FRANK MUIR

(1920 - 1998)




THANKS FOR ALL THE LAUGHS - A TRIBUTE TO A GREAT HUMORIST




Frank Muir had a real genius for words, and puns. His jokes were kind, not cruel. His humour was life-affirming not cynical. He saw the ridiculous side of life, and helped the rest of us to see it, too. You always got a real lift out of listening to Frank talk.



A friend of Frank's writes:

-- Having just come across your wonderful tribute to Frank, I must tell you about some of the happy memories I have of him, especially since at this time of year, nearly one year since his death, he is in our thoughts.

I had the great fortune to meet Frank and his gorgeous wife on numerous occasions and when he died it was a huge shock, and an even larger loss, to us all as fans, friends and family. However, what struck me the most, and what I think Frank would consider the greatest tribute of all, was that everyone, and I mean everyone, had at least one funny story to recount concerning him. This to me shows what a wonderful comedian and humorist he was.


For myself, I shall always remember him for his abiding interest in gadgets of kinds, and his thrill at being able to demonstrate their usefulness to a new person. For my benefit, I was given the most professional demonstration of a gadget to peel and core apples perfectly, and at the same time. It was these little idiosyncricies that made Frank a joy to be around, and it's these little moments that I miss the most.



I also miss seeing his extreme tolerance of his grandchildren. While loved and adored, he found them to be a trifle trying at times, especially when the youngest would attach himself to Frank's leg and not let go. I think he mentions in his book that they called him 'Bummer', or 'Bum-Bum' for short. You have no idea how often he had to grit his teeth at this, especially when caught in public places, and accept it as a term of endearment on their part.



I found his modesty to be overwhelming and endearing. When he was still writing his autobiography, I had the great opportunity to read a draft copy of it. Unable to put it down until I'd finished, I promptly wrote a glowing letter of praise and adulation, saying that he need not worry about reviews - it was going to be a hit! In his true modest fashion the next time we met he thanked me for the praise, 'No doubt it will be my one and only good review'. How wrong can a man be? The glowing reviews he accepted for that book were a sourse of pride for Frank, and not only him but for his family too.



I'm thrilled to have found your tribute to him on the net, and shall make sure his wife, Polly, and his family are made aware of his still present popularity.

Best wishes to you.

Yours sincerely N. (who wishes to remain anonymous)




Frank enjoyed a partnership lasting a quarter of a century with the no-less talented Denis Norden.

Together, with a unique blend of racy war-time and post-war humour, they produced such classics as Take It From Here, The Glums, My Word! and My Music.

My first memory of Frank Muir was when I was about twelve years old. I can remember the moment so clearly because of the marvellous impression his words made on me. Since then his voice and his words have followed me around the worId.

I was listening to the radio panel game "My Word" while taking a bath. This might well have been the first time I had heard this programme, because it must have been early in its long run on the BBC. It was the part of the show where Frank and Denis have to make up a funny story using some familiar saying as the final sentence. Frank was in the middle of his story and he had to come up with alternative uses for padded bras. His tentative suggestion of "cloth cocoa cups" had me laughing for days afterwards - it still does make me smile, now, forty years later.


When I lived in Australia for ten years, I was able to listen to Frank on "My Word" and "My Music" on the ABC on Saturdays. Similarly, when I moved to California these programmes were aired on KUSC on Saturday nights, courtesy of a grant from David Hockney. My dentist is also an afficionado of the shows, and is able to repeat some of the good bits while working on my teeth -- which certainly helps to take my mind off the drill. He was staggered when I told him that most of the programmes played on KUSC, with Jack Longland as the chairman, were from the 1960s and 70s. He wished he could see what the panelists of "My Word" looked like - I told him that both Denis and Frank were very tall (Frank was 6 feet 6, Denis is 6 feet 3) and that Frank had a moustache and always wore a bow-tie. Frank looked a little bit like the Cat-in-the-Hat", I told my American dentist.

