Celebrities choose the TV moments that have shaped their lives. Comedian Rory McGrath looks back at the archive TV that helped make him one of Britain's funniest men.
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Telly - that magic box in the corner.
It gives us access to a million different worlds,
all from the comfort of our sofa.
In this series, I'm going to journey through the fantastic
world of TV with some of our favourite celebrities.
They've chosen the precious TV moments that shed light...
I love this!
..on the stories of their lives.
Ooh, come! Listen, this looks smashing, Johnny!
-# Right on time... #
Some are funny.
Oh, I loved him!
# ..became of the people... #
Some are surprising.
I'll let you into a secret I've never told anyone before.
Some are inspiring.
I've always wanted to be a Miss something.
The best TV transports you.
Did George Orwell get his predictions right?
It's all so dramatic!
..are deeply moving.
-'The death of John F Kennedy...'
This takes me back.
-Makes me want to cry.
-Oh, you've never cried.
So come watch with us as we
hand-pick the vintage telly that helped
turn our much-loved stars into the people they are today.
Welcome to The TV That Made Me.
My guest today started out his illustrious
career at Cambridge University comedy hothouse Footlights.
His first gig was writing gags for his hero, Frankie Howerd,
but he soon ended up on the other side of the camera.
Yes, comedian Rory McGrath is on my couch and the TV that made him
includes an ageless man in a box...
Well? What do you think?
..a healthy dose of, "Ooh, ah, missus..."
I wish I'd put my waterproof knickers on.
..and then, of course, there's this guy.
Yes, a love of all things offbeat has inspired Rory McGrath to
make us all laugh, both in front of and behind the camera.
-The one and only Rory McGrath is here!
-Great to meet you, Brian.
-Great to meet you, too.
Been a fan of yours for many years.
So today is a celebration, a collection of shows,
TV shows, that have made you what you are.
-Do you feel old?
When I was trying to recall what I watch, it does make me feel very old.
In 1956, Patrick Rory McGrath entered the world - or,
to be more precise, Cornwall.
18 years later, while studying modern languages at Cambridge,
he joined the Footlights Drama Club which was
the beginning of his sparkling career in comedy.
So your earliest TV memory, now?
It's got to be - and this is going to sound predictable -
Watch With Mother.
And what's surprising about thinking about Watch With Mother is very early
on, you get a sense of what you like and what you don't like, you know.
As children, you expect...
It's a different programme every day, five days a week, but you think,
"Oh, Tuesday, it's Andy Pandy. Don't like that very much."
Why did you not like Andy Pandy?
They didn't do much.
I don't know whether I'm being revisionist in looking
back at a man and a girl and a teddy bear living in a basket for all
but 20 minutes a week when they come out to entertain us, you know.
Nothing much happened. It was a bit...
Namby-pamby is almost the right word for Andy Pandy.
Shall we have a little look and take you back to round about 1957?
-Here we go.
-Look at this!
Watch With Mother was with us for 20 years and was so called
because of fears that television might become a nursemaid to
children and encourage bad mothering.
# Andy Pandy's coming to play... #
Amongst this daily line-up were the likes of Bill and Ben,
the Woodentops and Rory's old favourite.
Andy Pandy's somewhere in the garden today.
Let's go and find him, shall we?
POSH ACCENT: I'd forgotten they all talk very posh
-in children's television, don't they?
While the puppetry and storytelling is crude by today's standards,
Andy Pandy was an instant hit amongst the 300,000 households
that actually had a television set when it first screened.
That's right, Andy Pandy. Wheel it along.
-Are we excited by the animation?
-I quite like it.
-What does Ted do?
He's just getting in the way or being run over!
Ted is being run over! Ted hasn't thought this through.
While Andy Pandy and Ted handled the action sequences,
it's fair to say Looby Lou did little for women's lib.
It IS a nice pram.
And is that Looby Lou in...or is that a corpse?
That's rather worrying, that, isn't it?
Careful, Andy! Don't tip her out.
It's quite clever cos it's all done by strings, isn't it?
Oh, yeah, yeah. Well done there. Spot on(!)
