Telling the story of character comedy actor Dick Emery, who regularly pulled in audiences of millions before his death in 1983. Featuring exclusive interviews and unseen footage.
Browse content similar to Dick Emery. Check below for episodes and series from the same categories and more!
Oh, you are awful!
But I like you.
It's sort of like a comic strip come to life
and I think that's why, probably, I could enjoy it so much as a kid.
How about another one, Miss Lovelace.
Oh, I don't think I should, vicar. Honestly!
You just fell about laughing the moment he came on.
People loved the characters and they took him to their hearts
and it was a big event -
The Dick Emery Show on a Saturday night.
Me, with my talent.
If you watch it now,
it's amazing how much of it is about sex.
-How do you like it?
-Hot and strong.
I can tell. You're going to have it, you darling.
You're hard pushed to find a joke that isn't about sex,
isn't an innuendo.
Hello, darling. Oh!
Enormously influential on a generation of character comedians,
These are The Many Faces Of Dick Emery.
MUSIC: "James Bond Theme"
Ladies and gentlemen,
I'd like you to meet some of the artists in my show tonight.
First of all,
we have Julie Pitcher.
The Dick Emery Show ran from 1963 to 1981,
becoming a veritable television institution.
It was a jewel in the BBC's Saturday night crown.
'BBC Saturday night was the big viewing night of the week,
'for many, many years.
'It's when the BBC proved'
as the licence fee was paid for by everybody in the country,
they could deliver entertainment for everybody,
for the whole family - for Granny and for Mum and Dad
and the kids and Uncle and Aunty and so on.
And Dick Emery fitted that absolutely brilliantly,
that BBC policy of putting the best of entertainment on Saturday night.
And Dick was a class act.
# But who can I turn to
# If you
# Away? #
'Family would get together,'
have a little bit of something to eat
and sit down and watch television.
And there was...
# Who's foolish?
# Well, I am... #
'And they could sit and enjoy what was given to them.
'It was really a fabulous time of innovative television'
with wonderful direction and choreography
that came from theatre onto the screen.
And it was beautifully crafted...
that it was really compelling to watch.
'It was a golden time, where there were lots of shows'
you could watch as a family.
And his was definitely one,
even though it was a little bit rude.
Two pints and half a butter, please, milkman.
It wasn't subtle.
Dick Emery's creations are a product of their time.
They reflect an older generation
unsure how to handle new attitudes
to women, race and sexuality.
His answer married his experience
of the raucous leering of wartime concert parties
with vaudeville slapstick.
-If they was to get a hold of you in there,
why, you might not come to light for months.
Oh, I'll take a chance. I'll take a chance!
I'm sorry, Miss.
But the characters he created,
together with catch phrases that returned week after week,
set a format for television comedy that has lasted for 50 years.
Clear off, you old bag.
Don't you think we're being punished enough already?
Yeah, we might be hard up but we ain't desperate!
The combination of character
and catch phrase
and week in, week out
showing of those things -
that is a very key thing in the history of British comedy
and I think he was the first person to really do it.
Dick Emery's show business roots
go right back to the vaudeville stages of the 1920s.
There was no overnight success.
His hit TV series came when he was in his 40s.
There was a long apprenticeship.
In 1982, the BBC recorded Dick Emery on stage
talking about his life and career.
It turned out to be one of his last performances.
He is noticeably breathless
and, sadly, passed away just a few weeks letter.
The programme was never finished and the footage lost, until now.
His story starts in 1915, when he was born into theatre,
My mother, who was also in show business,
and my dad, was in a theatre in London.
She says it was the Palladium
but whether it was the Palladium, I don't know.
My father was playing there.
And she was sitting there doing a bit of knitting
and Father was stark naked,
cleaning a pair of shoes.
"Bill," she said, "I feel a son coming on."
He grabbed his hat... Well, you never know!
..and they rushed up to the University College Hospital,
which is just up the road from the Palladium, so she says.
And I was born at five o'clock on 19th February,
in the year of... HE MUMBLES THE YEAR
They were tough times for the Emery family
and his father left when he was only eight.
They had this terrible row about a pair of shoes for me.
My father didn't see why he should buy me a pair of shoes
or some rubbishy thing.
And so she said, "Bill..." or Laurie or whatever,
"I think you'd better leave.
"And this time, for good."
I'm playing under the table with a bit of toy.
He lifts up the tablecloth,
"Do you want to go with me or your mother?"
AS LITTLE BOY: "Go with Mum."
Dick's relationship with his mother would colour his adult years.
He supported her until she passed away in her 90s.
They stepped out of show business briefly in London
but something drew 17-year-old Dick to a talent competition.
It was a moment that would ignite a career
that would last the next 50 years.
The theatre was still in my blood, you know.
I used to play at theatres.
I used to rig up theatres in my bedroom and...
with bits of newspaper as curtains
and put on bits of flappers' wigs and beards.
And I got a most extraordinary rig out for anybody...
I suppose it was comic, really.
I had a pair of army boots, no socks,
a ginger pair of plus fours,
an evening tail coat,
a tie, no shirt
and my hair ruffled.
And I went on and told Scottish stories.
