'Ridiculous and dainty – just like him' | Gyles Brandreth chooses his comedy favourites

'Ridiculous and dainty – just like him'

Gyles Brandreth chooses his comedy favourites

Arthur Askey singing the Bee Song

When I started out - at the beginning of the 1970s - I hosted a BBC radio comedy series with Cyril Fletcher who had started out as a stand-up in the 1930s before stand-up was called stand-up. Through Cyril I met a raft of the early radio comedians - Charlie Chester, Ted Ray, Cardew Robinson, Tommy Trinder - and my favourite was the diminutive Arthur Askey who was also a great pantomime dame. The Bee Song is ridiculous and dainty, just like him. Later, I got to know and work with the next generation - people like Frankie Howerd and Kenneth Williams. Kenneth performing Ma Crepe Suzette is just a joy, too.

Hinge and Bracket

In the early seventies I was artistic director of the Oxford Theatre Festival and presented the amazing musical double-act, Dr Evadne Hinge and Dame Hilda Bracket, at the start of their wonderful careers. One night I introduced them to the great English actress Dame Flora Robson who thought they really were women. I think THEY thought they really were women. Patrick Fyffe, in particular, truly embodied Dame Hilda.

Later, I came to script their TV series, Dear Ladies. They were a glorious pair who created a complete world - a world that's always worth revisiting.

Jack Benny

As a child in the late 1950s, I loved the American comedian, Jack Benny - the master of the slow double-take and the interminable pause. He had a sitcom that I remember loving as a child. If you can find a clip of that, I'll be a happy bunny. If not, I'll make do with any moment from Frasier. I think Frasier and Niles Crane are blissful creations and for comfort TV I can watch and re-watch any episode anytime. I see a little of my son in Frasier and too much of myself in Niles. Most people think I am really Stewie in Family Guy.

Curb Your Enthusiasm

The agony of embarrassment in this series makes it almost unwatchable. It's New York, it's sharp, it's painfully funny. If I have a favourite episode I suppose it's the one with Michael J Fox.


I was a friend of David Croft, the co-creator of Dad's Army and everything else in British TV sitcom for a generation. I met David because my best friend from school, Simon Cadell, played the holiday camp manager in Hi-de-Hi and married David's daughter, Beckie.

Simon features in the show I'm currently touring, Looking For Happiness, and seeing Simon in an early episode of Hi-de-Hi, alongside Sue Pollard and Ruth Madoc, always makes me happy. It is innocent, old-fashioned fun - and no harm in that.


I began as a stand-up in Manchester in the 1970s as a support act to Bernard Manning. I also worked with Charlie Williams and Les Dawson and Larry Grayson. (I should write a book. Oh, I have.) Now, having been an MP and journalist and TV reporter, I am giving stand-up another go - and meeting a new generation of performers. I got to know John Bishop when we were both in Edinburgh doing shows and then we appeared together on Just A Minute. John Bishop is full flight is irresistible.

• Gyles Brandreth's show, Looking for Happiness, is touring the UK until April when it runs at the Leicester Square Theatre in London. His book, The 7 Secrets of Happiness, is published by Short Books, priced £7.99. Click to buy from an independent bookseller.

Published: 30 Oct 2013

What do you think?

We see you are using AdBlocker software. Chortle relies on advertisers to fund this website so it’s free for you, so we would ask that you disable it for this site. Our ads are non-intrusive and relevant. Help keep Chortle viable.