So I was very sad when I saw Frank's obituary in the Times (of London) Internet edition on January 3rd 1998. I always hoped Frank and Denis would go on forever, and keep me happy in my old age. I had grown up laughing at his kind-hearted wit and wanted him to live to be a hundred and ten. He was 77 years old, and had just published his autobiography "A Kentish Lad", -- described by TOPBOOKS as a "funny, gentle and delightful memoir of the astonishingly varied and successful career of the humorous writer and presenter who has given such enormous pleasure to millions".



Cover of Frank Muir's autobiography




OBITUARIES



1. From Rory B
January 02, 1998 - I'm one of the many who don't get to enjoy life like it should be enjoyed. I always intend on doing one thing, but forget to do so. Like finding a nice radio show and saying to myself, "I have to remember to listen to this again next week!" But then I forget to. This radio show was "My Word!" And one of the members of this interesting show was Frank Muir. The British show ran for 34 years, and required the writers to weave a tall story around a well-known quotation or saying. The audience was never let down. Like the man in the circus who was shot from a cannon and quit. "It was hard to find another man of his caliber." Humor is so sorely needed these days, so when one of the greats passes away, the world's a little less funny. The comedy writer passed away at his home in Egham, Surrey, England only a few hours after watching Forrest Gump. That'll do it. He was 77. (Added 1-11-1998)


2. From the Irish Times:

Britain: The veteran English comedy writer and broadcasting personality, Frank Muir, died yesterday after celebrating 50 years as one of Britain's favourite funnymen. He was aged 77.

He died in bed - hours after watching Forrest Gump on television, and commending the script, his wife said. Frank Muir's death came just three months after he published his memoirs, A Kentish Lad, packed with anecdotes about his career in radio and television. He began scriptwriting during service in the second World War when he became involved with troops broadcasting. Soon afterwards he had success with the BBC radio comedy series, Take It From Here.

His co-writer on that and many more shows, Denis Norden, said the death of the man famous for his pink bow-tie and mellifluous voice had come as a shock. "He was like a brother to me," he said. Frank Muir is remembered by most people for his beguiling charm and distinctive voice as a panellist on radio shows like Call My Bluff or My Word.

But he preferred to be remembered for his work as a scriptwriter, for many years in one of the best-known writing partnerships with Denis Norden.

The two were introduced in 1947, and were soon writing Take It From Here, most celebrated for its sketches about the Glum family, starring June Whitfield, Jimmy Edwards and Dick Bentley.

The 6ft 5in writer was born in Ramsgate on February 5th, 1920. He joined the RAF a year after war broke out.

The new series of Take It From Here continued until 1958, when Whack-O! - starring Jimmy Edwards - started on television.

The partnership with Denis Norden ended in 1964, but the two men continued to work together while pursuing separate careers.

Frank Muir became an assistant head of light entertainment for the BBC, and then briefly head of entertainment for the newlyformed London Weekend Television in 1969, before returning to freelance writing.

He and Denis Norden had been on My Word since it began in 1956, and My Music from 1967. Call My Bluff started on television in 1970. Dozens of books followed


3. Farewell, Frank Muir

I'm sorry to report that the well-loved broadcaster, writer and punster Frank Muir died on 2 January aged 77. He presented Terry Gilliam's early British TV break, We Have Ways of Making You Laugh. In Muir's recent autobiography A Kentish Lad [Dreams recommends!], he recalls the making of the first show for London Weekend Television...

"In an LWT programme conference it was decided that LWT’s first programme, to go on early Friday evenings, would be a series reflecting the change from weekday programming to a more carefree weekend schedule. The perfect title would have been The Weekend Starts Here, but Rediffusion had already used that. It was decided that the series would not be another pop-music show but would go for humour, and its provisional title was We Have Ways Of Making You Laugh.

