Comedy Greats Section Under On-going Construction
Index of Comedy Greats
Born: July 8th 1934, Canning Town, London
Died: Dec 2 1982, Mexico Comedy Greats – biographies
Marty Feldman, one of Britain’s most creative comic minds was born in Canning Town, London, to a family of impoverished Jewish immigrants from Kiev. He had a solitary upbringing, rarely mixing with other children. He, like thousands of children, was evacuated to the countryside during WW2. It was whilst evacuated that the young Marty was exposed to the silent film talents of Buster Keaton, who Marty came to idolise as a performer.
After the war when the family’s fortunes had improved they moved to North London. Feldman attended various schools where he was bullied mainly because of his Jewish heritage as well as his looks. This got him into fights and arguments that resulted in him being expelled more than a dozen times. He boasted “I’ve been thrown out of some of the worst schools in London”.
Disillusioned with life, Feldman left home at the age of 15 and for the following five years he lived a transient lifestyle. He lived by his wits drifting from one job to another, one area to another even one country to another: he would be deported from France on three separate occasions.
His greatest attribute was his love of the English language. He had a gift for words which, while squatting in London’s Soho enabled him to bluff his way into the London poetry scene and with the help of Dylan Thomas became a published poet.
One summer he landed a job at Dreamland amusement park, in the Kentish coastal resort of Margate. It was here he met big Joe Moe and the red haired dwarf, Mitch Revely. Together this odd ball group formed a triple act – Morris, Marty and Mitch. Their brand of knock-about comedy and slapstick routines was not, by all accounts, appreciated and they were frequently paid off before their booking was finished.
In the early 50s, Feldman saw the success that variety acts such as Jimmy James and Freddie Frinton, famous for their ‘drunk’ acts were enjoying. Both were in fact teetotal in real life. Comedy was now achieving great success on TV and radio which inspired Feldman to move back home and start writing his own brand of humour. He could often be seen hanging around the stage door of the London Palladium where comedians would be hijacked as he tried to sell them his gags.
In 1950s and 60s his comedy writing was ubiquitous. He was responsible for Bernard Bresslaw’s catchphrase, “Ullo, it’s me, Twinkletoes” and “Hello, honky-tonk” for the versatile Dick Emery and many more.
After having a sketch script accepted for the radio show Take It From Here, written by Frank Muir and Denis Norden he met another writer, Barry Took, and the two struck up a 15 year collaboration writing for the Harry Worth and Peter Jones’ radio show We’re in Business and the very popular The Army Game starring William Hartnell (CSM Bullimore), Alfie Bass (Pte ‘Excused Boots’ Bisley) and Bill Fraser (Sgt Major Claude Snudge). Together Took and Feldman created a spin-off based on two of the characters ‘Bootsie and Snudge’ in civilian life. William Hartnell of course became the first Dr Who.
The two writers turned out almost 40 half hour scripts in under a year. It was during this period that the chain-smoking Feldman was diagnosed with a severe hyperthyroid condition and underwent surgery. As a side-effect of that surgery Feldman’s wild bulbous-eyes developed, giving him the memorable comedic appearance that made him one of the most recognisable British comedy actors in the 60s and 70s.
During this period of collaboration, the pair also created and wrote the first three series of Round The Horne, a popular radio programme, led by Kenneth Horne, which gave us such memorable characters as Kenneth William’s, Ramblin Syd Rumpo, a west country minstrel, along with Julian (Hugh Paddick) and Sandy (Williams), two flamboyant camp characters. The show was enormously successful and, fifty years later, its recordings are still among the BBC’s best sellers.
In 1966, Feldman became chief writer for a new BBC’s TV series The Frost Report, a ground breaking satirical television show hosted by David Frost, notable for the ‘Class Sketch’ with John Cleese, Ronnie Barker and Ronnie Corbett. Other writers included Barry Cryer, John Law, Frank Muir as well as Tim Brooke-Taylor and Graham Chapman who along with John Cleese starred in At Last the 1948 Show financed by David Frost’s Paradine Production company.
Feldman was involved both as writer and performer in the project .
In 1968, the BBC gave Feldman his own show simply called, Marty, in which he performed sketches many involving complex stunts. One of the stand-out sketches was ‘The Loneliness of the Long Distance Golfer’ which Feldman considered the greatest thing he ever created and also the closest he ever came to emulating his idol, Buster Keaton.