Poor Looby Lou. I wonder if she likes it.
Did you watch this with your mother?
No, I don't think she was ever there, funnily enough.
I think she just put us in front...
Early form of electronic baby-sitting.
Was it electronic, our television? Possibly.
It took about 20 minutes to warm up and 20 minutes to close down.
-Do you remember the dot? You turned the telly off...
..and the whole picture would compress into the dot and we just
said, "I can't go to bed yet! I want to see the dot disappear!"
And then, at 12 o'clock, you used to get the...
-That humming noise.
-We never had that.
-We had a little humming noise.
-That was the neighbours.
So what did your dad...what was his occupation?
I'm not allowed to tell you that, unfortunately.
-Actually, he worked for the Ministry of Defence.
-He was in fact a research scientist.
In fact, it's only recently that I've been allowed to tell you that.
-Isn't that interesting?
-We used to have to pretend he was a dustman!
This was genuine. He was a scientist, yeah.
And you wasn't allowed to sort of disclose that as a young child?
He would never talk about, you know...
I said, "What did you do today, Daddy?" "I'm not allowed to tell you!
"If I tell you, I'll have to kill you."
It was one of those sort of things.
One of four children,
Rory grew up on a council estate in the small town of Redruth, Cornwall,
in what he describes as a series of grotty houses.
-So you had a telly.
-We had a telly.
We were the first people to have a telly.
We lived on this very remote council...
-The first people ever?
-This is it.
Council estate on the outskirts of a rather remote town in Cornwall.
We're talking...not quite the middle of nowhere.
Well, the outskirts of nowhere, maybe.
And we were the first people to have a telly in the estate
-and people used to come round to look at it.
-Oh, right. Not watch it?
-Just to look at it?
-Just to look at it and say, "Is that it?"
"Yeah, yeah. It's great, you know."
"And does it do anything?" "We don't know yet!"
Telly first arrived in McGrath's household in 1960,
when Rory was four.
In those days,
the most popular children's shows included
the enduring Blue Peter,
and the children's variety show Crackerjack.
Rory, we're moving on to must-see TV now.
Something you would never miss... even to this day?
I think the first must-see I can remember was Doctor Who,
because I'm old enough to remember when Doctor Who first started.
I remember the first episode of Doctor Who.
The first adventure he went on, I seem to recall,
-he went back to Stone Age times before fire.
I think it was one of the nice, little plot quirks -
it was the Doctor who gave them fire.
Oh, the cavemen?
-Yeah, he gave the cavemen fire.
-How did he give them fire?
-A cigarette lighter.
You don't give the cavemen... How come we've never seen that?
Why is it never mentioned in any history programme
about prehistoric times?
"Then fire was brought by a strange, crabby, old, white-haired bloke
"in a police box."
And the wheel as well.
"I've given you fire. Don't go away, I've got a wheel in here."
"Oh, God, look at that! It's a wheel!"
"Don't go away. Telephone."
Shall we hide behind the sofa and watch a little bit of the Doctor?
-I am not looking forward to this one.
Rory and I are hiding behind the sofa to watch a little bit...
This is where we watched the first episode of the Daleks from.
And you would have been, what, about six or seven?
That sort of age, yeah, I suppose.
Let's have a look.
Having celebrated its 50th birthday
and broadcast more than 800 episodes,
Doctor Who is officially the longest-running sci-fi show
Oh, my favourite Doctor - Patrick Troughton.
'Though the idea of children hiding behind the sofa to watch it
'was created by the media in the 1970s.'
I didn't actually start behind the sofa.
My little brother, Michael, he started -
"Doctor Who's on, I'm going to go like this."
Whereas I was a bit more of a man. I said, "Come on, get over it."
Well, what do you think?
Black and white makes all the difference.
-That's much scarier, isn't it?
-Where are we?
-Well, it's the Tardis. It's my home.
At least it has been for a considerable number of years.
What are all these knobs?
It's not that scary. Shall we go and sit down?
No. I thought we might see the Daleks.
Oh! The Cybermen?
Cybermen didn't do it for me.
It's the Daleks.