But I won the competition!
So then I got a job at the Liverpool Empire in pantomime.
And this is where I learned one of me characters.
Because the entire chorus boys, all the chorus boys,
were all like that.
Dick's competition success creating a comedy persona
encouraged him to recognise potential characters.
Oh, hello, honky tonks. How are you? Nice to see you.
Have you seen something you fancy?
Yes, I'm fascinated by that tallboy in there.
-Oh, you mean the one with the brass handle?
-No, you silly thing!
The one behind the counter with the ginger moustache.
It would be years before that talent paid off.
Dick's fledgling career was interrupted by war.
Disappointed not to be a pilot,
he was eventually enrolled in the RAF Gang Show.
It was to be life-changing opportunity,
entertaining the men behind the lines.
We rehearsed all these characters, which I loved.
Wherever we were...I mean, we went to Normandy.
We were over in Normandy, D plus 17, and we do a show.
Now, you see that polka-dot dress? That's me.
That's the start of Mandy.
There she is, silly old bag!
Nice pair of shoulders.
Dick Emery was one of the amazing people who came out of the war,
the RAF Gang Shows, the Combined Services Entertainment,
that whole thing of learning your trade
in khaki or in drag,
because there were no women there.
And, you know, Stanley Baxter, Kenneth Williams,
all of that lot came from a similar background.
They'd been through a war,
they could have been killed.
They had an inbuilt contempt for authority
and it showed in their work.
And Dick came out of that very same school.
In 1946, Mandy was demobbed with Dick
and followed him into pantomime.
She would never leave him.
He was finding inspiration all around,
even at the stage door.
There was a carpenter by the name of Bert Dent.
I'll never forget old Bert.
And he was a Lampwick.
He used to say, "I've got the...
"got the wood here but...
"the nails are a bit..."
HE GURGLES IN HIS THROAT
Bert didn't do that but I embellished it.
And everybody in Gang Show would...
We would all talk to each other as Lampwick.
I mean, Peter Sellers used to do a Lampwick
and all the fellows in the show used to do a Lampwick.
"Oh, good morning." "Good morning, how are you?" "Fine."
There were about 19 of them going around!
The Forces' concert parties encouraged a wave of talent,
keen to make a go of show business after the war.
But success in civvy street was far from guaranteed.
Dick was one of a handful of future stars
who shared their frustrations in a certain London bar.
They were friends and contacts
who would help each other out in the hungry years.
Dick Emery was one of those people
who came from that crucible that was the Grafton Arms,
this amazing pub on Strutton Ground in Westminster,
run by Major Jimmy Grafton,
scriptwriter and catalyst,
who just got all of his talented friends together in his pub,
put on little shows in the attic
and these were friends like Dick Emery, Michael Bentine,
Peter Sellers, Spike Milligan and Harry Secombe -
that whole group.
It was an incredibly fertile time and place.
Work was scarce.
Dick took over from his friend Tony Hancock
in a short slot at the Windmill Theatre.
Weeks later, he discovered Hancock penniless in the street.
This apparition comes round the corner.
Mr Hancock in an overcoat, no tie
and a newspaper parcel under his arm.
So I said, "Where are you going?"
He said, "I'm going to try and borrow the money to get my laundry done."
I said, "Oh, gosh... Here's £3.
"There's plenty more where that came from."
And that was a gag with us,
"Oh, there's always plenty more where that came from."
By the 1950s, Dick Emery was a talented entertainer,
well-experienced in variety.
He could sing, compere and make people laugh.
He knew how to work in a double act
and had shared a stage with some iconic names.
He moved in a pool of talent on the verge of big-time success -
Tony Hancock and The Goons,
Milligan and Bentine.
Television was growing
but the first step to stardom in the '50s
One of the biggest shows was Educating Archie,
featuring a ventriloquist's dummy.
As a talented all-rounder,
Dick earned a regular place in the cast.
And with an audience of 15 million,
Dick Emery started to be a household name.
He was incredibly versatile in that sense.
And so I think he got a lot of work early on.
He could addition for any part, really, in a comedy show.
He could do a voice, he could do an attitude.
He could time a gag.
So there was no limit to what he could audition for.
As the post-war entertainers became more established,
they shared their successes
with friends who had been there in the leaner years.
When Harry Secombe missed a recording of The Goons,
they turned to Dick Emery.
I'm Emery-type-Seagoon. I've just arrived in Africa.
I am Major Bloodnok and I have been here all the time.
So you beat me here?
Bend down and I'll beat you there!
-WHIPPING Ow! You fool, Bloodnok!
It was a combination of being in the right place at the right time
with the right people
but also being good enough to go in on a Sunday
and record this show
and not be fazed by the surreality of it.
And The Goon crowd brought Dick into their first movie in 1955,
the surreal short film
The Case of the Mukkinese Battle Horn.
Can you give me a full description of this Mukkinese Battle Horn?
-Description? Ha-ha! I can do better than that.
-Bring in the other Mukkinese Battle Horn.
This one was one of a pair -
supposed to be the only identical pair in existence.
Come now, Mr Nodule,
-do you take me for a raving idiot?