"To produce the series, I had one of the best producers who came to us from Associated Rediffusion, Humphrey Barclay, who was young, extremely bright and inventive. We decided that we did not want to start the weekend with an anarchic romp, but with a cheerful, unpredictable, bitty sort of show which viewers could join at any point and then leave at any point to put the potatoes on.

"We had the producer and the title, we now wanted the presenter. To my horror and delight (emotions which frequently coincide in television), Humphrey Burton argued strongly that I should present the show. I accepted. It was not all that much of an interruption to my work as unit head once Humphrey Barclay had got things organised.

"We put together a team of writers and performers, and writer/performers. Ken Cope, the writer, actor (Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased)) and restaurateur, wrote and performed a weekly five-minute piece to camera as the manager of a none-too-successful restaurant (foreshadowing Harry Enfield's Stavros?); Dick Vosburgh, superb writer of topical one-liners and well-known beard, sat at the back with a clipboard and the most bulging briefcase in television, writing his odd funny comments and passing them forward; the then almost unknown Eric Idle did some excellent bits and pieces; Terry Gilliam, an American artist and cartoonist, now director of extraordinarily imaginative Hollywood movies, sat in the studio happily drawing what was going on and the camera zoomed in on his work from time to time; and Barry Cryer, Benny Green and others popped in with pieces.

"One Friday evening, 2 August 1968, We Have Ways Of Making You Laugh made an almost illegible blur on television history as the first programme of the new station LWT. The show went marvellously, the full audience laughing and clapping their appreciation. The series never went so well over its subsequent fourteen weeks' run, but that was not surprising as the first show's audience consisted almost entirely of friends and investors.

"Glowing with sweat and pleasure at the end, I was leaning against a camera feeling happily tired when Humphrey Barclay came up and said, 'I have the most rotten news. The show didn't go out… The unions pulled the plug just before we went on air.'"

4. From ITN:

Frank Muir: 1920 - 1998

Frank Muir, 77, master humorist and raconteur, who invariably sported a pink bow-tie, made his name as the co-writer of many endearing, enduring and hilarious radio comedies.

He was also a comic celebrity and quiz game panellist, a towering man, 6ft 6ins tall, whose natty dress and bushy moustache gave him a distinctive and beguiling charm.

But he preferred to be remembered as a scriptwriter, author of some 30 books and several documentaries - as well as the hand that guided that notorious chauvinist comic character, Alf Garnett, and others, on to British TV screens.

Muir, born in Ramsgate, Kent, on February 5, 1920, enjoyed a partnership lasting a quarter of a century with the no-less talented Denis Norden.

Together, with a unique blend of racy war-time and post-war humour, they produced such classics as Take It From Here, The Glums, My Word! and My Music.

In the 1960s, Muir ran the BBC's sitcom department and was involved in  producing some of the best TV series of the time, including Steptoe and Son and Till Death Us Do Part. Later he joined London Weekend Television as head of entertainment.

Muir attended Leyton County High School, in east London, but had to leave when he was 14 because his father died and his mother could no longer afford to pay the £11 a term for him. He was an introspective lad and left school without a single certificate. But he had already started to show literary skills, editing the school magazine and writing short stories.

At the age of 18 he started work as a trainee with a carbon paper company. War broke out and a year later he joined the RAF and was posted to Iceland. Like so many of his generation, the Second World War transformed his character. From introspective youth, he developed into a cheerful, outgoing, generous young man.

Soon, as one of his colleagues put it, he "began writing funny things seriously" and became involved with troops broadcasts, learning the tough discipline of writing weekly scripts - and of performing them as well. On demobilisation in 1946, Muir instantly decided that scriptwriting was his forte. He began writing jokes in 1947 for Jimmy Edwards - he of the handlebar  moustache - as well as scripts for Navy Mixture, Oliver's Twists and Listen My Children.

And it was the following year that his memorable partnership began with Denis Norden. They were brought together by Ted Kavanagh, the scriptwriter who kept wartime Britain laughing with Tommy Handley's ITMA (It's That Man Again). With great insight and instinct, Kavanagh recognised that Muir and Norden would instantly complement each other as top-flight comedy script-writers. He was right.