The award winning series was a huge success, making Feldman an international celebrity and led to film roles. The Bed Sitting Room in 1969, and then in Every Home Should Have One, written with Barry Took. It was the last time that they worked together owing to Feldman’s ego and lifestyle running out of control.
Gene Wilder, recognising another eccentric actor offered Feldman the part of ‘Igor’ in his new movie Young Frankenstein. Feldman jumped at the chance of working with Wilder and director, Mel Brooks.
Feldman went on to make more films with Brookes and Wilder, Sherlock Holmes’ Smarter Brother and Silent Movie, the latter being a perfect vehicle for Feldman’s natural slapstick.
Based on his performances in those films, Universal gave him a contract to be the writer, star and director of his own films. He went on to make The Last Remake of Beau Geste (1977) and In God We Trust with Richard Pryor. Neither film was a box office success resulting in Universal terminating his contract
Now in Hollywood, Feldman spent the next few years in what he would refer to as “Hollywood wilderness”, resulting in soul destroying appearances on TV shows such as Hollywood Squares, The, US Against The World, Johnny Carson Show and The Muppets.
Whilst making his movie comeback on the film set of Yellowbeard, in Mexico, Feldman suffered a severe heart attack. Years of heavy smoking, poor diet, and the stress of being a clown may have contributed to his early demise at the age of just 48.
He was laid to rest in Forest Lawn Cemetery, Hollywood Hills, close to his idol Buster Keaton. Comedy Greats – biographies
Born: May 29th 1903 Eltham, London England
Died: July 27th 2003, Toluca Lake, California
Bob Hope died at the age of 100 having become a legend of American comedy over 9 decades. He was an all-round entertainer and actor, known for his quick-fire delivery of jokes, typically self- deprecating.
Born Leslie Townes Hope in 1903, in Eltham, London to Avis Townes, a light opera singer and William Henry Hope, a stonemason. The fifth of seven sons he emigrated with his parents to America in 1908 at the age of six.
Encouraged by his mother, he took dancing lessons when a teenager and developed an act with his girlfriend, Mildred. The duo played local vaudeville theatres for a while before Hope partnered up with a friend, Lloyd Durbin, for a two-man dance act. Tragically Durbin died from severe food poisoning whilst touring. A short time later Hope joined forces with George Byrne. The pair found work with film star Fatty Arbuckle on Broadway in Sidewalks of New York in 1927.
After some years onstage as a dancer and comedian, he made his first film appearance in The Big Broadcast of 1938 (1938) singing “Thanks for the Memory”, which became his signature tune.Comedy Greats – biographies
In 1931 he married Grace Louise Troxell but they were divorced the year after. By then Hope had gone solo, attracting widespread notice for his role in the Broadway musical Roberta. Around this time, he met singer Dolores Reade. The couple married in 1934 and despite common knowledge that he had affairs throughout their marriage they remained together until his death. Following Roberta he showcased his excellent comedic talents in the Ziegfeld Follies of 1936 and later that year, he landed a leading part in Red, Hot and Blue, alongside Ethel Merman and Jimmy Durante.
Now widely renowned for his razor sharp wit, he got his own weekly radio show in 1937. Listeners tuned in to hear his rapid fire one-liners and wisecracks. He became one of radio’s most popular performers and remained on air for almost 20 years despite growing success in film and TV.
His radio success helped him make the jump to feature films. His first major role being in 1938s The Big Broadcast, in which he sang “Thanks for the Memory” with Shirley Ross. He adopted the song as his signature tune and it remained with him throughout his career. The following year, he played a sharp, smart-mouthed coward in The Cat and The Canary a tale of a haunted house – a ‘scaredy-cat’ character he would play many times over during his long film career.
The Road to Singapore followed in 1940, where Hope was teamed up with popular crooner Bing Crosby, starring together as a pair of likable rogues with Dorothy Lamour playing their love interest. The combination proved to be a box office phenomena and six more films were made.
