Comedy pioneer

Denis Norden

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Denis Norden was a heading light of post-war British comedy

It is a decade given Denis Norden late after a prolonged career as a author and broadcaster. To younger audiences, he’s famous as a horde of It’ll Be Alright on a Night, ITV’s long-running array of compilations of TV cock-ups. But during 94, he’s also maybe a final survivor of a writers and performers who in a late 1940s reinvented radio comedy.

It is accurately three-quarters of a century given Norden initial sole a programme thought to a BBC.

In Aug 1941, as a 19-year-old available his RAF call-up, he somehow got a conduct of a BBC’s gramophone dialect to accept a six-part array called Let’s Go to a Holborn, about a accumulation entertainment a Holborn Empire. They were a initial of large scripts he was to write for a corporation.

‘Like Morecambe and Wise’

From 1947 until a early 1960s, a unconstrained vigour of meditative adult jokes was common with Frank Muir, who died in 1998.

It’s unfit to consider of post-war British comedy yet Muir and Norden. They were as critical and as achieved as Morecambe and Wise, yet yet a dance routines.

Muir and Norden were brought together by a author Ted Kavanagh, as Norden recalls.

“In 1947, Kavanagh was a usually comedy author a British open had ever listened of,” Norden says.

“He’d created It’s That Man Again (ITMA), a large radio strike of a fight years. Later he set adult a allotment of writers and he motionless Frank and we would work good together.

“Frank Muir and we had things in common – such as a common RAF credentials – yet we were also unequivocally different. Frank was a performer to his fingertips and would have done a smashing light comedian.”

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Frank Muir (left) and Norden were unequivocally opposite characters yet found they worked good together

Their initial strike on radio was Take It From Here, that they wrote for a decade from 1948. TIFH, as a BBC called it, had some of a characteristics of wartime comedy.

But even a beginning Muir and Norden scripts roughly always bond with a complicated listener since a uncover like ITMA can feel like an chronological document.

But Norden defends his aged boss: “When Ted Kavanagh wrote ITMA a nation was a monoculture and we all had a same experiences.

“So in a book he’ll have a anxiety to a array 8 battery – a notoriously dangerous battery a whole nation struggled with in wartime. And a assembly falls about shouting in a approach that now feels inexplicable.

“And of march in wartime a open was listening roughly wholly to a BBC so everybody knew all a characters and all a catchphrases.”

Yet that word “almost”, Norden says, has a lot to do with how radio comedy altered after a war.

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Norden was a face of It’ll Be Alright On The Night from 1977 until 2006

“In a army we had entrance to high-powered radios that got a American Forces Network (AFN). The people who became writers and performers after 1945 had mostly spent a behind half of a fight listening to Bob Hope and Jack Benny. Ideas on comedy changed.

“Spike Milligan was someone shabby by a smart, wisecracking humour on AFN. And Galton and Simpson, yet they’re somewhat younger.

“Until afterwards there had been a esteem to comedy. But on AFN you’d hear a blueprint with, say, Hope and Crosby formed around insult humour, and it speedy writers to pull further. It might not sound a radical change yet it was.”

Apart from US radio, and of march films, Norden recalls how successful American comic poetry was. “James Thurber and SJ Perelman and Robert Benchley and [the Canadian] Stephen Leacock had an interest to a era of writers,” he says.

“We desired removing smuggled-in copies of New Yorker magazine.”

One of Thurber’s line-drawings of a deplorable bloodhound hangs on a wall behind Norden as he speaks.

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Norden and Muir wrote a now mostly lost In All Directions featuring Peter Ustinov

Later editions of Take It From Here can still be listened sincerely simply so Norden is happy to plead dual reduction informed series, that he and Muir wrote together.

In Jan 1949 they wrote a array called Third Division. It was a initial comedy on a BBC’s new Third Programme, a foregoer of Radio Three. Muir and Norden common essay duties with Paul Dehn, who after wrote a film Goldfinger.

What leaps out currently is a expel – including Peter Sellers, Michael Bentine, Harry Secombe and Benny Hill.

“We weren’t given most superintendence what a BBC wanted solely that it shouldn’t be like a Light Programme or a Home Service. It was a revue, to use a somewhat out-of-date term: we had dual bands to yield a music,” Norden says.

No recordings seem to have survived so usually a typed book allows one blueprint in part two, transmitted on 2 Feb 1949, with another recording that seemed on vinyl in 1958.

The travesty travelogue Balham – Gateway To The South became Muir and Norden’s best-known square when George Martin re-recorded it for a Peter Sellers manuscript The Best of Sellers.

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Norden says ‘almost all comedy is of a time’

By then, Sellers was a large star and supposing all a voices, yet in a BBC strange he narrates while other roles are taken by Hill, Bentine, Secombe and others.

Sellers clearly dignified Muir and Norden’s writing: The same part of Third Division supposing a blueprint Common Entrance on his follow-up comedy manuscript in 1959.

Another early array now mostly lost was In All Directions. It featured Peter Ustinov and Peter Jones and was done in a approach that in a early 1950s was extraordinary.

The programme was assembled around a thought that a dual group were looking for a highway they could never find called Copthorne Avenue. But there was no script.

‘Extraordinarily fruitful brains’

“The dual Peters would come to a bureau where Frank and we worked and we would give them a few ideas,” Norden says.

“Then we would spin on a large aged clunking fasten recorder and fundamentally Peter and Peter would extemporise around a ideas: this could go on all morning.

“Then they left and Frank and we would listen by and confirm what had worked and what hadn’t. The subsequent Monday we all met adult in a BBC studio and we would get them to ad lib again yet this time formed around a records we gave them from a prior session.

“What I’ve always regretted is that somewhere along a approach a ad-lib tapes disappeared. Both a Peters had unusually fruitful smarts and they would be a value trove today.”

Sadly usually a singular book of a array done it safely to a sound archives.

Third Division and In All Directions were both strikingly desirous series, proof it wasn’t usually The Goons that struck off into new radio domain in a 1950s. So does Denis suffer complicated comedy on TV and radio?

“I’m not a good fan of a complicated character of personal agonising that crops adult a bit too mostly for my liking,” he says.

“But we recognize a pristine bullion that runs in Andy Hamilton and Guy Jenkin’s work for Outnumbered on TV. And on radio, we unequivocally suffer John Finnemore.

“But roughly all comedy is of a time. You can’t design audiences now to giggle during what amused people 60 years ago. But people do still suffer Balham – Gateway to a South. So that’s an achievement.”

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