St Albans director has a golden shot at resurrecting the legendary Bob Monkhouse

Simon Cartwright in The Man Called Monkhouse

Simon Cartwright in The Man Called Monkhouse - Credit: Archant

Meet the man behind the wink and the tan in new biographical comedy-drama...

Simon Cartwright in The Man Called Monkhouse

Simon Cartwright in The Man Called Monkhouse - Credit: Archant

Over the last few weeks, in rehearsal studios at two different St Albans theatres, one of the most divisive comedians of his age has been brought back from the dead.

Not content with resurrecting funnyman Eric Morecambe for an award-winning production, local actor-director Bob Golding has now turned his attentions towards television legend Bob Monkhouse for a new biographical comedy-drama.

His production of The Man Called Monkhouse, with Simon Cartwright in the title role of the one-man show, will be heading to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival next month, but local audiences have a chance to see a sneak preview at the Alban Arena on Sunday.

The slick, snappy and tanned host of such television cream as The Golden Shot, Celebrity Squares and Family Fortunes died from prostate cancer in 2003, but during his lifetime was the sort of personality audiences either loved or loathed.

Simon Cartwright in The Man Called Monkhouse

Simon Cartwright in The Man Called Monkhouse - Credit: Archant

“He was ‘Smarmite’ - he was either a comfortable piece of the furniture or he irritated you,” jokes stand-up comedian Simon, who knew the game show master for 18 years after meeting at auditions for talent show Bob Says Opportunity Knocks.

“I think he would be deeply flattered by this production and would have offered help to get it right.”

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Simon, who worked alongside impressionist Alastair McGowan in the late 1980s, says knowing the real Bob Monkhouse has brought a third and fourth dimension to his performance, his first role as a serious actor.

“It’s acting, not impersonation. There are some incredibly funny moments balanced with poignancy, as we try to unpick the mask he created and see what sat behind it. But it’s not a tears of a clown story, it’s a balanced reflection and an attempt to get under his skin.

“There was a cacophony of techniques he studied, and he used to act out jokes as if it was the first time he was telling a true story.”

Before stepping onto the stage as Monkhouse, Simon will be transformed by the use of brown contact lenses over his blue eyes, false eyebrows and moles, a wig and an inch of tan make-up, plus the addition of a suit made by Bob’s own tailor, and some padding around the waist.

“As soon as the costume is on I have to be in character,” he reveals.

Monkhouse begins in July 1995, shortly after the successful ITV show An Audience with Bob Monkhouse, as the 65-year-old comedian discovered the theft of two of his 16 handwritten joke books, a crime which made national news coverage.

Written by Alex Lowe, aka Barry from Watford, it also picks up on the anniversary of the death of Bob’s former writing partner Denis Goodwin, and as he prepares an eulogy for his late friend, Monkhouse tells his own story in the process.

“He had a lot of frustration, hurt and pain that people thought he was smarmy and insincere,” explains Simon. “’Why did I create this monster?’ he would ask.”

Simon came to work with the other Bob, Mr Golding, after seeing a mini-tour of the Morecambe bio-play five times: “For me there is nobody who understands a one-man play more than Bob, he’s a genius. He told me to forget all about being Bob Monkhouse, doing his voice and mannerisms, and to concentrate on the words of the play, to find truth in them and understand them, and then bring in the devices of the character. It was a very steep learning curve!”

Generosity from local venues the Trestle and Abbey Theatre provided free rehearsal space in the run-up to Edinburgh, and a follow-up performance is planned to take place in St Albans early next year.

“It’s important for local people to get behind things that are going on in their area,” he says – one of the reasons why The Man Called Monkhouse is debuting at the Alban Arena.

After the festival the play will be heading on a brief 10-date national tour in October, by which time the team will know what reaction it has received and whether to embark on a major tour in the spring.

“The script was finished on May 29th but it changes daily,” Simon reveals. “It’s a living, breathing document!”

The other Bob is also looking forward to the new production: “When Simon approached me I was very excited about getting involved with another one man biographical play. Morecambe was such a wonderful experience on every level for me so with someone as well respected as Bob Monkhouse as the focus figure I thought I could bring some first hand experience to the project and to Simon too. We also have the lovely Gary Morecambe as our exec producer so I’d say we were in good hands.

“I’m not sure Bob M had the same broad appeal as Eric but I think that makes the content all the more interesting. How did he achieve such a well respected status in showbusiness if it wasn’t through natural charm and charisma ? How did he cope with fame, with his own personal struggles and tragedies and ultimately how did he attain the title of comic genius ? All good fodder for a great night at the theatre I’d say.”

The Man Called Monkhouse is at the Alban Arena on Sunday August 2 at 8pm. Call the box office for tickets on 01727 844488.