Comedian Chris Luby has died.
He fell downstairs at home and was taken to hospital. There was bleeding in his brain which the doctors could not stop and he died just before noon yesterday morning.
At one time, he was managed by the late Malcolm Hardee and, together, they ran the Wibbley Wobbley floating pub and comedy venue in Rotherhithe until Malcolm drowned there in January 2005.
Chris Luby’s stage act was, to say the least odd.
Malcolm booked him at his Tunnel and Up The Creek clubs and in shows at the Edinburgh Fringe. I think I can do no better than quote what was said about Chris in Malcolm’s 1996 autobiography I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake:
Another act who was always popular both at The Tunnel and in Edinburgh was Chris Luby. We had met when we were both in The Mad Show. His act was then – and still is – making noises with his mouth. He does loud oral impressions of wartime aeroplanes, racing cars and the entire Trooping The Colour ceremony. He does machines, drums, military people and that’s his act. It’s 20 minutes long and, really, he’s made a jolly good living out of it, considering.
On stage, he has a military air – a bit Air Force – but he was never in the RAF, only in the Army Training Corps when he was a kid. When I met him, he had been a Civil Servant for about 15 years. A real boring, pen-pushing job. He lived on a council estate in Bromley, South East London.
At the time, he didn’t have a car, so I used to give him a lift home every night after The Mad Show. And, every night, he’d make exactly the same noises. I would start the engine and he would go:
I would put the car into first gear and he would make first gear noises.
We would come to the first bend and he’d do the screeching of tyres and yell out:
“Bank left! Bank left!”
He did exactly the same thing every night for three months and I never hit him once.
On one journey back from Manchester, Arthur Smith actually gave him £50 to keep quiet. Arthur had put up with it for 20 minutes, then he got his money out.
Chris has two children and was married to a very nice Anglo-Indian lady from whom he’s recently split.
It’s a talented act, but limited.
Just before the Falklands Conflict started, he was over there. And just before the Gulf War he went over to Saudi Arabia to entertain the troops. I think he probably started those wars off.
He could have made a fortune just travelling round Army and RAF bases during the Cold War. I tried to get him into that circuit. There was an organisation called CSE (Combined Services Entertainment) run by Dennis Agutter, actress Jenny Agutter’s dad – the only man with bigger testicles than me. The problem is Chris is no stranger to the World of Drink. On stage he’s alright but, after the show, he becomes a bit of a nuisance around a lot of the places.
I think he likes the social life involved in showbiz. I don’t think he has ever thought he would be a star. The night I thought his career might not be a roaring success was the night I saw him drunk at The Comedy Store.
At the time, Wizo was running a ‘Fun Bus’. He had got sponsorship from a lager company and had hired a double-decker bus. Every week during the summer, he got various comics to perform on the bus and they could do whatever they liked. The comics could tell the driver where to go or take the audience off the bus or whatever. He asked me to do it one week and I took Chris Luby along.
The bus was parked near Aldwych and Chris got the whole audience drilling in the street. All in lines. He was shouting:
“Stand by the left! Quick march!” and all that.
Then he got them all shouting like American Marines:
“We-are go-ing on-a bus! We-are go-ing on-a bus!”
The he got them marching at double-quick time. We all got on the bus and he started pretending it was an aeroplane:
“Fasten your seat-belts!”
There was a microphone on the bus and he started doing his World War II aeroplane act, which was good. So I took the bus down to The Montague Arms pub in New Cross, south of the River, where there was a talent competition. I entered the competition – I played the mouth organ – but I don’t know if I won or not because we had to take the bus back to central London. We got back about 10.30pm and, by this time, Chris had been drinking some of the free lager provided by the sponsors. He wanted to carry on celebrating, so we went to The Comedy Store. He got drunker and drunker and, in the end, he was asked to leave. I think he was one of the first comics to be thrown out of The Comedy Store.
It was now about 2.00 in the morning. I was a bit drunk myself, but not as drunk as Chris. We got an N77 night bus which went from Charing Cross to right outside my house in Greenwich and quite close to Chris Luby’s house. When we got on the bus, Chris couldn’t manage to get upstairs, but I did. I went upstairs; he stayed downstairs. After a few minutes, I heard him doing his act again. He thought we were back on the original bus. He was shouting at the bus driver:
“Engage thrust! Bank left! Chocks away!” and all the noises he does.
Eventually, the bus driver and passengers could take no more. We stopped at New Cross and, as I looked out my upstairs window, I saw Chris being thrown out the double-doors and lying flat on the pavement. New Cross is about two miles from where Chris lived.
The next morning, I phoned his wife because I wondered what had happened to him. She said she didn’t know what had happened to him, but said he had given a cab driver a cheque for £83.
Once, Chris was supposed to be doing a gig for me, but it turned out he had to go to court accused of groping a woman’s bottom on a train. He had been arrested by the Transport Police. I went on the second day of the trial to give him a character reference if he was found guilty. But he was found Not Guilty. He was very pleased when he was acquitted.
The next day, the Daily Mirror published a picture of Chris Luby and his agent Malcolm Hardee but they got the names transposed so it looked like I had been the bloody person accused of being a groper. I had a suit on for the court appearance; I can look remarkably normal if I put my mind to it.
After the court case, he took voluntary redundancy. He’d been in the Civil Service for years so he got quite a huge chunk of money.
One night after that, Chris, Mark Hurst and Brenda Gilhooley were all booked to appear at The King’s Head (in Bungay, Suffolk) and they drove up separately from me. I had gone up with Pip for the weekend and Paul Fitzgerald was going to provide us all with a big meal before the gig. I told Chris Luby to ring up when he arrived at the pub and I’d give him directions to get to the cottage. He rang me up at about 5.30 in the afternoon and I gave him instructions for the six mile drive.
The meal was ready at 6.30pm – no sign of Luby.
At 7.30pm – no sign of Luby.
The gig was due to start at 8.00pm.
At 8.00pm – no sign of Luby.
So we went off to the gig. On the way, we found him. Between the pub and the cottage, Chris had spotted a private Aeroplane Museum where this mad bloke collects aircraft and has put them in the back garden of another pub. Chris saw missiles and old aeroplanes, stopped and went in the pub. He was in Heaven. He had aeroplanes and alcohol and wasn’t interested in the meal.
In the end we virtually had to drag him to the gig.
The King’s Head is one of those old-fashioned pubs with a courtyard where they used to put the coaches. The landlord had about five kids between about the ages of 8 and 12. After the gig, at about midnight, I looked out a window and Chris Luby was drilling all these kids with broomsticks over their shoulders, getting them to march round the courtyard:
“Eyes right! Quick march!”
R.I.P. Chris Luby.
So it goes.