Paul O’Grady has never been one to hold back from speaking his mind but as he prepares to celebrate his 60th birthday in June, it seems advancing age is making him even more vocal. It has been said that getting older makes you invisible but Paul disproves this with bells on! If anything, getting older is making him braver.
“I’ve adapted to 60 because I started calling myself 60 a few months ago,” he says. “I’m turning out like Catherine Tate’s nan, acting old deliberately and saying outrageous things in shops!”
Speaking recently, Paul said being 60 means he can do and say what he likes. “Everyone is so anodyne on TV, nobody says anything. It’s all so twee and drives me mad. I don’t mean I’ll turn into Katie Hopkins, though, who accuses anyone over 2st of being a glutton!”
But one well-known personality he has the utmost affection and respect for is the late Bob Monkhouse, who passed away in 2003. Paul has the honour of presenting a series about the comedy genius on UKGold, beginning on June 3 at 9pm. In Bob Monkhouse: The Million Joke Man, Paul takes a retrospective and intimate look at the extraordinary life and career of Bob, the man who wrote, and then told, over a million jokes. Known to the nation as a gameshow host, he was also an extremely popular stand-up comedian and joke writer.
“The first time I spoke to Bob was when he called me in 1990. I thought it was somebody else, so I told him to get lost! This was just after I had been nominated for a Perrier award at the Edinburgh Festival. He knew all about me, which was a shock. I felt like he had been watching me – he taped everything, read up on interviews... I was stunned. This was Bob Monkhouse! I knew him from The Golden Shot and all his gameshows – I’d grown up watching him on TV.
‘I’d ring Bob up for his opinion on my gags, and he’d be howling with laughter. It was
a real confidence boost’
“We ended up presenting a BAFTA together. I did his last lottery show for him, a couple of clubs, and spent time with him in Barbados. He never stopped working. For him, comedy was a vocation. It was almost like a religious order. He never relaxed and would always be looking for a gag which could be written down in his books – fabulous books which were beautifully illustrated. I thought he was part of the old brigade, but I respected that. Bob was different, as he was just so clever. When talking to him he’d be waiting for you to do or say something funny. And when you did it, it was like a Christmas present for him. He’d ask if he could write it down. Comedy was his oxygen.”
Bob was a great support to Paul and his career. “It was flattering to have support from an icon like Bob Monkhouse,” he goes on. “I’d ring him up for his opinion on my gags and he’d be howling with laughter. I’d think, ‘This is Bob Monkhouse!’ It was a real confidence boost.”
As viewers will see from Bob Monkhouse: The Million Joke Man, the comic was a real hoarder. “He taped everything,” smiles Paul. “He had about 10 TVs in his house and all these video machines. There was nothing on TV related to comedy that Bob didn’t tape. He kept them all in his massive library of video tapes. He’d then write about them in his diary. It was pretty chaotic, but it was a similar kind of chaos to myself, where you know where everything is. His tapes were all filed, and his diaries were all in order, and all his joke books were all in order, too. Everything was filed; letters from the BBC, letters from clubs, fans... Amazing, just amazing. He kept his professional life and his private life separate, though – especially his very ill son. It was never brought into the workplace. He’d probably been up all night with him, but he didn’t come in and complain.”
A real old-fashioned trooper then – rather like Paul. He doesn’t stop working either. “I’m writing volume four of this never-ending story book,” he says, referring to the fourth instalment of his autobiography. “I’ve written the 90,000 words required, but now I’m like a train with the brake off, I can’t stop. Then I’m going to do a kid’s book for an elephant orphanage in Zambia.”
TV-wise, Paul is off to Borneo for an ITV wildlife series, then back to Battersea for another series of For the Love of Dogs. He’s just finished the run of The Paul O’Grady Show, his C4 teatime talk show, which he has been fronting with the help of his two trusty canine sidekicks – Olga the terrier and Boycie the Shih Tzu.
Olga was diagnosed with cancer two years ago... “The vet wanted her put down but she had a kidney removed and is now on chemotherapy tablets I get from America. She is still a star.” Paul says Boycie is just like his dear dog Buster, who passed away. “He’s got the same manner; he sits in Buster’s place on the step so he can see everything, he chases ducks, he stands on his hind legs – you’d swear it was Buster. He’s a smashing little fella.” Rather like Paul, in fact!
- ‘Bob Monkhouse: The Million Joke Man, new and exclusive on Gold, Wednesdays at 9pm from June 3.
Psst… Paul shares a secret
When he’s not working or caring for his animals, he’s a hobby fanatic. “I’ve done it all,” he says. “I’ve made candles, soap, painted, drawn... You name it, I’ve done it. But I couldn’t get the hang of calligraphy. At the moment, I’m going to start renovating a gypsy caravan.”
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