A Cyberman looks like it could be a bloke in a silver suit, doesn't it?
Yeah, yeah, yeah.
You could do the London Marathon as a Cyberman, couldn't you?
Part human, part machine,
the Cybermen first appeared in the same year
Patrick Troughton took on the role, in 1966.
Back then, the costumes were a tad more basic.
Look at that, they're not hanging well round the bottom, those suits.
They look like a load of frogmen with vacuum cleaners on their heads.
What is it?
He's their leader, their controller, Jamie.
While the Cybermen are now household names,
here's my personal guide to five Doctor Who baddies
you may not be so familiar with.
At five, it's Jagaroth who, despite having great dress sense,
look a lot like an onion bhaji.
Number four is the Axons, because while they may look fabulous,
they will suck the life out of any planet they invade...literally.
In at number three, who else but Morbius?
Proving that assembling a flat-pack Doctor Who baddie in the dark
is probably not a great idea.
At two it's Abzorbaloff.
Played by Peter Kay, an alien who absorbs his victims,
but was terribly troubled with loose skin.
In the number one spot, it's Kandy Man -
a monster that helped make a generation of children
terrified of Liquorice Allsorts.
-You are a fan.
-I'm a huge fan.
I should be Doctor Who.
I've been telling my agent, "Look, Doctor Who, look at me."
My first job, which is ironic in a way
because I was a huge fan of his,
was writing comedy links for the Frankie Howerd Variety Show,
which involved writing Frankie's opening monologue.
Frankie Howerd's showbiz career spanned six decades
and has been famously described by fellow comedian
Barry Cryer as "a series of comebacks."
After performing to great acclaim on stage, screen and radio
in the '50s, he went slightly out of fashion in the early '60s.
But his career took off again with the Carry On films,
a comedy recording of Je T'aime with June Whitfield,
and a rather saucy Up Pompeii,
which was also made into a successful film.
For someone who'd just come down from Cambridge about 18 months earlier
having spent 18 months being a builder's labourer in Cambridge.
-it was such a baptism of fire.
-It was terrifying.
I was so scared on the first day. He didn't make it any easier for me.
Very big, pompous, very nervous about new people, you know.
-Very nervous and suspicious of Cambridge people.
-You thought that or you were very worried?
No, he wouldn't talk to me. He said to the producer,
"Who's that? Who's he?"
That is the worst Frankie Howerd impression.
-That's what he spoke like backstage.
Yeah, that's what he spoke like.
HE IMITATES FRANKIE
He doesn't do that in real life.
He doesn't do anything in real life now.
So he went, "Who's he?"
"He's the new writer." "He's too young."
He turned to me and he said, "You're not Oxbridge, are you?"
I said, "Well, I'm Cambridge."
"Well, Cambridge or Oxbridge, they're the same, aren't they?"
Well, Frankie, you know...
So how did you prove yourself?
We got on really well and he turned out to be extremely generous and fun.
Once he got over the initial paranoia about having new people around,
once he trusted you, you were his best friend.
He'd do anything for you.
He'd take us out for dinner, lavish stuff on us.
He was a very generous man. Very funny, very funny.
-But he's funnier... It's strange.
He's funnier privately, because he wasn't inhibited
by what you could and could not say on television or radio.
He was hilarious. Very, very funny.
So I'm going to show you a little clip now
of one of your great comedy heroes.
Here he is - Frankie Howerd.
-What is it?
You see, a girl in a short skirt,
that what you want from your period comedy, isn't it?
'While Up Pompeii wasn't big on plot or historical accuracy,
there was plenty of double entendres,
mostly delivered by the man himself,
who played a slave by the name of Lurcio.
Great gag to kick off with, eh? Is he having a wee or is he filling...?
What are you laughing for?
Have you never seen a man getting water before?
He's good. That face. He's that sort of, "What?" That sort of innocence.
I like the way he's always teetering on corpsing himself, isn't he?
Oh, dear, I wish I'd put my waterproof knickers on now!
-Did he struggle with his lines?
-He was terrible at learning lines.
It was radio we wrote for him, he was struggling...