During World War II, Hope began to regularly take time out of his film and television schedule to entertain American troops in war zones. Starting out with a radio show broadcast from a Californian air base in 1941, he then travelled with USO performers to entertain military personnel overseas, including stops in war ravaged Europe. He and Delores visited Vietnam nine times during the Vietnam War. In 1983 he went to the Lebanon and in the 1990s, he went to Saudi Arabia to boost the morale of soldiers engaged in the First Gulf War. Aircraft and ships were named in in his honour and in 1997 Congress passed legislation to make him an honorary veteran of the U.S. military service for his goodwill work on behalf of American servicemen and women.
In 1947 Hope starred in a western spoof The Paleface with Jane Russell playing Calamity Jane. And Hope playing an innocent dupe “Painless” Peter Potter, an inept dentist and confirmed coward – a part he knew inside out.
Hope’s unsurpassed ad-lib skills were demonstrated when he hosted more than 20 Academy Awards Ceremonies. Although he never won an Academy Award for his acting, he did receive several honours from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences over the years.
He starred in his first television special on NBC in 1950. These periodic specials became stalwart of the network’s schedules over 4 decades. Culminating in an Emmy Award in 1966 for one of his Christmas specials.
Bob Hope was one of the most honoured performers in US entertainment history. He received more than 50 honorary degrees, together with a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Kennedy culminating in a British knighthood in 1998.
Hope donated his joke files, which he had kept in a special room of his Lake Taluca, California home, to the Library of Congress. Those jokes—accumulating more than 85,000 pages of laughs—represented the work of Hope and the numerous writers that he kept on staff over a career spanning 80 years.1903
Born: Oct 2, 1890 New York City, Comedy Greats – biographies
Died: Aug 19, 1977 Los Angeles Comedy Greats – biographies
Julius Henry ‘Groucho’ Marx, one of the all time comedy greats, was the most well known member of the brilliant Marx Brothers. His characterisation of a bushy eyebrowed and invariably cigar-smoking wise-cracker with a painted-on moustache made him instantly recognisable. He was not a tall man (5’7”) but his stooped posture didn’t help his stature. He was famous for one-liners that were often double entendres or classic put downs.Comedy Greats
Groucho Marx was the third son of Minnie Marx, but the first to take the leap into show business. The 14-year-old Julius became a boy soprano with an act called the LeRoy Trio. Marx was willing to forget the theatre and pursue his dream of becoming a doctor, but the undaunted Minnie organized Groucho, his younger brother Gummo, and a girl named Mabel O’Donnell into a vaudeville act called The Three Nightingales. Groucho’s older brothers Chico and Harpo soon joined joined the act, which, by 1910, had become The Six Mascots (Minnie and the boy’s Aunt Hannah rounded out the sextet). Audience reaction to the sextet was lukewarm which prompted Groucho to start throwing insults at the crowd in a tone of voice that was to become his trademark. Despite the consternation of the other group members, audiences loved it, and the the group soon became just the for boys, naturally called The Marx Brothers.
Groucho, the mustachioed, cigar-chewing leader of the group throwing humorous asides at the audience and acting as exasperated straight man for his brothers’ antics; Gummo played the hopelessly lost straight man; Chico, the monumentally stupid, pun-happy Italian and Harpo, the non-speaking, mime clown. During one chaotic show Groucho was unable to find his false moustache and improvised by painting one on with make-up — which was to prove to be one of those ad hoc moments that was to define him throughout his career. In 1924 the brothers appeared in ‘I’ll Say She Is’ The play scored a surprise hit when it opened and the brothers became the toast of Broadway. They followed this stage success with The Cocoanuts in 1925. It was in this production which refined Groucho’s character into the /perpetual wisecracking conman that he would portray until the team dissolved. The Cocoanuts by playwrights George Kaufman and Morris Ryskind was also the first time Groucho appeared
opposite his straight woman Margaret Dumont. Next followed Animal Crackers in 1928, Groucho portrayed fraudulent African explorer Capt. Geoffrey T. Spaulding, and introduced his lifelong signature tune, composed by Bert Kalmar/Harry Ruby, ‘Hooray for Captain Spaulding.’ Both Cocoanuts and Animal Crackers were made into early talking pictures. The Brothers were subsequently invited to Hollywood to film a group of comedies written specifically for the screen. ‘Monkey Business’ (1931), ‘Horse Feathers’ (1932), and ‘Duck Soup (1933) Although now recognised as Marx Brother classics they did not set the box-office spinning at the time.
