Barry Took

Barry Took

Date of birth: 19-06-1928

Took was born the son of a commercial traveller, who was prone to bouts of depression. His academic brother committed suicide, and Took has admitted to periods of darkness himself - the almost stereotypical comedian wracked by misery.

But his public face was of the genial old duffer - unfortunately more to do with his long-running role as the host of BBC1's Points Of View - which raised his profile, but did little to acknowledge his impressive contribution to the world of comedy.

Took was the long-time writing partner of Marty Feldman, starting as a gag writer and on such radio shows as Beyond Our Ken, whose stars included Kenneth Horne, Kenneth Willams, Hugh Paddick and Stanley Unwin.

One of the writing pair's greatest acheivements is Round The Horne, took off from where Beyond The Ken left off.

The groundbreaking shows featured such over-the-top characters as Rambling Syd Rumpo, and Dame Celia Molestrangler contrasting with the straight-laced Horne.

It also featured the overtly camp Julian and Sandy, played by Kenneth Williams and Hugh Paddick, whose archaic Polari gay slang proved sufficiently impenetrable to the BBC censors, who unwittingly allowed some outrageous double entendres to be broadcast .

Although in the foreward to the 1999 collecion of scripts The Best Of Round The Horne, Took wrote: "With hand on my heart, Marty and I were not aware of everything into which the audience read a double meaning."

He added: "It was a joy to be a part of the team that created Round The Horne. I was involved with the show at a time of my life when I was very happy., and that happiness overflowed into the scripts."

After Round The Horne, Took moved more heavily into TV, co-writing Marty Feldman's show It's Marty , and the World Of Beachcomer, a TV show based on the writings of the famed Daily Express column.

Took wrote, on occassion, for most of the biggest names in comedy, including Tommy Cooper, Harry Secombea nd Frankie Howerd.

He also took a sabbatical from the BBC to go to the US to work on NBC's seminal Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In as one of the scriptwiritng team.

One of Took's biggest contributions to comedy, though, was not as a writer: for he was the man responsible for bringing the Monty Python team together.

A BBC producer the time, he had the foresight to bring two together separate writing teams ­ John Cleese and Graham Chapman and Michael Palin and Terry Jones ­ with spectacular results.

Took also, as head of light entertainment at LWT, discovered the scriptwriting team of Laurence Marks and Maurice Gran, responsible for a slew of British sitcoms from The New Statesmen to Birds Of A Feather.

Although primarily a writer, he was also a performer - most notably as the host of Radio 4' s long-running News Quiz

But Took's genial persona occassionally cracked. In 1994, he launched an attack on the BBC's bigwigs of the time, Marmaduke Hussey and John Birt, saying they knew "bugger all" about broadcasting. In another attack, three years later, he slammed the corportaton for neglecting comedy, a subject he said they never understood.

He underwent treatment for cancer in 1998, and was plagued by ill health in his later years - including a stroke in 2000 which affected his speech and his dexterity. In an interview soon afterwards he said: "Of course there are times when I think, 'I'd be better out of this.'"

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'Sadistic and disgusting'

What the BBC thought of Monty Python

BBC bosses were secretly appalled when Monty Python's Flying Circus first aired, finding it ‘sadistic’ and ‘disgusting’.

Newly published documents reveal that top executives believed that the six stars had developed a ‘death wish’ and did not accept limits of taste and decency.

The papers also reveal that John Cleese considered quitting after just one series and that Terry Gilliam was almost dropped in a dispute over pay.

They also show that the first series was censored, including cutting a sketch which included Sir David Frost's home address and telephone number.

Minutes of a programme review board held on December 23, 1970, and detailed in the Sunday Telegraph this weekend, show that BBC bosses were appalled by the final programme in the second series, which had aired the night before.

The controller of BBC One particularly disliked a sketch called The Queen Will Be Watching, which lampooned the National Anthem, and a sketch in which Graham Chapman, playing an undertaker, offered to dump and eat the body of John Cleese's dead mother.

‘This edition had contained two really awful sketches – the death sequence had been in appalling bad taste, while the treatment of the National Anthem had simply not been amusing,’ he said.

One executive was critical of the ‘nihilistic and cruel’ outlook, while another thought the team liked to ‘wallow in the sadism of their humour’.

Michael Palin makes no reference to the controversy in his diaries – but said the BBC tended to leave them alone until they became popular.

The corporation had previously struggled to keep the team together. A letter to Cleese from head of comedy Michael Mills November 27, 1969, read: "Barry Took told me before he left that you had reservations about doing another 13 shows quite as soon as this. I do hope that you will be able to take part – both as a writer and performer – because the show will lose a great deal if you are not one of the team.’

Cleese actually quit Monty Python after the third series and the show ended after series four in 1974.

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Published: 11 Dec 2006

Old news...

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