He wasn't a great reader, to be honest.
Now...Samson, known to all the wrestling fans as Sam the Ram, he...
Please, please, you're tittering now.
-That was all his own hair as well, you know?
I think it looks like a burst sofa on his head.
We used to call it Wiggy the Squirrel.
It looked like a dead squirrel on his head.
-Bless him. If I walked up, I would have gone, "It's a puppet."
-I have been in communication with the stars.
-I have had intercourse with Venus.
-I beg your pardon!
Say it again.
I have had intercourse with Venus.
Oh, the things! I wouldn't dare say that.
I wouldn't get away with things like that.
Was it a great honour at the time? Did you see it as an honour?
I mean, my first paid job out of university,
other than building site stuff,
was writing for a BBC, well, a television icon, in a way.
Cos he was. I think that's why I was so frightened at first, meeting him.
It was just...
This is too much to be writing for him as my first job,
but, you know, it worked out really well.
We had a great few series together.
In the late '70s and '80s, Frankie followed his previous success
with programmes including the Frankie Howerd Show, and Superfrank.
He never stopped working.
In fact, just two hours before his death,
the comic legend was talking to his producer
about ideas for his next show.
Strangely enough, there was actually a next show -
a sitcom entitled Then Churchill Said To Me,
which finally went to air in 1993, a year after Frankie's death.
Frankie Howerd was easy to write for, because you have a sort of template
of very bad impressions of him that people do.
"Oh, titter ye not, missus", and all this.
You knew the structure of how he would do a monologue.
He'd come on, he wouldn't talk about the thing, go, "Oh, no...
"No, anyway, where was I?"
There's a lot of verbal garbage you have to plough through.
You had to write it all in for him, cos he wouldn't improvise it.
Do you think it was easier to write for someone else than yourself?
No, it's much easier to write for myself. I know...
You know, it's in my head already.
The thing about Frankie Howerd was he was so definite a personality,
he was easy to write for.
Most of my writing has been done for Griff Rhys Jones
and Mel Smith in their Smith And Jones series.
Mel was a joy to write for, because he knew exactly...
Uncannily, he's never...
You'd give him a script and he'd sight-read it first time perfectly.
You'd never give him a note.
He'd never get anything wrong - the comedy, the timing, you know,
the weight to give words.
-Where Griff Rhys Jones...
-I can't talk about Griff, I'm afraid.
One of my best friends. Let's say, different from Mel.
Rory, your next choice is something we can't actually define,
That's what we call this segment - Just Because.
I know what this is.
It's Mule Train, isn't it?
Yeah, look at the old legs.
# Mule train... #
I loved him.
That's fantastic. I remember this the first time...
Honestly, first time.
Appearing here on the Generation Game, Bob Blackman,
more affectionately known as Bob the Train, was -
surprise, surprise - a novelty act who hit the big time in the 1970s.
You could say he was something of a one-hit wonder.
Look, here he goes, here he goes.
# Mule train
# Clippety-cloppin' through the wind and the rain... #
That's why people want to be in showbiz, isn't it?
I know. Forget Britain's Got Talent,
this was the old days when people were talented.
You could sing a song and bang yourself on the head with a tin tray.
He certainly must have had a stinking headache. Can you imagine?
Look at the state of the tray.
# Mule train
# Clippety-cloppin' through the wind and the rain... #
The question we have to ask, Brian, is would it be allowed
-nowadays in the health and safety climate of today?
-Of course not.
People would imitate it and it's very wrong.
Nowadays he'd have to wear a crash helmet to do that, wouldn't he?
-It's not the same.
-I tell you what - fantastic to see that again.
I remember the very first time that came on television.
Seeing it back again now,
he's actually doing it tongue-in-cheek, isn't he?
When I first saw it, it looked like he was being totally earnest,
but the more you watch, he's having a laugh, he's actually playing with it.
-That's quite nice.
-But, I mean...
Is tongue-in-cheek the right expression for someone who's
banging himself on the head with a tray?
We're going on to family favourites now,
cos your family were a family of...
Well, not was, still. A family of quizzers.