I beg your pardon! I am an officer of the police force
When Tony Hancock graduated from radio to TV,
he found a space for the man who had lent him the cost of his laundry.
-Afternoon, postman. Coming to empty the box?
Oh, well, there's no need to put these through.
-They can go straight in the sack.
-No, no, no, no.
You see, my job is collecting letters from the pillar box.
I am not allowed to put any letters in my sack
that haven't passed through the slit.
Yes, well, I mean, you can stretch a point.
That's a waste of time. They've got to go in the sack anyway.
I am sorry. Letters cannot be considered as having been posted
until they have passed through the slit.
Now, stand on one side if you please.
It was the 1960s.
Television couldn't get enough new comedy faces.
But although Dick Emery was respected,
he struggled to find his own star vehicle.
He found a regular part in the ITV comedy series The Army Game,
as Private Chubby Catchpole.
But it was a chance encounter with another Goon
that proved a turning point.
Michael Bentine's After Hours and Square World sketch shows
were a perfect showcase for Dick's characterisation skills.
-POSH: Oh, hello. Hello.
-How are you?
-Hang on a second.
I'll just get myself arranged, thank you very much.
Now, you're going to demonstrate this sport of No Can Do.
Could you actually tell us something about it?
Yes. Well, as you can see,
I'm wearing a suit of the special armour,
or as the Japanese call it,
Yes, it's beautifully made and as a point of interest,
it weighs over 293 pounds.
-The purpose of this being twofold.
-Firstly, it offers absolute protection.
It stops you running away.
The most important thing that happened to him professionally,
I think, was his association with Michael Bentine.
Now, these are the traditional clubs...
If you worked with Bentine, it was a...
"Oh, he must be good."
People in influence, people in television,
used to look at those and it was a step onwards.
And I think Tom Sloan,
Head Of Light Entertainment at the BBC back then,
saw Emery in It's A Square World and said,
"I think this man is worth a series of his own.
"I think we can build something round him."
I said, "Well, I'd like to do the sort of show
"where we could possibly call it the Emery Theatre,
"whereby I play, say, one character or two characters.
"Straight actors around me."
He said, "No, we're not doing anything like that.
"You're going to do a show where you do sketches,
"some interviews in the street, which you remember I hope,
"and a couple of guest spots."
So that was it.
Dick had caught the eye of the BBC.
But they were less interested in experimental humour.
They guessed that Dick's common touch
could get a much bigger audience.
I think Emery's relationship
with the comedy of his moment
is rather complicated.
Because another strain of comedy
that comes out of that Gang Show world is The Goons.
But he doesn't seem to have their instinct for the avant-garde.
He has much more in common with a performer like Benny Hill
than he does, oddly, with the people by whom he's surrounded.
He seems to take no real influence from The Goons.
There's no real surrealism in Emery's act.
It's quite naturalistic, for all the grotesqueness of the characters.
It looked like Dick's long wait as an underdog was over.
But there was a problem. His new manager had double-booked him
in a minor stage play.
The gates to stardom were staying shut.
And suddenly, I'm out of the BBC.
And I'm earning £20 a week on a show that probably won't go on the West End anyway. It didn't.
But what happened was, the national press got hold of it,
and, luckily, there were no wars going on at the time.
"Dick Emery dropped by the BBC," blah-blah-blah.
Great big thing, big splash.
And so now I'm out of work.
The little show was finished.
And about six weeks later, the manager comes to me
and he said, "You're back with the BBC."
So, fantastic. Once again, the headline.
And what happened was, instead of the show being called
Summer Madness With Dick Emery,
because my name had been in the headlines so much,
it simply became The Dick Emery Show.
He'd served his time on stage and in live theatre and started
to develop characters that would be his trademark for years to come.
He had earned his place as a trusted part of a new wave of comedy
and could count Hancock, Bentine and Sellers as friends.
He was already a household name for millions of radio listeners.
Now, in 1963, and at the age of 48,
Dick Emery finally had all the attributes to star in his own show.
Well, we thought it would be a frightfully good idea to go
out in the street with a camera and take some movie pictures
of various characters and ask them what their idea was of show business.
Oh, well, I like a good television show myself, you know.
Z-Cars, that's pretty good. No Hiding Place. Sergeant Cork, Dixon of Dock Green.
What do you like best about them?
Well, after a hard day's work, they help to take your mind off your job.
Excuse me. May I bother you?
Yes, but don't be rough!
What is your favourite form of entertainment?
Ooh, you are awful.
But I like you!
Dick's popularity boils down to a simple recipe.
Each show is made up of a returning cast of characters,
-many with a catch phrase.
It was made for TV, but its origins were right back in vaudeville.
You had to have a character which was unlike anyone else.
And you went round the halls
and you developed a character,
and it gave you time to do it away from the critics,
so nobody was seeing you making a fool of yourself.
And so that when then you became famous to do something,
you'd got your own characters worked out
and you knew what your audience would like.
Oh, well, in that case...
Two more double Harvey Wallbangers!
And I'll have a whisky!
It's hard to do a comedy vicar
and not somehow be channelling Dick Emery,
something to do with the teeth,
and they were all sort of judging something like a marrow competition.
