhouse returned to quizzes when he took over hosting duties on Wipeout from Paul Daniels, when its studio recordings moved from London to Manchester. Monkhouse hosted Wipeout between 1998 and 2002.

Chat show

After being a stalwart of chat shows, in the mid-1980s Monkhouse presented his own chat show for the BBC, The Bob Monkhouse Show. The show lasted two series and featured many guests from the world of films and comedians of every age. Monkhouse was known among young comedians as a keen supporter of new comedy, and he used the show to introduce older audiences to new comedians. The format of the interviews varied between "true" chat and analysis of comedy, to scripted routines in which Monkhouse would willingly play the role of the guest's stooge. The most notable guest was the comedienne Pamela Stephenson who, after prior arrangement with the show's producer, appeared in a series of fake plaster casts, apparently the result of accidents whilst at home. During the interview she produced a handgun and fired it on several occasions, destroying a plant pot on the set and a series of lights in the studio roof. She then presented a rocket launcher which she promptly 'fired' destroying a television camera. The gun, launcher and camera were replicas. None of this arrangement was known to Monkhouse (although the production crew were aware), who appeared genuinely frightened.

Film and television archive

An expert on the history of silent cinema and a film collector, Monkhouse presented Mad Movies in 1966, in which he presented clips from comic silent films, some of which he had helped to recover and restore. His private film collection was the cause of a court case at the Old Bailey in 1979 after he was charged with attempting to defraud film distributors, but he was acquitted. Many of the films in his collection were seized and destroyed (including what would have been the only surviving copies of many films) before the acquittal.[citation needed]

In 2008, the British Film Institute was contacted by Monkhouse's daughter, Abigail, who asked if they would like to view the collection and provide some advice as to the best way of preserving it. Amongst the discoveries were many radio and TV shows thought long vanished. Dick Fiddy, the archivist said "It's a huge, unwieldy collection which deals with a number of areas. It's not just film and TV. Initially we found half a dozen TV shows that we knew to be missing."

Amongst those shows rediscovered were many that feature Monkhouse himself, including The Flip Side, a 1966 play starring Monkhouse as a television DJ with his own late night show, and the 1958 series of his comedy My Pal Bob including an episode in which he is suspected of an extramarital affair.[9] The archive consists of 36,000 videotapes, going back to when Monkhouse first bought a home video recorder in 1966. His film archive began in the late 1950s.

The entire Monkhouse film and television archive is now held by Kaleidoscope, including all material previously held by the NFTVA. It was catalogued and restored to digital formats for a major event at BAFTA on 24 October 2009. Chris Perry, part of Kaleidoscope and Kaleidoscope Publishing, said, "We are painstakingly transferring the important contents of the video tapes and restoring radio shows. There are many incredible finds, and the event in October will be an exciting time for all concerned."

In his final years, Monkhouse hosted a show on BBC Radio 2 called The Monkhouse Archive, in which he provided humorous links to clips of comedy acts spanning the previous 50 years. As both an enthusiast of classic comedy, and a keen supporter of young acts, he was ideally placed to select clips.

Awards and influence

Monkhouse became a favourite with impressionists, and, as his style fell out of favour in the 1980s, he was mocked for his slickness and accused of insincerity. He came back into fashion during the 1990s, and appearances on Have I Got News For You restored his popularity. The British Comedy Awards handed him the Lifetime Achievement for Comedy honour in 1995. The Television and Radio Industries Club awarded him a Special Award - for outstanding contribution to broadcasting in 2003.[10] He was surprised on This Is Your Life twice in 1982 and then just before his death in 2003. In a 2005 poll of fellow comedians and comedy insiders to find the Comedians' Comedian, Monkhouse was voted among the best 50 comedy acts.

Personal life

Monkhouse was married twice, firstly to Elizabeth Thompson on 5 November 1949. The couple separated in 1967[11] and divorced in 1972. His second marriage was to Jacqueline Harding (b. 1936 d. in Barbados 28 March 2008)[12] from 4 October 1973 until his death. He had three children from his first marriage, but only his adopted daughter Abigail survived him. His son Gary Alan, who had cerebral palsy, died in Braintree, Essex, in 1992, aged 40; this led to Monkhouse's being an avid campaigner for the disabled. His other son Simon, from whom he had been estranged for almost ten years, died of a heroin overdose in a hotel in Northern Thailand in May 2001.[3][13]

Monkhouse lived in Eggington, near Leighton Buzzard, and had an apartment in London and a holiday home in Barbados.

