Thursday, December 14, 2006

I'm Sorry, We Haven't A Willie Rushton Anymore ...

Before we bully-off, I should warn you that today's entry is about another of my comedy favourites who has since died. So, if this is not your thing and were expecting a side-swipe at the Americans or a dig at the French, then you'd best click Google on your browser and go and look up something like 'the world's funniest penis jokes'. Only those who remember 'That Was The Week That Was', 'Private Eye' or 'I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue' will find this of any interest.

So, off you go ...

Willie Rushton was born in Chelsea, London, in 1937 and his parents sent him off to Shrewsbury School (though not immediately, you understand). Whilst growing into a young man, Rushton met Christopher Booker, Paul Foot and Richard Ingrams. The schoolboy 4-some began writing and editing the school magazine. After the best days of their lives, they went off to do their National Service and in the mid-1950's, the famous 4 teamed up again in London to start the weekly satirical rag, 'Private Eye', which is still going strong. Initally, Willie was in charge of the magazine's layout.

He enjoyed the fringe comedy shows and was often found on the circuit doing impressions of the Prime Minister of the time, Harold Macmillan. It was at one of these fringe shows that Ned Sherrin watched Rushton go through his routine and immediately snapped him up for the BBC show 'That Was The Week That Was'. It was the beginning of a relationship with the BBC that was to last for more than 30 years.

Willie was a cartoonist, a writer, lyricist and top-class satirist with an unmistakable voice used for trotting out the driest humour. During his time at 'Private Eye', he fought the the Kinross and West Perthshire by-election. Under the banner of "Death To The Tories", he stood as an independent candidate. On the eve of poll he decided to retire from the election to endorse the Liberal candidate but it was too late to take his name from the ballot paper - Rushton received 45 votes.

Over the years, Willie illustrated many books and, after the 'Spycatcher' controversy, wrote a piss-take Spy Thatcher: An Insult to British Intelligence. He became a voice-over artist on claymation shorts, read children's stories on television and, more than anything, spent 22 years on the BBC panel game 'I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue' (ISIHAC).

Willie was working right up to his death, on December 11th 1996, recording an episode of ISIHAC two days before he was admitted to hospital. He had gone in for a heart operation and subsequently died from complications. ISIHAC, which is also still running, have never replaced Willie with a full-time panelist. Opting instead to partner Tim Brooke-Taylor with a different guest for each edition. The most famous game played on ISIHAC is 'Mornington Crescent' - an underground tube station in London. Such was the game's popularity that after his death, Willie was honoured by a blue plaque on the station's wall.

BBC Radio 7 are currently playing a week's worth of 'Willie Rushton ISIHACs' in tribute. Go and listen ... unless, of course, you've found that long-lost penis joke ...?



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