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Sunday, 31 March, 2002, 15:10 GMT 16:10 UK
Took: Comedy with a twist
Barry Took presented Points of View in the 1980s
Barry Took presented Points of View in the 1980s
As with many of the best comedians, Barry Took's talent for humour was balanced by dark personal problems.

When he was eight, his mother told him that his arrival had been unplanned and had put his family under such financial pressure that his father suffered a nervous breakdown - a fact that continued to haunt him.

And in his early years, he was overshadowed by his elder brother Philip, who was a brilliant academic student and went on to work for the American space programme.

"I could not be the clever one in the family, so I decided to be the funny one," he once said.


After leaving school at the age of 15, Took worked as an office boy and a cinema projectionist before doing two years' national service in the Royal Air Force, where he played trumpet and organised revues.

His talent for comedy was first spotted in 1951, and he would tour the music halls of the UK, with his 6'2" height earning him the billing of The Lanky Londoner, London's Longest Laugh - but was often introduced as Lewisham's Lanky Lunatic.

Took teamed up with writing partner Marty Feldman
Took teamed up with writing partner Marty Feldman
He was by no means a performing genius - he boasted of doing 12 stand-up comedy shows in a row in Wolverhampton without raising a single laugh.

It was his behind-the-scenes skills that gave him his first real success, writing for BBC radio programme Beyond Our Ken from 1958, a precursor to Round the Horne.

He also wrote prolifically with Marty Feldman, another performer-turned-writer who had been on the comedy circuit.

The pair worked on radio comedies Take It From Here and We're in Business, TV show The Army Game and material for Frankie Howerd.

Round the Horne began in 1965 and became one of the most popular and influential radio comedies of the era.

Round the Horne ran in the mid-1960s
Round the Horne ran in the mid-1960s
In it, absurd characters like J Peasemould Gruntfuttock, Rambling Sid Rumpo and Dame Celia Volestrangler abounded, sending up the establishment.

It was a national institution - as Took recalled when talking about being stuck in a traffic jam one Sunday lunchtime.

"I suddenly realised that everyone was listening to Round the Horne," he said.

"Everybody had their windows open, everybody was laughing. A snarl-up had turned into a festival."

Took called it "old-fashioned radio - sketches and parody with a music break in the middle" - but it was also anarchic and provided a vital link between The Goon Show and Monty Python.

Took helped create Monty Python
Took helped create Monty Python
Michael Palin, who later became a star of Monty Python, was a fan of the show as a schoolboy in Sheffield, South Yorkshire, and said his ambition was to be like Took and Feldman.

"I pictured Barry as a small, nervous, friendly man with bulging eyes," he said.

Took and Feldman began to antagonise each other and went their separate ways.

Feldman wanted to return to the stage, but Took preferred to stay behind the scenes and became a consultant for BBC TV.

He suggested a comedy series that would unite two pairs of young writers - Palin and Terry Jones alongside John Cleese and Graham Chapman.

Their show was originally to be called Baron von Took's Flying Circus after a remark by the BBC Head of Comedy Michael Mills that meant Took became known as Baron von Took.


The show eventually became Monty Python's Flying Circus and one of the most popular comedy series ever.

He also helped put together another successful comedy team, The Goodies, before going to the United States, then becoming head of light entertainment at Thames TV.

Cancer of the bladder later struck and he faced bankruptcy, but he recovered to present Points of View on BBC One and radio quiz shows like The News Quiz.

Took suffered ill health in later life
Took suffered ill health in later life
His earlier success had not been forgotten, and the first Round The Horne cassette was at one time the BBC's most popular audio tape, selling more than 100,000 copies - and he is likely to be best remembered for that show.

His personal problems continued to haunt him - but not as much as they had.

"I don't like comedians very much because I don't like neurotic people," he said.

"I think they should go and get cured. I'm mad too but I'm as cured as I can get."

In 1999 he was diagnosed with cancer of the gullet and he was later hit by a stroke that left him with speaking and writing difficulties just four weeks after major surgery.

At the age of 70, he found himself living alone and having to learn to look after himself for the first time.

"Living alone isn't the world's worst thing that can happen to you," he said at the time.

"There are people worse off than me. I've had a very long run."

See also:

31 Mar 02 | TV and Radio
Comedian Barry Took dies
31 Mar 02 | TV and Radio
Your tributes: Barry Took
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