The downside of being a dead celebrity: Liz Taylor, Charlie Drake, Rod Hull, Bob Hope & the Queen Mum

The Queen Mother was 101 years old when she died and she had cost the BBC a fortune by not dying earlier. Her death – codenamed ‘Blackbird’ at ITV where the Transmission Controllers had envelopes containing details of what to do when she did eventually die – was clearly going to be a big news story and her funeral a complicatedly large state event so, to my knowledge, the BBC ran a full rehearsal of her death and coverage of her funeral three times. It cost a fortune.

She must have been well-pissed off when Princess Diana died because everyone was unprepared. There were certainly no plans for Diana to have a big funeral because, at that point, she was not a member of the Royal Family and had no constitutional position. So, when the Royal Family were, in effect, forced by the press and – to my mind – surreal public opinion to give Diana a big fuck-me funeral, they used the plans for the Queen Mother’s funeral.

As a result, the Queen Mother’s funeral itself was a less big-scale anti-climax.

Dying can be difficult at the best of times, but pity the poor celebrity.

Elizabeth Taylor sadly mis-timed her death on Wednesday. On a normal slow news days, she could have expected to be the lead item on TV News bulletins. But it was Budget Day in the UK – economic pundits and bullshitting politicians stretched as far as the eye could see and there were expensive Outside Broadcast and studio links nationwide – plus there was lots of news coming in from Libya and still news report aftershocks from the earthquake-tsunami-nuclear story in Japan, where TV companies had, by now, flown expensive reporters into place and were paying for on-the-spot film crews.

So poor Elizabeth Taylor’s death did not quite get the level of coverage she could have otherwise expected.

This morning, TV scriptwriter Nigel Crowle pointed out to me two slightly bizarre angles to her death.

One was that one of her rivals for the key role in 1944 movie National Velvet – which made her a star – was future Baroness Shirley Williams.

Shirley was pipped at the post by Elizabeth and went on to found the Social Democrat Party while Liz went on to marry Richard Burton twice.

It’s unlikely that, if Shirley had got the role, she would have gone on to marry Richard Burton and Elizabeth would have founded the SDP, but stranger things have happened.

The other odd fact Nigel mentioned is that Elizabeth Taylor’s obituary in the New York Times was written by Mel Gussow who died six years ago.

This is no great surprise – Associated Press wrote the template for Britney Spears’ obituary in 2008.

What does surprise me is that British newspapers seem to have discovered a tone of reverence for Elizabeth Taylor which they never quite gave her in life. Something of a reverse on the situation for dead UK comedian Charlie Drake, who was much cherished during his life.

After his death, veteran TV producer Michael Hurll let rip about Charlie in an interview on the Chortle comedy industry website

Hurll worked with Charlie when he was a holiday camp redcoat: “He was a nasty man then,” Hurll said, “and he stayed a nasty man – a horrible, horrible man”.

Hurll, old enough not to care, went on to call Jerry Lewis (still alive) “a nasty piece of work” and Bob Hope (dead) “the nastiest man I’ve ever worked with”. As for Rod Hull: “He was the most miserable, nastiest man you ever met… Just a horrible, horrible man.”

Dying can be difficult at the best of times, but pity the poor celebrity facing the uncertainties of posthumous reviews.

I still retain memories of reading an Andy Warhol obituary (I can’t remember where) which ended with the climactic words: “He was a short man who wore a wig”.

Ex-gangster ’Mad’ Frank Fraser – not a man to meddle with in life – once told me over a cup of tea that he wasn’t “really frightened of anything but I’m a bit worried what they’ll say about me after I die.”

He seems a very nice chap. He offered me free dental work.

Just don’t ask me about Cilla Black…


Filed under Comedy, History, Movies, Newspapers, Politics, PR, Television

5 responses to “The downside of being a dead celebrity: Liz Taylor, Charlie Drake, Rod Hull, Bob Hope & the Queen Mum

  1. Ah, so true, John

    In my time as “warm-up” comedian for a wide range of TV productions, I had the pleasure of meeting, and socialising, with an astonishingly wide range of musicians, actors, comedians, writers, and celebrities with no discernible talent other than being “well-known”.

    This experience led me to suspect that there was a distinct corollary to be learned – ie. the nicer they are on-screen, the bigger a bastard they are off-screen, and vice-versa.

    Some of TV’s funniest and most charming are utter pond-scum, whereas many of the more obnoxious, grumpy, outrageous, aggressive, and tough-nut celebs are actually cuddly, sweet, and rather charming behind their rough-cast exteriors

    I temper this allegation with the caveat that sometimes I’d meet the aforementioned celebs in high-pressure situations and maybe judged them harshly from a very limited, short-term experience I’d had with them

    For example, when working on the kid’s show “The Disney Club”, I’d found the UK’s cheap Elvis copy, Shakin’ Stevens, to be grumpy, rude and nasty … however, six months later I worked with him again and we got on brilliantly, and my opinion of him was totally reversed.

    When I mentioned that he’d been an obnoxious prick on our previous meeting, we established the date of the occasion in question and Shakey then recounted the rather horrible personal events that had led up to that day in Edinburgh when I’d met him, and I totally understood why he wasn’t very chummy or affable under the circumstances

    All that aside, I’ve had some highly entertaining insights into the behind-the-scenes personas of celebrity culture, and would love to spill the beans on one or two notable scumbags … but, a certain sense of professional ethics and morality has stopped me from doing so – except in drunken social situations, and in dressing-room banter

    I wonder if I’m maybe just waiting for them to die so that I can then do so with impunity … or at least without fear of a libel or slander lawsuit

    Or, maybe they’re all waiting for me to go … and I’ll be the one that gets it!!

  2. Owen Morgan

    Is Rod Hull dead? Never knew that- when did he go?
    I know that ‘Opportunity Knocks’ presenter Hughie Greene was notorious for being really nasty- some people called him actually evil, and his parents ‘satanic’. No wonder Paula Yates was so distraught when she discovered that she was his illegitimate daughter.

    Tommy Cooper and Peter Cooke were’n’t unpleasant, but they were said to have a slightly sinister side to them and could be creepy, especially Cooper.

      • Owen Morgan

        Crikey, that long ago? I don’t remember it being in the news- can’t say that I grieve him though, everybody said that he wasn’t a nice man, and several people were injured after being attacked by that stupid Emu puppet- it should’ve been put on a bonfire!!

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