-Good afternoon, Miss Dunnett.
-Oh, hello, vicar.
I see you have two magnificent specimens!
Clarence was a personal favourite of mine.
"Hello, honky tonks."
Oh, hello, honky tonks! How are you? Nice to see you.
They're like cartoon characters come to life.
And I think that's why they're so memorable.
Dick's show ran for 17 years.
Some characters came and went, but one old friend was always there.
There couldn't be a Dick Emery Show without the women
he had first created for a Gang Show stage in the RAF.
-Oh, you are awful.
-Oh, you are awful.
-Oh, you are awful.
-Oh, you are awful.
-Oooh, you are awful.
-Oh, you are awful.
-Oh, you are awful.
-Ooh, you are awful...
But I like you!
But it is brilliant. It's brilliant that "ooh, you are awful"
answers your need, for A, for the catch phrase,
and B, for those previous words to have been about sex.
At the same time, I could scrape your bottom
and slap a couple of coats of varnish on.
Ooh, you are awful!
In itself, a catch phrase like "Ooh, you are awful, but I like you"
is not necessarily in itself particularly funny,
but the fact that every time Dick Emery comes on,
you're looking forward and seeing that character, doing that thing,
and he does it, and you laugh.
But I like you.
And he would do the character, he would bash the guy on the shoulder.
He'd walk off and he'd do the trip.
Catch phrases were hugely important to all of Dick Emery's characters.
Each of them had their signature phrase.
Dad? I think I've got it wrong again!
I think a really good, strong catch phrase
has to come out of the character.
It can't be forced upon the character.
Ladies tights, 20p a pair! Ladies tights, 20p a pair!
Bargain or bust! 18p a pair!
15p a pair!
-12p for these beautiful ladies tights!
-10p, ladies tights!
-10p a pair!
-8p only for these ladies tights!
4p! 4p a pair! Ladies tights! 4p a pair!
-You've done me, lad.
4p a pair, I can't beat that. How many pair you got left, 50?
Yeah, that's right. 'Ere you are, then. Let's 'ave them.
Hey-hey! I've sold out!
-You have, ain't ya?
Ladies tights, 20p a pair!
These lovely ladies tights, only 20p a pair, come on, ladies,
that's all I'm asking, 20p.
'Ere, Dad? I've got it wrong again!
"Dad, I think I've got it wrong again!" You know, it's...
and it is generally the punch line to all the sketches,
but it has its place in the sketch,
because that's what the sketch has been about.
You don't know the origin, often. I think real life's often the case.
Somebody's said something or something happened.
And you think, "Oh, I'll do that."
You stamp that brand name on each of the characters,
and you do the catch phrase and it pins that character down,
you know who it is and where you are.
And it also means it's great,
it puts it out into the public consciousness, because kids in
the playground can do the character if they know the catch phrase.
They don't have to write their own script. It's written for them.
I think the Dick Emery Show was particularly popular
because Dick played so many different characters.
There were not that many shows where that actually happened.
Nothing for me today, thank you, milkman!
And the characters he played were so different,
and he sort of became part of them,
that the public were waiting
for this character to do such-and-such a thing,
that you knew was going to happen,
which is the basis of comedy, anyway.
And I think the public just loved it.
And also, it's an unusual thing,
which is a sketch show with just one person as the star of it.
That is quite a hard thing to pull off,
because you're just cutting from one person to the same person.
If you create one memorable character in your lifetime,
as a comedian, you have done really well,
because that in itself is, I think, quite an achievement.
If you create half a dozen, it's incredible.
The shows were inspired by Dick's character creations,
but the sketches themselves were scripted by a team of writers
who knew exactly how he worked.
The fact that they knew about him,
they knew what sort of thing he could play
and he gets something out of it...
-It was obviously a good script.
And he had great faith in them,
he had great faith in me that it was all going to work.
And he didn't really have any input particularly
in what we did in any particular week.
He just accepted, after a little while,
that the scripts were great, they were excellent for him, and he was
going to be very happy with whatever was going to happen next week.
Well, we all got our scripts. They were all marked out for our parts.
And Dick would arrive, throw his script away, and say,
"Right, what's this one about, then?"
And you thought, "He hasn't read it!" Nor had he.
Nevertheless, you'd open the script and the character would be there.
And he'd do it instantly.
You would be rehearsing in the rehearsal room.
And the door would sort of fling open.
And in he'd come, dressed from head to toe in black leather
because he would have come on his black motorbike.
And then, it was hysterical, because every time he moved he would creak.
So he was quite small, and all this black leather,
and creak, creak, creak, you know.
It was really quite amusing.
What about us chambermaids?
-Have you got any special advice for us?
-Indeed I have.
Never get caught unawares when cleaning the bath.
It was such a wonderful atmosphere working here,
because he wasn't starry at all,
and it was terrific. I enjoyed it.
I seem to be getting special training, sir.
You have the honour of being chosen as one of the commanders
of the catering profession.
And obviously, I fitted in, so I was asked back time and time again.
Some of Dick's creations had been with him since the war.
And after ten years of prime-time television exposure,
they'd become like his family.
And he had his favourites.
Towards the late '70s, he was getting a bit tired of the format...