The Marx Brothers were given a second chance by MGM Irving Thalberg, who invested a great deal of his time and money, on producing,what many consider to be the teams best film ‘A Night at the Opera’,(1935). The group Queen named their classic album after the film (n which their smash hit Bohemian Rhapsody is featured. Thalberg died in 1936 along with Groucho’s enthusiam for film making, nevertheless The Marx Brothers continued making films until 1941.
Born: September 5, 1929 , Oak Park, Illinois
Newhart was born in a hospital, located in Oak Park, Illinois. His parents were George David Newhart (1900-1985), co-owner of a plumbing and heating business and his wife Julia Pauline Burns (1900-1994). He attended catholic schools before graduating to high school in 1947, and then attended the Loyola University Chicago from where he graduated in 1952, with a bachelor’s degree in business management.
Following 3 years in the US Army during the Korean War he started, but never completed, a law degree before trying his hand at accountancy and then as an advertising copywriter. While he was working as an accountant he broke up the tedium by ringing Ed Gallagher, a friend from a Chicago Stock Company, and improvising comedy routines over the telephone (according to his official website). Other accounts say he was working as a copywriter and developed the telephone calls with a co-worker who subsequently left that company. Either way they sent the tapes to radio stations and had many plays. Comedy Greats – biographies
His big break came when Dan Sorkin a disc jockey at one of the stations introduced him to Warner Bros Records a fledgling company at the time who saw potential in the comedy recordings. The recordings, in which he would portray one half of a telephone conversation whilst implying what the other caller was saying, gave him the impetus to pursue a career as a stand-up comedian.
In 1960 his record The Button-Down Mind of Bob Newhart. It became the first comedy album to make No1 in the Billboard charts. He soon became renowned for his dead pan delivery and slightly stammering hesitance in delivery.
Click on cover image to purchase the CD for just £2.99
He was an immediate sell-out in nightclubs and theater stages all over America.
Seven more albums followed, each extremely successful multi-platinum projects. In fact, Bob’s cumulative recording career earned him three Grammy® Awards.
His official website www.bobnewhartofficial.com reports:
Newhart’s career as an entertainer has spanned 56 years, including multiple television series, 14 feature films and millions of albums sold worldwide and he is the recipient of many honors, including the “Mark Twain Prize for American Humor,” presented by the Kennedy Center, He and induction into the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences’ “Hall of Fame.”
In 2013, he won his first Emmy® for recurring appearances on the hit show “Big Bang Theory” and he also appears in the series, “The Librarians,” on TNT.
As proof of this, his record for holding the number #1 & #2 Billboard chart positions was not broken until recently by the rock band Guns ‘N Roses. It is still ranked as the 20th Best Selling Album of all time, according to Billboard.
Bob has enjoyed much success in television and films as well and has hosted the “Tonight Show” an astonishing 87 times.
His early TV effort, the “Bob Newhart Variety Show,” earned an Emmy® and a Peabody Award and was quickly followed by the television success of “The Bob Newhart Show” (1972 – 1978) and “Newhart” (1982 – 1990).
He has also appeared in over 14 feature films, including “Elf,” “On A Clear Day You Can See Forever,” “Catch 22” and “Legally Blonde 2,” and has starred with the likes of Steve McQueen, Bobby Darin, Barbara Streisand, Madeline Kahn and Walter Matthau.
He’s also provided character voices for major animated films.
Despite his successful run in television and feature films, Bob has never strayed far from his first love of performing, comedy stand-up, and his classic routines have stood the test of time.
“The Bob Newhart Show” received TV Land’s “Icon Award” at a gala televised ceremony and dedicated a statue in his honor in Chicago, and over the last decade Newhart has headed back to the small screen on a recurring basis. In 2005, he appeared as Morty, the estranged boyfriend of Susan’s mom, Sophie (guest star Lesley Ann Warren), on ABC TV’s runaway hit, “Desperate Housewives.” Comedy Greats – biographies
The veteran television star was also recently featured in a TNT original adventure drama, “The Librarian: Quest For The Spear,” filmed on location in Mexico City and also starring Noah Wyle, and he has also enjoyed acting turns on the NBC drama, “ER,” for which he also received an Emmy® nomination.
