Monday, November 27, 2006

Potty Time ...

10 years ago today, a comic hero of mine finally gave up a fight with cancer and disappeared into comedy legend.

As a lad at boarding school, I spent many happy hours with my head pressed against a battery-powered portable radio listening to comedy shows on the BBC. I had a collection of favourites that spanned generations; The Goons, Morecambe and Wise, Harry Worth, The Two Ronnies, Tony Hancock and Hello Cheeky. Unless you know what the hell I'm on about, then this little entry isn't going to mean a great deal to you. Such was the diverse and off-beat comedy at the time, it either clicked or it didn't.

This particular personal favourite of whom I talk was Michael Bentine, one of the original Goons and a comic writer and performer of enormous talent. However, there are many other sides to Bentine ... as I shall now relate;

Michael Bentine was born in Watford, England, in 1922 and to Anglo-Peruvian parentage. In the Second World War he served as an RAF Intelligence Officer and took part in the liberation of the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. In one of his many books, he later described what he found there; "Millions of words have been written about these horror camps, many of them by inmates of those unbelievable places. I’ve tried, without success, to describe it from my own point of view, but the words won’t come. To me Belsen was the ultimate blasphemy."

Bentine was a marksman with a pistol and came up with the idea to start a counter-terrorist wing within 22 SAS Regiment. In doing so, he became the first non-member of the SAS to ever fire a gun within the confines of the close-quarter 'Killing House' training establishment at their Hereford camp.

He had dallied with acting before the War and after being demobbed, decided to retrace his old roots and take it up as a career. He was one of the founding members of The Goons but left after a disagreement with the BBC. In the 1960's he took part in the first hovercraft expedition up the Amazon and in 1995 received a CBE for "for services to entertainment". Shortly before his death in 1996, a fan and close personal friend paid a special visit to his home - Prince Charles. Despite him being lampooned and ridiculed by comics, HRH (along with many others) had clicked with Bentine's humour and was sad to see the old man of British comedy fading.

As Bentine departed the comic world, he left behind a vast back catalogue of fantastic scripts and sketches - most of which have helped to mould today's comic turns.



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