..and doing the same characters over and over and over again, you know,
especially... and he didn't like Mandy,
the one that everybody remembers.
He really wasn't a fan of.
And it had become a monster.
He felt that, a lot.
People kept asking him to do it.
He much preferred College The Tramp, the well-educated tramp.
MUSIC: "Symphony No 5" by Beethoven
Lampwick. He used to say
he was having to use less and less make-up every year.
-There's only one thing I've got to say to you.
-And what's that?
-James Maynard Kitchener Lampwick...
Would you like to come and have a drink?
Well, since you're twisting my arm.
Hetty, he enjoyed doing.
-Are you married?
I don't know why he enjoyed doing Hetty, but he did.
Well, I'm looking for a nice young man, you see...
Dick's relationship with women was, well, complicated.
Some of his most memorable characters were female,
reflecting the vaudeville tradition.
His own father had a drag set in his act.
But Dick was always uncomfortable getting into women's clothes.
When he was playing in drag, he was slightly nervous,
because he'd wonder what the public would think.
And as soon as I said "cut", he went terribly macho.
Walked about, you know, in drag. Dressed as a girl,
but doing sort of masculine things and whatnot, you know.
Put on a dress, you'll get easy laughs,
and Dick was particularly adept at it.
And obviously that early training in the Forces
stood him in good stead later on, with Mandy and so.
Look, us women should stick together at times like these...
Certainly, Little Britain
and The Dick Emery Show share an obsession with dressing up as women.
-Hello, Mrs Emery.
-Oh, hello, dear!
There is obviously a big tradition of it in British humour.
And even the Pythons did a huge amount of it.
I think maybe the ideal place for watching Dick Emery's act
might have been in a clearing in Malaya, during the Emergency.
It does feel very much like the product
of that concert party culture.
I mean, the element of drag is straight out of that.
And indeed, he was doing that
when he was in the RAF, during the war and touring air bases.
And it's that kind of barrack-room humour.
You can imagine a room full of soldiers all whistling
-when Mandy or Hetty comes on to the stage.
I'm not enjoying the trip.
Oh, I'm sorry. Why's that?
-Well, there's always one, isn't there?
-Always one what?
Some man who keeps touching your knee and making indecent suggestions!
Dear, oh, dear. You're quite right, Miss. There's one on every coach.
Oh, would you mind pointing him out to me...?
Men dressed as dames might be timeless,
but the show's attitude to women would raise eyebrows today.
The Dick Emery Show reflects a time
when standards of taste and decency were different.
What seems mildly offensive now was family viewing in its day.
That lady looks as if she's got her water wings on back to front!
Oh, you dirty old beggar.
Yes, there was a sexist attitude to women
and it was just par for the course, and they were the butt of jokes.
We had just gone through the '60s
when those shows became incredibly big,
and the '60s was an era of sexual liberation.
But for the generation who were actually on telly in the '70s,
they were slightly older
than the ones who'd actually been involved in all that,
and so what they picked up on it
was a kind of "saucy postcard" element of it. They weren't...
I mean, Dick was having sex with a lot of women,
but he wasn't out there in the communes having free love.
But he was aware, as were the programme makers,
that there'd been this lifting of restrictions
on what you could and couldn't say about sex,
and they joined that with a kind of end-of-the-pier mentality,
and then you get Dick Emery.
Cor! Thank heaven for that!
What with having to sneak aboard and then hide in there.
I hope this cabin you've got is a bit more comfortable.
Yeah, I've got one or two minor repairs, love, then you can relax.
-In you go.
Dick, all those people, would never have used some of the language
that is quite happily used nowadays, four letter words, etc.
So it's amazing that that is acceptable
but something that might be regarded as slightly sexy or risque, erm...
aimed, possibly, at a comment about females was perfectly acceptable.
Well, personally, I don't anticipate any problems in passing.
-I'll get through all right.
-How can you be so certain?
For TWO very good reasons.
Well, all the examiners are men, aren't they?
That licence is as good as in my pocket.
I can imagine people thinking it was sexist
and some think it was homophobic, too.
I'd have another think, sweetheart. You got me for your examiner.
Put those away.
You wouldn't have had any trouble, honky tonks.
I'd have passed you sitting on that bench.
But certainly the warmth of Dick Emery as a performer,
erm, it feels very, very inclusive. He has a twinkle in his eye.
The thing about Dick Emery is there was a charm to him,
there was a harmlessness about it. It wasn't done...on a vicious level.
Yes, the honky-tonk character is a very broad, camp stereotype,
but it's done with affection. We're not supposed to hate this person
or want to go out and beat him up, or whatever.
Dick Emery's sketch shows made him a television star.
Surely the next step was cinema?
He'd been in a Goons film and popular British films like Crooks Anonymous
and The Big Job alongside Sid James,
but he had never made star billing in the movies.
Now was the time to realise his ambitions in proper drama.
One of my greatest ambitions is to do films.
I got onto my scriptwriters and I said, "Please, write me a film."
So they wrote me a film,
and it was called, Oh, You Are Awful,
A code for a safe is written in tattoo
on four different ladies' bottoms, erm,
and Dick has to find out this code, and, in order to find it out,
he has to impersonate his various different characters
in order to get near the bottoms of these ladies.
