Book review: Bob Monkhouse – Unpublished! by Dave Ismay with Chris Gidney

‘There is an up-side to serious memory loss. Every couple of hours you have an entirely new circle of friends.’

It’s not difficult to see why the late, great gagster Bob Monkhouse was known to his peers as ‘The Guvnor’.

King of the ad-lib, master of the one-liner, joke writer extraordinaire, prolific author, game show host and comedy actor, Monkhouse was one of the smoothest and smartest operators in showbusiness.

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Some who didn’t know him well regarded him suspiciously as a little TOO smooth, but those who did were struck by his friendliness, his professionalism and his cool calmness.

It’s seven years now since the legendary entertainer died but best friend Dave Ismay, who fell for the ‘Monkhouse magic’ on the TV set of The Golden Shot nearly 40 years ago, is determined to keep alive the memory of the comic genius.

So discovering some of the comedian’s unpublished material gave Ismay the chance to reprise Monkhouse jokes old and new, his puzzles, cartoons and brain ticklers as well as providing a very personal insight into the popular funnyman.

Born in Beckenham, Kent, in 1928, Monkhouse was the son of a prosperous Methodist businessman who owned the company Monk & Glass, famous for making custard powder.

The young Bob was a bit of a rebel and even before he was expelled from Dulwich College, he was writing and drawing for comics like Beano, Dandy and Hotspur, and penning a salacious collection of porn novelettes.

In 1948 he won a contract to write radio comedy with the BBC after his National Service army captain unwittingly signed a letter telling them that he was a war hero and to give him an audition.

He wrote for many of the big stars of the day – Arthur Askey, Jimmy Edwards, Max Miller and Bob Hope – and his own career really took off when he appeared in various comedy shows and films.

But it is as a game show host that he is best incredible 30 shows over the years, including Celebrity Squares, Family Fortunes, Bob’s Full House and Wipeout.

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Monkhouse’s amazing ability to remember detailed facts and figures was legendary among his fellow performers and his photographic recall made him the ideal choice for quiz shows like Monkhouse’s Memory Masters recorded by the BBC in 1995.

In an affectionate and humorous tribute to his pal ‘Monastery,’ writer and comedian Barry Cryer describes Monkhouse as having a computer in his head – ‘he was Google on legs, for jokes, anecdotes, everything’.

So precious to Monkhouse were his hundreds of gags that when one of his joke books containing sketches and one-liners was stolen in 1995, he offered a £15,000 reward and it was returned 18 months later. Some of the material from the book is included here.

Ismay, who was by Monkhouse’s side when he died from prostate cancer in 2003, is not blinded by his affection for his good friend – ‘he could be disingenuous and even downright devious at times’ he admits – but his loyalty is unwavering.

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Bob Monkhouse – Unpublished! offers a trip down memory lane as well as all the wit, wisdom and laughter that we came to expect from one of Britain’s greatest kings of comedy...

(JR Books, hardback, £16.99)