Saturday, 12 April 2008


Confucius really did say that nothing gives one greater pleasure than watching a friend fall out of an apple tree.

That is the only explanation for a series of unpleasant plays on the private hells of some of our finest comedy actors which have been getting universal praise from TV critics. I had much rather remember the pleasure they gave me than gloat over the mess they all seemed to make of their private lives.

The most recent was an exposure of Hughie Green. To know that odious man was to loathe him but I was furious at the portrayal of his sometime friend Jess Yates as a drunken bum of little talent.
The ITV show Yates devised, wrote, produced and presented, “Stars on Sunday”, was watched in its two-year run by 3,500 million viewers. It inspired a series of imitations, Harry Secombe’s “Highway” and “Songs of Praise”. Yet it is still the only “Godspot” which had more viewers than “Top of the Pops” and produced fan mail of 2,000 letters a week.

The Pope agreed to appear on the programme and gave it his blessing.

ITV boasted:
“Stars On Sunday has succeeded in fulfilling its aims. And more! Today, it attracts a regular viewing audience of 15,000,000, which on occasions has reached 17,000,000, and it never falls far short of the 10,000,000 mark, even in the summer months. In January 1972, when it completed its centenary programme, it celebrated the event by becoming the first ever religious programme to enter the television viewing charts. And during its first year in 1969, over 250,000 requests were received. That figure has well and truly exceeded the 500,000 mark today.
“But probably the strongest testimonial for Stars On Sunday is the list of stars and distinguished people who have appeared on the programme. It includes the Archbishops of York and Canterbury, the Earl Mountbatten of Burma, Sir John Gielgud, Sir Ralph Richardson, Dame Anna Neagle, Raymond Burr, James Mason, Raymond Massey, Gerald Harper and Bill Simpson -- who have all been featured regularly reading extracts from the Bible. Miss Gracie Fields, Miss Violet Carson, Anita Harris, Moira Anderson, Eartha Kitt, Shirley Bassey, Nina, the Beverley Sisters, Sandie Shaw, Harry Secombe, Cliff Richard, Lovelace Watkins, Norman Wisdom, Roy Orbison, Bobby Bennett, Howard Keel and the Poole Family, are just a few of the star names who have graced the programme and added their own interpretations to many well-loved songs.
“Yorkshire Television's Stars On Sunday has now carved a unique place for itself in television history“.
And none of the stars was paid more than £40 for a day’s work from the shows£1,000 budget.

The elaborate sets - a palace, a ruined abbey and a country house library - were all borrowed. Yates’s secret was that he had noted the way tape inserts were used in news bulletins. For “Stars” he taped eight songs or religious readings by every star that appeared, using songs from their repertoire which did not need rehearsal, and then scattered the tapes through a season of programmes.

Despite its success, the Religious Panel of the Independent Television Authority hated the show and tried to censor it. They even tried to have it taken off air. They became so desperate that in the end they used a savage newspaper campaign based on half truths to wreck the show and destroy Yates.

The campaign was inspired by Hughie Green, who cuckolded Yates and in a final spiteful jibe from the grave boasted that he was the father of Yates’s daughter, Paula.

Thirty years ago I was brought in to help Yates beat the mental block which was preventing him from writing his autobiography. The book I wrote for him was never published but during the summer of 1976 I had long interviews with him and access to the blistering correspondence with the ITA.

I have been growing increasingly angry at the way Hughie Green, his son and now Yates’s ex-wife have told their story blackening Yates character. The play was the last straw. So, at 79, I have decided to write yet another book. This one will tell his story and I hope vindicate a man who was one of the most creative programme makers in TV’s history; the “father” of “Come Dancing” and “Miss World”.

He was a brilliant organist who played in West End cinemas; a producer who in addition to “Stars on Sunday” devised “Come Dancing”, “Junior Showtime” and “Choirs on Sunday” and turned Miss World from a mediocre publicity stunt in the Sunday Dispatch into a glittering international TV success; a pageant organiser who created the shows which launched premieres of Hollywood films in the Fifties.


My attitude to people who buy bottles of water for purposes other than calming whisky can be judged by spelling Evian backwards.

By the same token I never had any difficulty in becoming a teetotaller. I did it most weeks; twice if conditions were especially favourable.

So I am getting tired of reading those articles by recovering alcoholics which fill the Sunday papers. A recovering alcoholic is someone who is getting over a hangover. Besides, I have spilt more drink down my shirt than most of these pious people have swallowed. The chap for me was one who took antibuse tablets to see how many he could swallow before drink made him sick.

I remember an interview I had with a Dr Madden of the Deva Clinic in Chester. He was one of Britain’s great authorities on the sauce and its abuse.

“What do you drink?” he said.

“What have you got?” I asked.

“How much do you drink?” he demanded.

“How much have you got?” I countered, cunningly.

“Do you find you reach for a drink in moments of stress?”

“No,” I replied firmly.

“A good sign,“ he remarked.

“Not really. I have usually already got one in my hand,” I said.

“I have just described to you the classic pattern of the alcoholic.“ he told me.

“You have just described everyone I know,” I said.

The best head waiter in history was my friend Jimmy Godwin who left the Blossoms Hotel in Chester in high dudgeon when he was asked to slice a Stilton cheese. As everyone but a barbarian knows, Stilton should be scooped.

Jimmy had a heart attack and when the doctor asked him what he drank he said gin and tonic.
“That’s what’s doing it,” said the doctor, so Jimmy gave it up. He changed to whisky and tonic and had another heart attack. “I know what’s doing it,” he told the doctor. “It’s the tonic.”

We drunks all know that booze is the cause not the effect. You can choose not to if you don’t want to drink, whatever proselytising alcoholics tell you. I was only an alcoholic between 6 pm and 8 pm.

On the other hand, drink helped me emerge blinking from a two-year depression that turned the world into grey mist. It had nothing to do with the fact that the BBC dropped me and I had to sell my dogs, my library and put my collection of paintings on the market. Or that my bloodhound Amy died of a stress related disease. In my life I have been in prison, unhappily married and been sacked more times than a potato harvest. Never bothered me.

Depression is chemical, like the desire for booze which corrects a chemical deficiency. So why is it I have suddenly lost the taste for the stuff and wouldn’t thank you for a bucket of g and t?

If I continue to feel well in the morning I will have to consult my doctor.


Christian Victor Charles Herbert was born in 1904, the youngest son of Col. E.W. Herbert of Orleton Hall, Shropshire, and a great-grandson of the 2nd Earl of Powys, who remodelled Powys Castle before being fatally mistaken for a pheasant by one of his sons out shooting.


One motorist has offered what must be a unique reason why he should keep his licence.
Mohammed Anwar said a ban would make it difficult to commute between his two wives and fulfil his matrimonial duties.

His lawyer told a Scottish court the Muslim restaurant owner has one wife in Motherwell and another in Glasgow - he is allowed up to four under his religion - and sleeps with them on alternate nights.
Airdrie Sheriff Court had heard that Anwar was caught driving at 64mph in a 30mph zone in Glasgow, fast enough to qualify for instant disqualification. Anwar admitted the offence, but Sheriff John C. Morris accepted his plea not to be banned and allowed him to keep his licence.
Instead, he was fined £200 and given six penalty points.


And for two more good reads try