Thursday, 2 June 2011

Terry Nation - Top Ten Comedians (part 1)

Before turning to science fiction and action adventure shows, Terry Nation cut his teeth writing comedy. And in those early years he wrote for some of the best comics of the 20th century. So in tribute to that work, here's the first half of a countdown of the top ten comedians who spoke his words:

6. Sid James
The 1961 movie What a Whopper was conceived as a vehicle for the country's hottest pop star, Adam Faith, who had made the classic Beat Girl the previous year. What a Whopper wasn't a classic, but it was Nation's first solo onscreen credit as writer, and it did feature a fabulous cast, including Wilfred Brambell, Clive Dunn, Charles Hawtrey, Spike Milligan and Freddie Frinton. And, of course, Sid James, playing a hotel-owner who supplemented his income by poaching salmon.

7. Bob Hope
As a child in Cardiff in the war years, Nation had fallen in love with the likes of Bob Hope and Jack Benny, whose work was broadcast in Britain on AFN radio. Decades later, living now in Hollywood, he collaborated with Andrew J. Fenady on a television movie, A Masterpiece of Murder (1986), starring Don Ameche and Bob Hope. It wasn't up to much, but the idea of writing gags for one of his lifelong heroes provided its own satisfaction for Nation.

8. Ted Ray
Another person heavily influenced by American comedians, Ted Ray drew inspiration from Jack Benny in particular. Along with the likes of Bob Monkhouse, he represented a new style of wise-cracking sophistication in post-war British comedy, most notably in his radio show Ray's a Laugh. Nation and his partner John Junkin wrote for him both on radio - Variety Playhouse in 1957 - and on television, with two series of The Ted Ray Show. A sample line: 'It was a beautiful British summer's night - you could hear the owls coughing with bronchitis.'

9. Jimmy Logan
Most often seen these days in screenings of a couple of the later Carry On films, Logan was in his heyday the biggest live draw in Glasgow. His transfer to television on The Jimmy Logan Show - for which Nation and Junkin wrote nine shows - was, according to Logan, a complete disaster. 'It took me at least two years to re-establish my credibility outside Scotland,' he claimed.

10. Terry Scott
The man who would come to epitomize the suburban domestic sitcom with Happy Ever After and Terry and June appeared in several of Nation's early pieces, including All My Eye and Kitty Bluett (a 1955 radio series written with Dick Barry), What a Whopper and the 1959 movie And the Same to You, for which Nation and Junkin contributed some additional material, and which also starred Sid James and William Hartnell. Unusually, since Nation got on well with most of his collaborators, there was no love lost between him and Scott. 'I hated him,' Nation later reflected. 'It was mutual, we've always hated each other.'

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