A second and third installment of “The Librarian” has also been broadcast on TNT. Also in 2005, PBS featured Newhart in a special one-hour “American Masters” presentation which his since been broadcast in prime-time numerous times. Comedy Greats – biographies
A DVD, “Button Down Concert,” based on his classic routines, featuring the “Driving Instructor” and “The Nude Police Line-Up,” was released in 2006. The first season of “The Bob Newhart Show” was released for the first time on DVD in April 2005 via Fox Home Entertainment, followed by seasons two, three and four, and the Paley Center (formerly the Museum of TV & Radio) held a special tribute in honor of the show’s 35th anniversary in 2007.
In addition, Bob’s first ever book, “I Shouldn’t Even Be Doing This,” was published by Hyperion Books and became a New York Times best seller.
More recently, he guest-starred as Sheldon Cooper’s hero Professor Proton in the “The Big Bang Theory” on CBS in which his deadpan delivery was opened up to a whole new generation..
Bob and his wife, Ginnie, have four children. Comedy Greats – biographies
Born: 1 December 1940, Preora, Illinois
Died: 10 December 2005, Eacino, LA California
Richard Pryor is acknowledged by many present day comedians as a key influence on their careers and in the overall development of stand-up comedy in the US.
Born Richard Franklin Lennox Pryor III the son of Gertrude L. (Thomas) and LeRoy “Buck Carter” Pryor. He had a tough upbringing: his mother, a prostitute, walked out on him and his bartender/pimp father when Richard was just ten years of age, after which he was raised by his grandmother in the brothel. He suffered sexual assaults as a child. After numerous unskilled jobs, the young Pryor served two years in the US Army between 1958 & 1960. Two years became a recurring time period in his life with most of his future seven marriages lasting about that length. Whilst in the service he took part in several amateur shows which gave him a taste for performing. So when he re-joined civilian life in 1960 and married Patricia Price he found part-time work singing in small clubs, during which time he discovered that his humour was appreciated more than his vocals.
He honed his comedic talent playing venues in both Las Vegas and New York. After moving to LA he broke into films with minor roles in The Busy Body (1967) and Wild in the Streets (1968). His performance as a drug addicted piano player in Lady Sings the Blues (1972) with Diana Ross, gained the attention of film critics and a growing fan base alike.
He made his first appearance with Gene Wilder in the very popular action/comedy Silver Streak (1976), teamed up with Wilder once more for the prison comedy Stir Crazy (1980), which took over $100m at the box office. Between those films he played three different parts in Which Way Is Up? (1977) and portrayed real-life stock-car driver Wendell Scott in Greased Lightning (1977).
In Blue Collar (1978), Pryor achieved acclaim for his portrayal of a disenchanted car plant worker lured into betraying his friends for easy money.
Pryor next took the eponymous role in The Wiz (1978), starring an all African-American cast, including Diana Ross (Dorothy) and Michael Jackson (Scarecrow), a retelling of the 1939 classic The Wizard of Oz but set in Harlem. Four cameo roles followed, California Suite (1978); The Muppet Movie (1979); Wholly Moses! (1980) and In God We Trust (or Gimme That Prime Time Religion) (1980). In 1980 Pryor had a brush with death when, in a drunken drug induced haze he set himself on fire and was found running along the street ablaze. He spent six weeks recovering from extensive burns at the Sherman Oaks Hospital.
Throughout this period he continued with his sporadic stand-up career appearing at various venues. Comedy Greats – biographies
Pryor then appeared alongside Christopher Reeve in Superman III (1983), as Gus Gorman for which he was reputedly paid more than the star. He then starred alongside John Candy in Brewster’s Millions (1985)
Despite having contracted multiple sclerosis in 1986, several films followed to less than critical acclaim before he teamed up again with Gene Wilder in See No Evil, Hear No Evil (1989). The same year Pryor starred with two other very popular African-American comic’s, Redd Foxx and Eddie Murphy, in the gangster film Harlem Nights (1989) which Murphy also directed. Pryor’s remaining film appearances were primarily cameos, apart from his fourth and final outing with Gene Wilder in Another You (1991), and his final appearance in a film production was a small role in David Lynch’s Lost Highway (1997). By 1994 he was more or less confined to a wheelchair although he appeared in several supporting roles in several television series.
Pryor was a fervent advocate against animal cruelty campaigning to address issues of animal welfare.