Quotes


(More to be added later)
Frank Muir said of the book Writing Comedy: a guide to scriptwriting for TV, Radio, Film and Stage by Ronald Wolfe,

'Along with a rich father-in-law, a good suit, curiosity, venom and innocence, there is nothing a young man or woman contemplating writing television comedy needs more then Ronnie Wolfe's indispensable book.'

Books


Here is a list of books by Frank Muir

The Oxford Book of Humorous Prose : From William Caxton to P.G. Wodehouse : A Conducted Tour
Frank Muir (Editor) / Paperback / Published 1992, Hardcover / Published 1990

An Irreverent and Thoroughly Incomplete Social History of Almost Everything
Frank Muir / Paperback / Published 1976

Call my bluff: Frank Muir versus Patrick Campbell
Frank Muir

Chambers Words for Crosswords and Wordgames
Frank Muir / Published 1983

Christmas Customs and Traditions
Frank Muir / Published 1977

Christmas Customs Around the World
Frank Muir / Published 1977

The Frank Muir book : an irreverent companion to social history
Frank Muir

Frank Muir goes into
Frank Muir

The second Frank Muir goes into
Frank Muir

The Glums : based on the original radio scripts
Frank Muir

An Irreverent and Almost Complete Social History of the Bathroom
Frank Muir (Editor) / Published 1984

The My Word! Stories
Frank Muir / Published 1977

Take my word for it : still more stories from My word !
Frank Muir

Upon my word! : more stories from "My word!" a panel game devised by Edward J. Mason & Tony Shryane
Frank Muir

You can't have your kayak and heat it; stories from My word!
Frank Muir

The Walpole orange : a romance
Frank Muir

Prince What-A-Mess
Frank Muir / Published 1985

Super What-A-Mess
Frank Muir / Published 1985

What-A-Mess and the Cat-Next-Door
Frank Muir / Published 1985

What-A-Mess at the Beach
Frank Muir / Published 1985

What-A-Mess the Good
Frank Muir / Published 1985


Order them from
Amazon.com


OTHER MEMBERS OF THE "MY WORD" PANEL GAME RADIO SHOW

Frank Muir and Denis Norden were friends, partners and co-writers for 50 years.

Dilys Powell (1901 - 3 Jun 1995) Film Critic and scholar of Ancient Greek (and writer about Greece). Dilys could always define unusual words by using her knowledge of greek. For many years she was the film critic in Punch magazine.

Anne Scott James, writer of two Gardening books (and this illustrated one)

Jack Longland,the Chairman. Born 26 June 1905, died 29 November 1993. A kind reader of this webpage sent me a copy of the obituary of Sir Jack Longland. Professionally, he rose to eminence in the field of educational administration, and he was an idealist who was very concerned with social work. Early in his career was Director of the Durham Community Service Council and lectured for the Workers Education Association.

He was a renowned mountaineer, and this is is main claim to fame, not the fact that he was the chairman of My Word. His most notable expedition was the Everest climb of 1933. The attempt was plagued by atrocious conditions but one episode from it has become a part of mountaineering folklore. Longland's action in bringing down eight Sherpas from Camp 6 at 27,400 ft in a sudden storm and white-out conditions which obliterated all traces of the route, by a ridge on which he had never been before, is one of the great mountaineering epics of responsible heroism. During the 36-hour ordeal he had continually both to safeguard his exhausted and dispirited men and force them to keep on the move. It deserved and drew the highest praise, and certainly saved the Sherpas lives.

He is listed as a patron of Mountain Art

Many thanks to Michael Shavelson for the information about Jack Longland.

Please send e-mail with your stories or memories about Frank to Magic Dragon Multimedia (please put "Frank Muir" in the subject line) for inclusion on our webpage.

Copyright 1998, 1999 by Magic Dragon Multimedia.
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