Edinburgh Fringe 2019
A fascinating meander through the vast library of (largely forgotten) comedians.
Like Robert Ross’s forgotten heroes of comedy, the vast Lower Hall at Stand’s impressive New Town Theatre seems to have slipped the memories of the paying punter, with barely a handful of us curious to find out just which comedy heroes we’ve forgotten about.
Mastermind Robert Ross, however, wastes no time in leading us straight to Ronald Frankau, famous between the two World Wars and whose songs full of double entendre and innuendo led to his being banned by the straight-laced Beeb, thus guaranteeing instant fame and a large fortune as everyone rushed to buy the 78rpm recordings to find out what all the fuss was about. There’s also an interesting comedy connection to Frankau as he was at one time married to Renee Roberts, best known for her role as Miss Gatsby in Fawlty Towers.
Next up we look at Will Hay and Moore Marriott, the latter being a character actor who earned his living by playing older men, rather as Clive Dunn did in Dad’s Army. Marriott made more films than many in his day yet, with Hay, remains a largely forgotten figure in terms of his impressive contribution to comedy’s enormous archive.
Then a clip of the unlikely named Hovis Presley, a quite brilliant but tragically short-lived comedian who made his name as a stand-up poet. Little survives of his work, largely because, having burst onto the scene with a five-star reviewed Edinburgh Fringe show, he found he couldn’t handle the limelight and slowly drifted from our memories – if he ever made in the first place.
This curio of a show is a series of such interludes, with Ross introducing each “forgotten hero” with some invariably interesting and often amusing background notes, all of which he extemporises as every show in this run is different – he has literally hundreds of film clips from a similar number of “lost” comedians. The only qualifications for inclusion in the show are that said comedian is now looking down upon us from on high and that they were registered a one-time professional performer. Interestingly, most of his subjects were in their prime in the days before the TV, internet and YouTube became the ubiquitous sources of comedy that they now are.
That genius of a comic actor and female impersonator (and one of my favourites) Dick Emery gets an airing, now forgotten possibly because a lot of his material would seem inappropriate to 21st century audiences for a variety of reasons. Roy Kinnear, too, remains largely unseen these days which is a great shame as he was one of the greatest food actors ever to tread the boards. Eating on set is an art, and he had it down to a “T”.
This is certainly a show worth seeking out if you’ve an interest in comedy and its history. Given Ross’s unparalleled grasp of his subject, it might be even more fun if he felt able to invite his audience to suggest their own idea of a forgotten comedy hero allowing him to showcase his encyclopaedic knowledge of his genre. I feel sure that the ever-dependable Ruth, Ross’s sidekick charged with seeking out the film clips he wants to lay before us, would be up to the task of searching out the relevant material.