He was married a total of seven times twice to Jennifer Lee first in 1981 (div 1982) and again in 2001, they remained together until his death in 2005, 9 days after his 65th birthday.
Born: October 21st 1926, Wavertree, Liverpool, England Comedy Greats – biographies Comedy Greats – biographies
Died: October 15th 1984, Lyric Theatre, Soho, London, England Comedy Greats – biographies
Leonard Rossiter was the son of John and Elizabeth Rossiter of Wavertree, Liverpool, where his father ran a barber’s shop. He had planned to go to Liverpool University to study modern languages but, as for so many people, WW2 intervened. His father was killed in an air raid in 1941 and young Leonard went into the army to help support his widowed mother. After he was demobbed he worked in an insurance office for some six years. Comedy Greats – biographies
Encouraged by his then girlfriend he joined a drama group at Wavertree Community Centre and was bitten by the acting bug. At the age of 27 he gave up his day job and joined Preston Repertory Company and made his first professional stage debut in “The Gay Dog” in September 1954.
After Preston, he performed more than 70 roles in productions at Wolverhampton and Salisbury reps before joining The Old Vic Company at Bristol’s Theatre Royal in 1959. That same year he married actress Josephine Tewson, a marriage that ended in divorce 2 years later. He toured with several productions whilst also making his film and television debuts. His first love was the stage and in 1969 he received critical acclaim for his performance in Bertolt Brecht’s The Resistable Rise of Arturo Ui.
In 1962, he made his first big-screen appearance in A Kind of Loving, followed by other films throughout the 1960s, including Billy Liar (1963) and TV appearances such as DI Bamber in the long running series Z Cars (1962) the theme tune of which was adopted by Rossiter’s beloved Everton FC. and Steptoe and Son (1962). In 1972 he married actress Gillian Raine, they had one daughter, Camilla.
However it was his roles in two iconic TV series that made Rossiter a household name as one of the UK’s comedy greats. Firstly as the seedy landlord Rigsby in Rising Damp (1974) and then in the title role in The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin (1976). Between 1978 -1983 he appeared in a number of highly rated comic TV commercials for Cinzano with Joan Collins directed by Alan Parker. His career came to a premature end on October 5th 1984. Whilst in his dressing room, preparing to go on stage in Joe Orton’s ‘Loot’ he suffered a heart attack brought on by hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. He was a few days short of his 58th birthday. Comedy Greats – biographies
Born Sept 8, 1925 Southsea, Hampshire, England comedy Greats
Died: July 24, 1980 Middlesex Hospital, London, England
Undoubtedly one Britain’s all time comedy greats, Peter Sellers was born Richard Henry Sellers on September 8, 1925 His parents, Agnes (Peg) and Bill Sellers, named him Peter, the name they had previously decided upon for his stillborn sibling. Sellers’ parents were vaudeville entertainers, and he spent his childhood travelling the vaudeville circuit, where he was bitten by the bug for entertaining.
Sellers attended Miss Whitney’s School of Dancing in Southsea and Madame Vacani’s Dancing Classes in London before enrolling in St Aloysius’ Boarding and Day School for Boys. In the early 1940s, Sellers played the drums with travelling jazz bands and learned to play the banjo and ukulele. At the age of 18, Sellers was drafted into the Royal Air Force. He became an official RAF concert entertainer, between 1943 and 1946, spending his free time performing comedy sketches for the other servicemen.
By 1948, he had taken part in several auditions for the BBC, none of which had resulted in an invitation to join the Corporation. Growing increasingly impatient for stardom, Sellers, according to his web site bio, chose to take matters into his own hands. The comic made a telephone call to Roy Speer, producer of the BBC radio program, Show Time. Sellers posed as a popular radio star and recommended himself to Speer. The producer, impressed with Sellers’ “acting,” gave him a spot on the air. Following his initial appearances on Show Time, Sellers became a sought-after radio personality. Comedy Greats – biographies
Sellers established himself as a master impressionist on the long-running BBC radio show, Crazy People (later to be renamed The Goon Show) alongside Spike Milligan, Harry Secombe and Michael Bentine. The show’s whacky collection of skits and outrageous characters, including Seller’s Bluebottle, Major Bloodnok, , and Henry Crun, have been credited as the inspiration behind Monty Python’s Flying Circus. Comedy Greats – biographies
The Goon Show recorded 238 episode and 12 specials at the Camden Theatre between 1951 and 1960 reaching an audience of some 2 million listeners by the time it was cancelled. By that time Sellers had gained the exposure necessary to kick-start a career in film. After appearing in several British short movies, Sellers achieved success in the U.S. with The Mouse That Roared (1959). Followed by I’m Alright Jack (1959) and Two Way Stretch (1960),. That same year he received international fame for his role in the film The Millionairess, co-starring with Sophia Loren and Alistair Sim.
