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Saturday, 3 February, 2001, 08:13 GMT
Rory McGrath: Tackling from behind
Rory McGrath
Rory McGrath, the bearded panellist from They Think It's All Over, has been reprimanded by the BBC for a joke about Posh and Becks. Bob Chaundy, of the BBC's News Profiles Unit, looks beneath the bushy exterior.

Is Rory McGrath a deceiver? He exudes a cuddly laid-back persona complete with an almost constant winning smile.

But, in the words of one viewer, whose letter led the BBC to rebuke the comic, McGrath can be "gross and poisonous".

McGrath's unprintable joke about the sex-life of the Beckhams is part of a seemingly endless campaign he has waged against these icons of British culture.

In the words of the BBC, he "went even beyond the broad limits which the programme has established for itself".

David and Victoria Beckham
The Beckhams are not amused
Those limits have recently extended to Jonathan Ross exhibiting his private parts - mercifully to his team mates, rather than the viewing public.

Victoria Beckham has not been amused by the jokes and recently described McGrath as "that ugly b******, and you can print that". Unfortunately, Posh, we can't.

If Manchester United fans are angered by McGrath's anti-Beckham jibes, they should not worry. As a dedicated Arsenal fan, McGrath has perhaps killed any ideas Victoria may have harboured about tempting her hubbie to Highbury.

McGrath fits perfectly into the current vogue for laddishness in the British media. "I take it as a compliment when I am accused of being a bit chauvinistic on the show," he once said.

Millions watch

The insults he delivers, particularly to his stooge, Gary Lineker, are mostly scripted, says former show regular Lee Hurst. McGrath believes they are one of the main reasons the show is still attracting nine million viewers in its tenth series.

He is probably right. Insults are the name of the game. Ask Anne Robinson.

Appearing on They Think It's All Over
They Think It's All Over the Top
The very fact that he is on a TV show at all, is the fulfilment of an ambition that Rory McGrath has held since his early years growing up in a council house in Redruth, Cornwall.

He began writing comedy scripts at 14. He was a clever boy with that enviable quality of being able to do well in exams without putting in much effort.

At Cambridge he studied modern languages and joined the Footlights drama group "just so I could get on the telly". The plan worked.

He met other members of the so-called Cambridge mafia who have gone on to achieve so much success in British comedy.

Among them were Griff Rhys-Jones and Mel Smith - founders of the Talkback production company that now produces They Think... - and Jimmy Mulville, whom he met on his first day. The pair went on to establish their own television production company, Hat Trick.

Falling out

McGrath still retains some bitterness at being sacked by his great friend in 1992, for allegedly not pulling his weight. The confrontation came days after McGrath had left his wife and two young children.

On Holiday with adversary David Gower
On Holiday with adversary David Gower
He and Mulville have not spoken since. It may be some consolation that They Think... is pulling in more viewers than Hat Trick's flagship quiz show, Have I Got News for You.

After university, McGrath and Mulville moved to London where Rhys-Jones helped them get work writing BBC radio scripts for Frankie Howerd and Windsor Davies.

Later they progressed to Not the Nine O'clock News and Alas Smith and Jones. Later still, they wrote the near-the-knuckle Channel 4 satirical show Who Dares Wins, followed by the successful sit-com Chelmsford 123, which was set in Roman Britain.

He has continued in a historical vein in the History Fix and History Quest series for BBC Knowledge. He also appears sporadically in holiday and cookery programmes.

Happy together

Rory McGrath now lives in Cambridge with his partner, Nicola.

The pair first met at university and McGrath once described the devastation he felt on leaning she had married someone else.

Rory McGrath on Ready Steady Cook
The new lad celebrity cooking
When he was doing a stint on the Channel 4 programme Right to Reply in 1995, Nicola wrote him a letter asking if he still remembered her and telling him that her own marriage had ended.

He was overjoyed, they agreed to meet and have now lived together happily for five years. Such romance in one so laddish!

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