1. To begin at the beginning
Early on in his radio career, Bob Monkhouse devised a sketch in which he'd be constantly interrupted by a typically 'plummy' BBC announcer. Needing an actor for this role, he went to an agency and hired a young hopeful for 6 guineas - but Bob's fee was only 4 guineas, so no payday there. Still, it was worth it to give an early leg up to Richard Burton.
2. A devil of a show
Possibly Bob's final acting job was providing the voice of the satanic Mr Hell in a darkly funny British-Canadian TV animation series Aaagh! It's The Mr Hell Show. Though the jokes were mostly sick and not for the faint-hearted, the combination of a power-dressed, horn-headed demon with those mellifluous Monkhouse tones did prove irresistibly funny - and he was de-lighted to be playing the ultimate bad guy.
3. Immobile phone
In the era of the 'new technology', Bob would often ring his Celebrity Squares cohort Pat Coombs for a chat. When it emerged that she had to stand in the corner of her front room because that's where the phone was, Bob's trademark generosity rose to the fore and he sent her a cordless model. The next time they spoke, Pat confessed that, despite using her new present, she was still rooted to the spot through sheer force of habit.
4. Plumb loco
One Christmas, in the very worst of weathers, Bob's home was flooded and, in desperation, he phoned round for an emergency plumber, eventually persuading one to come out. He gave the man detailed instructions as to the house's hard-to-find location. The plumber then enquired, "Just one more thing, sir. Can I have your name, please?" and on being told that it was Bob Monkhouse, he slammed the phone down with the words, "That's all I need today. A fucking comedian!"
Two Bob Bit
On the recording day, our producer, studio manager, two invaluable actors and I were hard at work, helping ourselves to the contents of the hospitality trolley, when a call came through from reception to say, "Mr Monkhouse has arrived". I went down the two flights of stairs to collect him from what was then the Hallam Street entrance to Broadcasting House (and is now a wall). As we greeted each other cordially, I couldn't help noticing how blue his jacket was and that there was less of him than I'd imagined. On TV, he'd always seemed taller. Something to do with the vertical hold, I guess.
What was most apparent was that he really wanted to do this show. Some performers take radio gigs as a second best when the telly work dries up or when they can no longer learn their lines and need to have it all written down in front of them. At 71, Bob Monkhouse fell into neither category. He was still on the box more often than the test card and that famous Monkhouse filing cabinet memory remained as crisp and bright as, well, his blue jacket. So this was no must-pay-the-mortgage gig. That debt had been settled years before and with better money than we were offering. He was there because he loved radio and, warts and all, he loved Bob Hope.
Monkhouse Encore by Bob Sinfield is out in paperback at Lulu Publishing.
Published: Thursday 28th March 2019