We like quizzes in our family, yes.
Must-sees for the family together were
Top Of The Form, Ask The Family, in fact.
That was a programme which had three or four members of a family,
parents, children. That was quite a nice one,
because then the questions would have been at varying levels of difficulty.
But they had the very innovative -
what is this household object seen from a strange angle?
-I mean, now we take that for granted.
-Then, that was...
In those days it was quite...
It was usually a can opener.
Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Here we go. Let's have a look and see if it's a can opener.
Oh, blimey, what's this?
Hello. This is the first of our two semifinal competitions.
Very first comb-over.
Kicking off in 1967, Ask The Family ran for 17 years
and was revived twice after that.
The rules were simple - two families competing in general knowledge
to win fabulous prizes, and your host - the dynamic Robert Robinson.
Right, an anagram. The clue...
Well, wait till you get the anagram, I'll give you the clue.
Here comes the anagram. Slick Rime. The clue might be
"Well, indeed. And possibly from Ireland."
-Slick Rime anagram. What is that, Rory?
-Oh, my God, what's that?
Ho-ho, you see the connection. Limericks.
-Limericks. Well done.
What five-letter word applies to a dog,
a sportsman and a Chinese revolution?
Yes, boxer dog, boxer the sport. Well, allegedly a sport.
And the Boxer Rebellion.
The Boxers being, I believe, a nationalist sect.
-I'm enjoying this.
-Are you quite competitive?
I used to watch University Challenge, and my son who was at university,
we text each other all the way through University Challenge.
He's a doctor now. We text, "Did you get that question about so and so?"
We make rude comments about the contestants.
In Ask The Family, they used to do a little moment
when they used to do a close-up of something.
That's right, yeah.
-Which, as you've already pointed out, was invariably...
-We're going to play that game.
But we've got game show hosts.
We've taken game show quizmaster hosts,
we've taken quizmaster hosts and we're doing close-ups.
If you can name the quizmaster, one point.
Extra point if you can name the programme that they actually...
Wow, this has got suddenly very serious.
We're going to play each other. I haven't seen it.
-You haven't seen this?
-I haven't seen these either.
So here is the Conleys V McGraths.
That's Robert Robinson, Ask The Family.
-I think we've just seen that.
Let's see. No, it's him. "Oh, quite amazing. Unbelievable."
-Yeah, it's got to be. Yeah, David Coleman.
Oh, I thought it was Rob Robinson with his famous comb-over.
-He did Question Of Sport.
-Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Here's another one.
That's Magnus Magnusson.
The quiz is Mastermind.
Icelandic arms, he's got.
Quiz is Mastermind, so I get a point, you get a point.
Draw. What was the quiz?
Bob's Full House.
Bob's Full House, that's the one.
Point for that.
Is that Hughie Green?
It looks like Tommy Cooper.
-I have no...
-I don't know. That's not...
It's a man. It's Paul Daniels.
Name of the show, Every Second Counts.
We didn't get that.
Ooh, who's that?
Is that Robert Robinson?
I'm going to... Yeah...
-That might be Robert Robinson from a different angle.
-I can't think... Yes, I think you're right.
There he is. Of course Ask The Family.
-Which makes Rory McGrath today's winner.
Oh, I think you were very generous, there. Very generous.
Thank you very much indeed. Well done indeed.
-Do I get a crystal vase or something?
-No, you get nothing.
Pineapple ice bucket. Thank you very much.
I'd like to thank everybody involved in the show.
It's not just for me, this.
All the people who worked on it and, of course, the good Lord above.
-Will that do?
-Give us it back.
Rory, you've been a writer, comedian, entrepreneur.
Yes. But this is the programme that we all know and love you for.
Here it is.
Have a little look at this.
'Oh, blimey. I recognise this.'
Hello, and welcome to They Think It's All Over,
the sports quiz that bites your legs.
Using the very catchphrase that summed up Britain's
entry into World Cup history, They Think It's All Over
ran for 20 series on the Beeb with comedian Nick Hancock as the host.
-Nick! Look at him - so young.
-I know, I know.