Now, that is the most '70s pitch for a film that's ever been done!
I have seen the film two or three times.
It was 1972.
Dick's starring film vehicle played on his catch phrase for its title.
But he plays a conman who is a master of disguise.
Be a love and give us a hand? The damn thing's stuck.
Ooh, yes. Pleasure.
It's a clever way to include many of his characters.
-Thanks, dear. I'll do you a favour sometime.
-I'll bear that in mind.
when I say "right", I want you attack me with that truncheon.
Don't worry, you won't get anywhere near me, right?
Dick struggled to get his movie career established.
# Ever since the world began... #
He was busy. He made records,
and every year brought a diary full of television, filming and theatre.
He seemed most at home with a live audience on stage.
Oh, I'm having a marvellous time, I really am!
Have you got some more flour? That marvellous, isn't it?
DRUM BEATS IN TIME
His talent for slapstick shone.
Dick couldn't resist the glitter, the greasepaint, or the girls.
The audience knew Dick Emery, the confident comedy star.
But, off stage, he had a complicated personal life.
It was a story of fast machines,
five wives, and a string of mistresses.
In these permissive days,
marriage as an institution is coming more and more under attack.
Many couples seem to feel that they can dispense with the formalities
of a church or registry office wedding.
I'm here to take a random sample of public opinion
on the subject of marriage.
-Excuse me, vicar.
May I ask you, sir, as a man of the cloth,
how much value do you put on a marriage these days?
Including the organist? Ooh, about 15 quid.
Dick's first wife, Joan, was a war bride.
He wed second wife Irene in 1946.
Iris was wife number three in 1955.
They had one of Dick's four children together, Nick.
'He left for his fourth wife.'
He told me he was going to move a long way away
and, in fact, moved seven miles.
I was 18 when I met him, and he was 43.
So that was a bit scandalous at the time.
'My parents were only a few years older than he was.'
I just think he enjoyed women's company, you know.
'It was just like that.'
Dick married Vicki, who became wife number four,
and later left her for his last wife, Josephine.
He was very much like an uncle, coming toing and froing.
It wasn't until a lot later on, when I left school,
that he became a real...
And I started to get to know him more.
Sometimes he didn't understand being a parent,
because he would say things to me, like, "You always call me Dad.
"Why do you call me Dad?"
And, "I'd rather be your friend than your father."
And I'd say, "But..." And he'd say, "Why do you call me Dad?"
I'd say, "Because you are my father."
'Erm... He just didn't get that side of it.'
That'll give them something to think about on their honeymoon, won't it?
-Are you married yourself, sir?
-No, I'm not.
And according to all the motorists I knock off,
neither were my mother and father.
Dick's world was routinely filled with glamorous women,
but he was a charismatic, good-looking star...
Un, deux, trois!
..a high-octane combination that could be ignited
by the slightest spark.
He was a very attractive guy.
He said, "Can I give you a lift somewhere?"
And I said, "No, thanks, I've got my car,"
and he said, "Well, I'll drive you to your car, then."
And I should've said no, but I said yes.
Thousands, hundreds of thousands of people,
millions of people were charmed by him all over the world,
so why wouldn't I be?
I don't think he was capable, really,
of being faithful to one woman.
All the women who he married...
erm, loved him, worshipped him,
and, er, would do anything.
I think my mother would have crawled over hot coals
and broken glass, you know, to be near him.
He was... He had that sort of magnetism.
Dick did stay true to one woman, his mother.
He supported her into her '90s
and her shadow stalked every relationship.
I think his mother became very strong in his life.
Which, I think, guided him through all these different marriages
he had, because when he married you you became the mum,
and then he looked for a mistress somewhere else.
I think this was the pattern in his life.
His mother was so clinging that I think she was
the spanner in the works with all his marriages.
Until he married someone, she was safe,
because that was still her Dickie,
but once he'd married somebody
erm, she felt threatened, and so she dripped poison.
The tabloid headlines were all...
trying to knock him and trying to say, "Oh, he's run off again."
It didn't affect him. Everyone...
It didn't affect his popularity. It didn't...
People didn't go off him because of being married five times
and then...leaving his last wife for a younger woman.
It just didn't affect him,
other than personally.
I'm sure it affected him as an individual,
but it didn't affect his profile and his popularity.
That just carried on. It was... Who cares? Just keep making shows.
Hello, son. How are you going, all right?
Excuse me, can you tell me, are you married, sir?
No, mate, I'd sooner have the bike!
It's not the same as having a little wife, surely?
Listen, mate, you show me a bird I could ride up the M1 at over a ton
and I'll think about it.
With the shows came the money to indulge his other passions.
He'd always loved motorbikes and cars,
and he even fulfilled his RAF dream of being a pilot.
He was very much a boy racer.
He loved cars.
My mother used to say, "When the ashtray's full, he'll change it."
And, sure enough, the cars would change.
He once came into rehearsal, we were rehearsing in Acton,
and he said, "Bill, I've just bought a new car." I said, "Great."
He said, "Come and have a look at it."