A succession of films followed including The Wrong Arm of the Law and Heavens Above before the first of his first Pink Panther film in 1963. Sellers introduced the world to his best-known character, Inspector Clouseau, the bumbling master of disguise. There were four sequels to this successful comedic film: A Shot in the Dark (1964), The Return of the Pink Panther (1974), The Pink Panther Strikes Again (1976), and Revenge of the Pink Panther (1978). In 1964 came Dr. Strangelove (1964), considered Sellers’ best film, which earned him his first Oscar nomination in 1965.
It was 14 years before Sellers garnered his second Oscar nomination for the critically acclaimed film, Being There (1979), in which he played the naive Chance, a gardener mistaken for an economic guru. Sellers’ controlled performance was key to the success of this subtle comedy. His final film was The Fiendish Plot of Fu Manchu in 1979 in which he appeared alongside Helen Mirren.
Sellers married four times, to Anne Howe (Sept. 15, 1951), Britt Ekland (Feb. 19, 1964), Miranda Quarry (Aug. 24, 1970) and Lynne Frederick (Feb. 18, 1977). He had three children: Michael (April 2, 1954), Sarah (Oct. 16, 1957) and Victoria (Jan. 20, 1965). Being the son of an overprotective, controlling mother, Sellers often threw childlike tantrums, demanding his wife’s’ undivided attention. His wives and children were forced to suffer the effects of living with an obsessive, self- centred perfectionist who nevertheless was a comedic genius.
After appearing in over 60 films as well as countless radio and television shows throughout his career, Peter Sellers sadly died of a heart attack on July 24, 1980 aged 53.
Born: 19 May 1953, Prestwich, Lancashire
Died: 20 April 2016, Highgate, London
Victoria Wood was an extremely popular multi-talented comedian, actress, singer, composer, screenwriter, producer and director, whose talent blossomed when her insurance salesman father bought her a piano when she was 15 years old.
The young Victoria was by her own admission a shy, isolated child who stayed in her bedroom in the somewhat dishevelled family home. Considered exceptionally bright at primary school, she became disillusioned at Bury Grammar School, where she was no longer the brightest pupil. She grew envious of the more outgoing girls who she later said “appeared to be having a wonderful time”. Despite her shyness she joined a youth theatre group in Rochdale. Having taught herself to play the piano, she also learnt to play the trumpet.
In spite of her problems at grammar school she went on to study drama at Birmingham University. Whilst there she entered New Faces, an ITV talent show where she was spotted by Liverpool poet Roger McGough and was invited to join him at the 1976 Edinburgh Festival.
Her first big break en-route to becoming a comedy great was the TV show That’s Life! (1986) a consumer affairs programme hosted by Esther Rantzen. Woods provided the musical interlude writing and performing satirical songs loosely inspired by topical events.
In the 1970s her lifelong friendship and collaboration with Julie Walters began when they both appeared in ‘In at the Death’, a revue at the Bush Theatre in London., from that small beginning blossomed the talent that was to see Woods become a prolific writer and producer of some of Britain’s favourite TV shows as well as comedy dramas. In addition to her TV writing she toured the UK with several sell out tours including a 12 day sell out of the London Palladium. In the 2008 Queen’s Birthday Honours she was awarded the CBE which topped the countless show-business awards achieved during her lifetime.
She is probably most remembered for the creation of Acorn Antiques, a running sketch (which she later turned into a stage musical), the poignant Pat and Margaret, the sitcom Dinnerladies and Housewife 49 which she both wrote and starred in, winning her the 2007 BAFTA for Best Actress & Best Single Drama.
But it is for her observational style comedy that she will be forever remembered as a comedy great, Comedy Greats – biographies Comedy Greats – biographies Comedy Greats – biographies Comedy Greats – biographies Comedy Greats – biographies