In his autobiography, he admitted to hundreds of sexual liaisons and affairs, including one with a transsexual, but claimed he only undertook this course of action because his first wife was unfaithful.[14] His regular lovers before his second marriage included the actress Diana Dors, about whose parties he later commented after her death: "The awkward part about an orgy, is that afterwards you're not too sure who to thank."[15]

For most of his career Monkhouse had jotted down jokes, odd facts, one-liners, sketches and ideas in a series of ring binders, which he took with him everywhere. In July 1995, they were stolen and Monkhouse offered a £15,000 reward. They were returned after 18 months,[7] but the thief, although arrested, was never charged.

Monkhouse was a vocal supporter of the Conservative Party for some years. He was appointed an OBE in 1993. He died of prostate cancer on 29 December 2003.

Posthumous advertisement

On 12 June 2007, Monkhouse posthumously appeared on a British TV advertisement promoting awareness of prostate cancer for Male Cancer Awareness Week. Using computer animation techniques, Monkhouse was seen in a graveyard next to his own grave (though in reality he was cremated) talking about the disease seriously, interspersed with humorous asides to another camera ("What killed me kills one man per hour in Britain. That's even more than my wife's cooking."). He ended by saying, "As a comedian, I've died many deaths. Prostate cancer, I don't recommend. I'd have paid good money to stay out of here. What's it worth to you?" before walking away from his grave and disappearing. The advertisement was made with the support of Monkhouse's family and supported by poster campaigns, including award-winning panels displayed in London Underground trains.[16][17] Money raised went to the Prostate Cancer Research Foundation.[18]

Partial career summary


As a performer

As a writer

As an author

As a singer

As a voice actor

As a character actor

As a TV presenter



Stand-up videos


Notable one-liners

Game show catchphrases


  1. ^ Deaths England and Wales 1984-2006
  2. ^ a b c d e f Dennis Barker (30 December 2003). "Bob Monkhouse - A much-loved comedian and television personality who could also inspire harsh criticism". The Guardian. Retrieved 31 August 2008. 
  3. ^ a b c d e "Obituary: Bob Monkhouse". BBC News. 29 December 2003. Retrieved 31 August 2008. 
  4. ^ Viner, Brian (13 July 2004). "KIng Arthur, Attila the Hun and BobMonkhouse". The Independent (Independent (The)). Retrieved 26 April 2010. 
  5. ^ "BBC fooled into giving Bob his big break". BBC News. 2 July 1998. Retrieved 31 August 2008. 
  6. ^ London Cast Recording. The Boys from Syracuse. Decca Record Company Limited, 1963. LK 4564.
  7. ^ a b c d e f Hamilton, Fiona (29 December 2003). "Bob Monkhouse - The Times obituary". London: Times Online. Retrieved 31 August 2008. 
  8. ^ a b "The Secret Life Of Bob Monkhouse (BBC)". YouTube. 2012-02-15. Retrieved 2012-06-12. 
  9. ^ Young, Kevin (12 December 2008). "Bob's full house yields TV treasure". BBC. Retrieved 18 December 2008. 
  10. ^ "Awards for Bob Monkhouse". IMDB. Retrieved 31 August 2008. 
  11. ^ The Secret Life of Bob Monkhouse, 3 January 2011
  12. ^ Bob Monkhouse's widow Jackie dead at 71
  13. ^ "Monkhouse 'shattered' by son's death". BBC News. 11 May 2001. Retrieved 31 August 2008. 
  14. ^ Barber, Lynn (20 August 2000). "Interview: Bob Monkhouse". The Guardian (London). 
  15. ^ Anthony, Andrew (29 September 2002). "Television: Under the weather". The Guardian (London). 
  16. ^ Alan Curson; Shaun Patchett (jpg). Winning Entry in CBS Outdoor ‘Underground Writer’ competition 2008. CBS Outdoor. Archived from the original on 24 March 2011. 
  17. ^ "CBS Outdoor announces The Communications Agency as "The Next Great Underground Writers"". CBS Outdoor. Archived from the original on 24 March 2011. 
  18. ^ "Monkhouse to appear in cancer ads". BBC News. 12 June 2007. Retrieved 31 August 2008. 
  19. ^ Nick Mead (29 December 2003). "Veteran entertainer Bob Monkhouse dies after cancer battle". London: The Independent on Sunday. Retrieved 31 August 2008. 
  20. ^ Youtube video

External links

Preceded by
Programme started
Host of Family Fortunes
Succeeded by
Max Bygraves
Preceded by
Paul Daniels
Host of Wipeout
Succeeded by
Programme ended