And I went out into the playground,
and this beautiful silver-blue Rolls Corniche stood there.
And I said, "That drivel?"
He said, "Yeah." I was driving a Morris Minor!
And I said, "That's beautiful! You deserve it, good luck to you."
He said, "Come on, I'll give you a ride." And there we were,
riding around in this bloody smart car in this council estate!
I think it gave him a feeling of...
Jack the Lad-ish a bit, you know.
And took away from that insecurity that he always had, I think,
-in his life.
-He always said that
because he was a small man he needed huge machines to boost his morale!
And he had the biggest cars and the biggest motorbikes, planes,
boats, anything that you could imagine he had, and he loved it.
He was like a small boy in heaven when he had a big machine under him.
That was just wonderful, he was so happy with that.
The RAF gave Dick the opportunity to be an entertainer.
Being an entertainer gave Dick the opportunity to fly.
A very shy man as a performer, but, off-camera, a great adventurer.
He'd go wing-walking, there are stories of him and Eric Sykes
in their Tiger Moth planes having a catfight over Guildford.
-It was just...
I think about flying all the time. You see, I took up flying
because it takes your mind off show business, off the entire world.
You get up there and you're miles away from it all,
and you don't think about anything else but flying,
and I recommend it to all...people, everybody.
Anybody who can afford to buy an aeroplane...
You don't feel you're taking any risks going up in a little plane?
Oh, yes, a certain amount of risk.
I think that's part of the thrill of it, though.
He took me up flying one day in a small two-seater aircraft.
I was sitting behind him,
'and, on the way back, he missed Blackpool Tower by about 20 feet.'
I was sitting in the back, petrified, but anyway...
Dick had a close call during one take-off,
when his beloved Tiger Moth biplane collided with a car.
'He'd gone to open an air display,'
and he was taking off and a chap in a Morris 1000 estate car
backed over the road for the car park into his path,
and he clipped the top of the car with the wing,
'took the roof off the car,'
and...wrapped the wing back to the side of the plane and crashed.
'And he got a letter from the test pilots at Filton saying,'
"We all have one we walk away from."
Action man Emery had cheated death,
but he was finally grounded by a heart problem
that restricted his flying licence.
Dick's dramatic private life meant he was never out of the public eye.
But despite years spent on stage and screen,
behind the scenes he was a tormented soul.
Every slight change of direction could trigger self-doubt
and debilitating nerves.
He did suffer with stage...
Well, stage fright of a kind. I mean, he'd sort of overcome it.
He used to pace around the dressing room like a caged tiger,
just going round and round. You didn't speak.
My nerves, I mean, in those days,
used to take the form of being physically sick,
-before I did anything.
-Oh, absolutely petrifying.
But now they take the form of being utterly depressed.
Then I found this analyst chap, and I went to him for 18 months
and I got to know me, what made me tick.
I delved right deep down, we had hypnotism as well,
and I found out a lot of things about myself
and learnt to live with myself, I got to know myself.
He had what he called his demons, and they would come to him.
He couldn't be alone, he hated being alone, he hated the dark.
He was insecure,
he never thought that the next show was going to be a success.
He couldn't believe his own success.
So he had emotional problems.
The pressure to stay current in a changing television world
made Dick even more anxious.
He felt trapped in his own format
and unable to realise his ambitions at the BBC.
Something had to change.
In 1979, he moved to ITV.
Good evening, and welcome to an hour of comedy and music!
It's Dick Emery's Comedy Hour.
THEME MUSIC PLAYS
# One, two! #
I suspect he may have thought
that he was taken for granted at the BBC.
He'd been there so long, he was a BBC property,
part of the furniture, "Yes, we'll do another 13 Dick Emery shows."
So when somebody comes a-wooing...
I think sometimes that when you've been doing something for a very long time,
it's quite exciting to think of doing something a bit differently,
and, again, I think he was hoping
that maybe it would be more acting than sketches,
more long-term acting than sketches.
And it changed a bit, but really the format was much the same.
His adventure with commercial television
lasted for just three shows.
But when he returned to the BBC,
things were beginning to change in the world of television comedy.
The days of the old school stars were numbered.
Dick's 20-year-old format would have to change.
Every television artist, particularly comedians,
have a natural shelf life.
Erm...Morecambe and Wise was longer than most,
Bruce Forsyth's longer than anybody's,
but there is a sort of natural shelf life,
and you reach saturation point,
and you have to accept it, that the world moves on, taste moves on.
You could never see Dick Emery as Dick Emery, hosting a game show.
He just didn't have that kind of personality,
so I think his talent was in those characters,
and that limited the opportunities for him
beyond simply The Dick Emery Show.
I think it made him even more paranoid
than he would normally have been,
because he hadn't actually done what he wanted to do,
even though he'd been so huge.
He hadn't actually done... And the things that he wanted to do
were the last shows that he did do, with real acting,
with a cliffhanger, a proper story, a real script.
He still used all his characters,
he brought in Mandy and the vicar and everybody else,
but he had lots of new characters as well,
and he played the Jewish detective.
And that was what he wanted to do,
and when that came along I think it eased the, erm...terror.
