Monday, 16 March 2020

Umpa! Umpa! That's enough of that...

We bade a fond farewell to Nicholas Parsons in January this year, and the late, dearly missed "Humph" (Humphrey Lyttelton) only yesterday came up in conversation as a result of my post about Clare Teal, and now another stalwart of radio, television and the stage, another "national treasure" has departed for Fabulon - the marvellous Roy Hudd.

As his obituary in The Guardian succinctly put it:
What was he – a comedian, an author, a radio satirist, a serious actor, a soap star, an archivist, or a leading authority on British music-hall and variety entertainment?

Hudd was all of these, but saw himself primarily as a man born too late to fulfil his dream of life as an old-style variety comic, which is how he started out in the late 1950s at the bottom of bills topped by artists such as the comic Max Miller and the male impersonator Hetty King.

In 1958 Hudd’s agent, Morris Aza, suggested he audition for Launcelot Gobbo in The Merchant of Venice. As Hudd later explained: “Morris said, ‘In about three or four years variety will be finished. You’ve got to learn scripts and do other things.’ It was great advice. I’ve kept on the move ever since.”

And in the past two decades this diversity consolidated into a well-earned niche for him in the pantheon of British national treasures. With his round, laughter-lined clown’s face and warm, gap-toothed grin (but with a hint of sadness and loneliness around the eyes), he could always be relied upon to raise a smile, inspire a sing-song or amaze audiences with his knowledge of the good old days.

He wrote or co-authored around 20 books; some, such as Roy Hudd’s Cavalcade of Variety Acts (1997), remain invaluable records of long-gone performers and their accompanying billing. Without Hudd (whose own variety billing was the Peculiar Person), how would we be aware that outlandish turns such as the Mysterious Werth (Banana Skin and Stone Manipulator), Tom Mennard (Juggles with Live Geese), Juna (the Human Gasometer) and the Three Aberdonians (Too Mean to Tell You What They Do) had captivated audiences back in the day?
In his long career, he was part of the line-up of David Frost's follow-up to That Was The Week That Was (the short-lived Not So Much A Programme, More A Way Of Life), presented the satirical radio show The News Huddlines for more than a quarter of a century, had his own variety show on the BBC, played up to comic "type" in numerous comedies from Up Pompeii to Benidorm, played the local undertaker in Coronation Street for eight years, and surprised audiences with lauded dramatic roles in such series as Dennis Potter's Lipstick On Your Collar and Broadchurch. Phew!

We have, inevitably, seen the man on stage many times - his one-man "potted history of Music Hall" [where we were seated with Dame June Whitfield, Prunella Scales and Timothy West!], as the photographer in JB Priestley's When We Are Married, in the all-star version of Sondheim's Follies at the Royal Albert Hall, and in panto at Wilton's Music Hall not once but twice...

We will sorely miss that twinkly smile.

He genuinely could turn his hand to anything, as this clip of him with another sadly-missed "all-rounder" Cilla Black proves:

Sand bags, wind bags, camels with a hump,
Fat girls, thin girls, some a little plump,
Slave girls sold here, fifty bob a lump,
In the old bazaar in Cairo.

Brandy, shandy, beer without a froth,
Braces, laces, a candle for the moth.
Bet you'd look a smasher in an old loin cloth,
In the old bazaar in Cairo.

You can buy most anything,
Thin bulls, fat cows, a little bit of string,
You can purchase anything you wish,
A clock, a dish and something for your Auntie Nellie,
Harem, scarem, what d'ya think of that,
Bare knees, striptease, dancing on the mat,
Umpa! Umpa! That's enough of that,

In the old bazaar in Cairo.
Rice pud, very good, what's it all about,
Made it in a kettle and they couldn't get it out,
Everybody took a turn to suck it through the spout,
In the old bazaar in Cairo.

Mamadan, Ramadan, everything in style,
Genuine, beduine carpet with a pile,
Funny little odds and ends floating down the Nile,
From the old bazaar in Cairo.
You can buy most anything,

Sheeps eyes, sand pies, a watch without a spring,
You can buy a pomegranate too,
A water-bag, a little bit of hokey pokey,
Yashmaks, pontefracts, what a strange affair,
Dark girls, fair girls, some with ginger hair,
The rest of it is funny but they censor it out there,
In the old bazaar in Cairo.

RIP Roy Hudd, OBE (16th May 1936 – 15th March 2020)


  1. My uncle is like Roy Hudd.

    This is really sad news. I love his sexual innuendo filled version of Sherlock Holmes.

    1. We loved just about anything he did. Sad, indeed. Jx

  2. He would be in the same category as Humph, an older man who could do that sort of humour without being sleazy.

    He was in a radio play with Christopher Green a while back. Absolutely fantastic

    1. Chris Green is a lovely man - and immensely talented, not least as Ida Barr. With regard to his work with Roy Hudd, we went to see Chris presenting a part-dramatised talk about the man who was its subject, Fred Barnes, back in 2017. Jx

  3. Glad to hear that Christopher Green is a lovely person, always great to hear that about talented people. I've loved all his radio plays.

  4. Replies
    1. He was in an episode of Last of the Summer Wine called Spores.

    2. The big threat, the real killer, the ones you never see, one word...Spores!

      How appropriate I hope the world isn't going to end on Wednesday.

    3. Last time I watched Last of the Summer Wine, Michael Bates was still in it. He died in 1978.

      The world might not end tomorrow, but I have my suspicions the Eurovision Song Contest will be the next to be announced as cancelled. Which is as good as.


    4. Yep, Eurovision has been cancelled. It's all getting too much.

  5. A very funny, gifted man, and a great friend to camp people

  6. An aged aunty was treated to one of his shows and as she and niece left, she said, very loudly that she
    'were very disappointed. I sat through all them others waiting for 'im to come out wi' 'is emu!"

  7. A great talent and a great loss.
    I have met him and he was charming and funny.
    A lovely man


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