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The Last Laugh

Bob Monkhouse signing off in style…..

I recently watched for the second time the final performance the comedian Bob Monkhouse gave before his death in 2003. It was an intimate performance in the small basement room of the Albany pub in London with a selected audience of fellow comedians, many of whom were still to become well known such as David Walliams, Kevin Day and Fiona Allen.

The audience were aware Monkhouse has been unwell but not how seriously his prognosis was, but as the evening went on it was apparent why he had chosen to give this performance and the poignancy of it. Monkhouse walked on with a tumbler of whisky in hand and reeled off gag after gag, it was typical Monkhouse-era stuff in large part with a few intended to slightly shock in the way you might hear your grandfather tell a saucy joke. But the genius came in the delivery, he paused, wiped an eyebrow, licked a finger, read a paper whilst the apprentices sat, engrossed and clearly moved by the occasion.

Midway through the jokes stopped and Monkhouse began to talk candidly about fellow comedians from his era, it was a fascinating account of stars such as Peter Sellers, Tommy Cooper and Benny Hill from a man who knew them well and the personalities behind the comedic façade. It struck me how rich Monkhouse’s career had been, how he had been in and amongst the real golden period of British comedy and really how vital memories such as his become. Towards the end of the show he brought on Mike Yarwood, the great, ground-breaking impressionist of the 70s and 80s who spoke openly about his alcoholism and dwindling career. It seemed like a gentle warning of the fragility of success whilst giving the audience a reminder of the man who put political impressions on television long before Spitting Image and Rory Bremner.

This was not a self-promotion, he chose his audience carefully and with good reason. He was passing something on quietly and gracefully and I am glad that those who witnessed it saw it for what it was. What he must have thought as he sat looking out and paying tribute to the new wave of comedians who sat in front of him and the memories of a lifetime in showbusiness we shall never know but on any level this was a moving performance and a reminder of that which we have lost in his generation.

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