Legacy Of Murder was at last a six part serial with a continuing story.
The Good Book tells us beyond any doubt
that the wicked and ungodly shall perish from this earth
in an all-consuming pillar of fire!
There were two series of Dick's comedy thrillers,
each with a cliffhanger ending.
They were the kind of programmes he had always wanted to make.
At least he set off in the right direction.
He was trying to make his act slightly more sophisticated, in a way.
He got tired of doing those sketch shows
and was interested in doing something with a longer narrative
to it, like a lot of comedians around that same moment -
Morecambe and Wise did it particularly.
-Let's get cracking before the police arrive.
It was a way of freshening it up, I suppose,
and trying to find depth in those characters.
Except I don't really think there was any depth to find,
because those characters that Dick Emery created, they're not...
Erm, they come on and they do their thing and they go off again,
and it's not about developing a sophisticated personality,
Hetty and Mandy and all of those people,
they don't really have psychologies
in the way that some character comedians
brought that to their parts, their creations.
Dick's comedy was running out of steam.
At 67 years of age, maybe now was the time to hang up the wigs,
look back on a fabulous career, and make space for the next generation.
Most people in this business do it until they drop, you know.
My father did it until he dropped, and I would never stop.
I might take it a little easier at times.
There comes a time when you've got, say, a month off.
That's long enough for me. Otherwise I'd go mad.
Go mad, absolutely mad.
A second series was filmed but hadn't yet been shown
when Dick was recording his memories of life in 1982.
GENTLE PIANO MUSIC
He felt compelled to keep working,
even though it took a toll on his health.
# When I was 17
# It was a very good year
# It was a very good year
# For small-town girls
# On soft summer nights
# We'd hide from the lights
# On the village green
# When I was 17. #
HE CHUCKLES AND SIGHS
'He got out of breath and he went to sleep.'
Suddenly, in the middle of talking, he'd just go...
and he'd suddenly go to sleep.
And that...showed that there was something the matter.
He was quite reluctant to
investigate what could be the matter with him.
He was frightened of being ill,
and he wouldn't watch television if there was a hospital programme
on it or anything like that, he would never watch it.
He'd say, "Oh, no, I don't want to watch that."
So he was frightened.
# But now the days are short
# I'm in the autumn of the years
# And I think of my life
# As vintage wine
# From fine old kegs
# From the brim to the dregs
# And it poured sweet and clear
# It was a very good year. #
GENTLE PIANO CONTINUES
I think Dick Emery's main status in comedy
is being the first person to do something
that is now almost the hallmark of a sort of big, successful
comedy show in Britain,
which is that he would do characters,
those characters would become national institutions,
and they would have catch phrases that everyone knew,
and a look that everyone immediately knew,
and he would do them week in, week out,
and people would not tire of them. At least, not for a very long time.
Dick Emery passed away more than 30 years ago.
He was one of the last of the old school comedy stars.
Oh, hello, honky tonks, how are you? Nice to see you.
He's left us more than a catch phrase.
He's left a legacy that has inspired generations of new artists.
He inspired so many modern comedians,
and I think anybody now
doing a character in comedy,
be it me and Matt, be it Sacha Baron Cohen, be it Harry Enfield,
be it Steve Coogan with Alan Partridge,
we all owe a debt to Dick Emery.
Computer says no.
Certainly me and Paul Whitehouse
and Harry Enfield were huge fans of the show,
and when we came to do the Harry Enfield Television Programme,
Dick Emery was our template.
I suppose other character actors like Stanley Baxter,
but probably more Dick Emery of the regular characters coming on,
doing their stuff, having catch phrases,
being very recognisable.
And, yes, we sort of modernised it a little bit,
but we were never shy of saying that Dick Emery was our inspiration.
That's all, er, that's all done, Ted.
-I really, I can't thank you enough for that.
-That's all right, sir.
I'll just climb aboard, shall I?
And we can be...
on our way.
-Now, here's a charming young lady.
-Oh, thank you.
-May I ask you, are you married?
-No, but I'm going to be next week.
-Thank you very much.
He was the sweetest, sweetest man that you can imagine.
He just was lovely, he was funny and kind and generous,
I found out that my fiance's going to buy me a surprise present.
-And I'm on my way to buy him one.
-An exchange of gifts? How charming.
And will you show him yours before the wedding?
Hugely accomplished comedic artist.
Star of his own show. You can't get higher than that.
He's one of the greatest there has been.
Or will you let him have it on the honeymoon?
You are awful!
I think for 17 years to have a show on TV
that made, you know, up to nearly 20 million people laugh,
that is an incredible achievement, and is a wonderful thing.
But I like you!
For 17 years, The Dick Emery Show dominated Saturday night TV. Regularly pulling in audiences of 17 million, Dick Emery became one of the giants of British character comedy, until his untimely death in 1983, aged 67. Firmly rooted in the traditions of the concert party and vaudeville, his characters and their catchphrases were legendary.
In this programme, his influence is acknowledged by current comedians such as David Walliams, Charlie Higson and David Baddiel. With previously unseen footage and contributions from his family, contemporaries and those he worked with, The Many Faces of Dick Emery takes a closer look at his career.