Wait until you see yourself, Rory.
And with Gary, a comedian so hairy that he doesn't shower,
he hoovers - Rory McGrath.
-That's Gary Lineker there.
-World international crisp salesman.
-So this, of course, was Feel The Sportsman.
-Yes, great fun.
Oh, my God.
I just hope it's Sharron Davies.
It was so worrying because you never knew what it was going to be.
The audience start laughing, and that makes you really worried.
You think, "Oh, my God. What are they laughing at now?"
Can we have our next mystery personality, please?
LAUGHTER AND APPLAUSE
'He's actually hairier than you.'
He's been eating too many sweets - three-piece suites.
OK, your 90 seconds starts now.
Does this bring back happy memories?
It does. It was a fantastically good fun show to do.
It's not Sharron Davies.
'Of course, to get... David Gower'
and Gary Lineker are just magic to work with, considering what huge
icons of sport and sportsmanship and squeaky clean, they were great fun.
Great fun. They were both willing to have a laugh.
-Is it that, em...? It sounds a bit corny, but Giant Haystacks?
-So you were originally on it, right from the off.
-Yeah, I was.
I was in the original radio pilot, the second radio pilot,
the first radio series, the second radio series,
and then they took it to television.
Did you audition a lot of presenters before you came up with Nick?
-Why did you not...?
Well, I would have loved to have done it, I would have really loved to.
One of my ambitions is to be a quiz... That's what I want to be.
-All I want to do...
-I thought it was Doctor Who!
-Well, if that doesn't come up.
-You just want to do everything.
You'd love to be a host of a good quiz.
Yeah, if the Doctor Who thing doesn't happen,
I'd like to take over
from Jeremy Paxman on University Challenge.
So what do you watch now, Rory?
What are you keen on? Obviously your sport, your quizzes.
Yeah, but I have a guilty secret...
-..when it comes to watching,
which I don't think I've ever actually aired publicly.
One of my favourite programmes,
though admittedly I did think it was a comedy programme, Midsomer Murders.
-I just think it's hilarious. It's just compellingly daft.
Well, it just makes me laugh.
Is it the plots that make you laugh
or is it the fact that they're in this village and everyone's dying?
One of the 5,000 different villages in the county of Midsomer, you know.
Badger's Drift or Midsomer Norton or whatever.
There are at least five gruesome murders, you know,
people being stuck in a combine harvester, people being crossbowed
during a flower show, and yet there's never any national press there.
How do they keep the lid?
-How does the Lord Mayor of Midsomer keep the lid on it?
-That is good.
Oh, bless you.
There should be a new city of journalists built
up around the county of Midsomer.
I just think, "Another week!"
Someone's drowned in a vat of cider again.
-Oh, listen, I hope you've enjoyed it.
-It's been fun, Brian.
-Oh, bless you, mate.
-Thanks for having me.
We let our guests choose a theme tune to go out on.
Oh, well, there are so many. Obvious ones - Coronation Street,
Mission: Impossible, The Avengers -
but one I remember of all those shows,
the tune that stays with me as being frightening and
this is the beginning of great science fiction telly, is Doctor Who.
All right, then, we're going out with that. My thanks to Rory
and my thanks to you for watching The TV That Made Me. Bye-bye.
DOCTOR WHO THEME PLAYS
Comedian and script-writer Rory McGrath joins entertainer Brian Conley to look back at the classic archive TV that helped shape him into one of Britain's funniest men.
What was life like in the McGrath household as he grew up in rural Cornwall, and what inspirational television programmes helped set him on his future career path? Will Rory's on-the-spot audition for the role of Doctor Who be a success? And who will win in Brian's version of Ask the Family as the Conley takes on the McGrath? Brian will find out all these things and more as he and Rory settle down on the sofa to take a nostalgic look back at Rory's childhood telly choices.
Comedy has always played an important part in his life, with early inspiration coming from the legendary Frankie Howerd, but how did he end up writing for his comedy hero in his very first job? And how did the unique talents of Bob Blackman, the antics of Andy Pandy and the wanderings of the Doctor all help him on his own journey onto the small screen?