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The Bob Monkhouse Guide to Orgies. By Gyles Brandreth

Blog | By Gyles Brandreth | May 08, 2024

No monk: Bob Monkhouse (1928-2003)

Well done, King Charles, for making us all more prostate-aware.

I have been personally prostate- conscious for many years, thanks to one of the kings of comedy, the late, great Bob Monkhouse, who died of prostate cancer, aged 75, in December 2003.

Bob was a very funny man and an almost proselytising sex enthusiast. Visiting his home, I was struck by the larger-than-life-size photographs of naked glamour models adorning the walls of his basement bathroom.

‘Anyone you know?’ he quipped.

‘Not yet,’ I said, gamely. (I was quite young at the time.)

‘Have you ever been to an orgy?’ he asked.

‘No,’ I answered truthfully.

‘Orgies are fun,’ he said, ‘but quite a challenge. The awkward part is afterwards when you’re not too sure who to thank.’

Bob ended his career as a prolific and skilful TV game-show host, having started out in the 1940s – as a lad – writing material for the Beano and the Dandy. In the early 1950s, he told me, as well as selling blue gags to the great Max Miller, he turned his hand to erotic fiction. Writer, cartoonist, gag merchant, actor, entertainer, he was hugely versatile – and sex was his great passion, from adolescence until prostate cancer felled him.

He quizzed me on the state of my libido and asked me how recently I’d had my sperm count checked. He told me he’d been worried about his and had gone to see his doctor, who invited him to go behind a screen and produce a sample. Bob demurred. So the doctor gave him a small jar and told him to go home, produce the sample and return it to the surgery the next day. ‘I went home with the jar,’ Bob told me, ‘and retreated to the basement bathroom to get on with it. Just for a change, I thought I’d use my left hand, but that was a mistake. So I tried with my right as usual. Nothing doing – so I called in my wife to help. She gave it a go, but still no joy; so she called in her mum, who was visiting.

‘My mother-in-law put a flannel round it and tried using both hands. No go. We just couldn’t get the lid off the jar.’

When Bob died, he was cremated. I used to think I wanted a proper burial in a graveyard, with a handsome headstone, but I am beginning to have doubts. Graveyards can be pretty bleak in winter and, over time, headstones can be moved or vandalised and the inscription often fades away.

I have always liked the story of the Yorkshire lady who put her husband’s ashes into a handsome boxwood hourglass (it looked like a large egg- timer), explaining, ‘He did nowt useful during his life. He can do something useful now he’s dead.’

My current idea is to bequeath a portion of my ashes to a notable artist and invite them to mix a bit of me into their paint, so that I might end up on one of their canvases, and possibly even on the wall of a great art gallery.

‘I suppose,’ A A Milne reflected, ‘that every one of us hopes secretly for immortality.’ If I haven’t created a lasting

work of art in my lifetime, it’s nice to think I could be a small part of one once I’m gone. (Artist friends of mine, please note: there will be a modest legacy attached to the request.)

Regular readers will know that I have a podcast, called Rosebud, in which I interview interesting people about their first memories.

I have had 49 stellar guests to date – the episodes featuring Judi Dench, Michael Palin, Joanna Lumley and Rob Brydon have been the most downloaded. And for the 50th episode, I am hoping to have a conversation with someone, famous or not, who could fairly be described as the most intelligent person in the country.

A couple of months ago I asked Oldie-readers for their suggestions and, ahead of historian Mary Beard and artist and author Edmund de Waal, the name most often proposed has been that of Martin Rees, Lord Rees of Ludlow, OM, FRS, FRAS, born 1942, cosmologist, astrophysicist and Astronomer Royal. I am going to drop him a line to see whether he’s up for it.

Amusingly, in all seriousness, two readers proposed themselves as the most intelligent person in the land. When I asked the legendary interviewer Michael Parkinson who was his most intelligent ever interviewee, he said at once, ‘Dr Bronowski.’ The joy with Jacob Bronowski (1908-74), Polish-born mathematician, philosopher and TV presenter, was that he was not simply brilliant, but also amusing. And shrewd.

‘The world is full of people,’ he noted, ‘who never quite get into the first team and who just miss the prizes at the flower show.’

We know the feeling, don’t we?