I was asked to speak at comedian Chris Luby’s funeral yesterday.
Chris was… umm… an audio comic. He created sound effects with his mouth…. The Trooping The Colour ceremony… Aerial combat in the Battle of Britain, including the sound of Spitfires scrambling on the ground and an aerial battle with German bombers… Formula 1 motor races.
It was an interesting funeral service. While it was happening, there was the faint sound of bagpipes far in the distance outside – despite the fact the service took place in highly-built-up Brockley in South East London. At the climax of the service, there was the sound of an aeroplane flying overhead. And, during a reading by his brother, the brother’s mobile telephone rang – he could not find where the phone was for about 15 seconds and it kept ringing as he searched for it.
If I were of a less cynical disposition, I might have thought Chris was still lurking and larking about.
The theoretical duration of my speech was unknown until it happened – modern crematoria are a conveyor belt of farewells – so I wrote a 4-minute one assuming it might end up having to be cut to 2 minutes. The vicar had started looking at the clock by the time he got to me, so I cut the speech back to maybe 90 seconds on the day. This is the full 4-minute version:
* * * * * *
I’ve been asked to say something about what Chris was like as a comedy performer.
Usually, when you are a comedy performer, it is a bad thing to finish your act to complete silence and no laughter. But I saw this happen to Chris twice.
What happened was that he finished doing his act and the audience just stared at him in silence for about three seconds – which is a long time. But then there was a sudden eruption of clapping, cheers and whoops.
They had just been stunned into silence and could barely believe what they’d just seen – and heard.
And that’s what Chris did – he stunned people.
When news of his death got around, there was a Twitter exchange between the comedians Robin Ince and Omid Djalili.
Robin tweeted – “If comedians don’t make it onto TV or radio then, once they’re gone, that’s it.”
Omid replied – “Chris Luby has done no TV (that’s not actually true) but lives in my mind more vividly than most. But that’s not comedy” – Omid said – “It’s heroic lunacy.”
Apparently Chris was not a man to go on long car journeys with because, at every turn, you would get the sound of a Spitfire banking or diving as if it were attacking a Messerschmitt and every time you changed gear he would add in loud and slightly terrifying sound effects.
But, whenever people tell me of long car journeys with Chris and their urge to throttle him, they – oddly – tell it in a very warm-hearted way. They found it oddly endearing.
Arthur Smith told me:
“Chris was, as you know, incorrigible – I used to pay him a tenner on car journeys to shut up for ten minutes and then torture him by saying: I wish I knew what a Sopwith Camel sounded like…. But he always managed the ten minutes, at which point he would explode into an aerial bombardment… He was not entirely of this world” - Arthur Smith said – “and I hope he’s enjoying the molecules in the stars.”
Comedian Adam Wide said his favourite visual image was…
“when we were organising a treasure hunt for a computer firm all over the village of Beaulieu, Chris was dressed as a RAF pilot (with a sound system) standing at a bus-stop doing his full Battle of Britain routine while apparently waiting for a Spitfire to arrive at the bus stop.”
When Chris died, the actors’ trade union Equity Tweeted:
“We’re sorry to hear of the death of Chris Luby. His one-man Battle of Britain was a thing to behold.”
Indeed it was.
Like Chris. Once seen. Never forgotten.
I also got a message from a man called John Hawes. He said:
“I was 13 years old when I met Chris Luby. He was a cadet and I was treated to the first of many of Chris’s famous shows.
“That was in 1979.
“I haven’t seen him in 25 years and it brings a tear to my eye knowing he has been entertaining people over the years and to read the wonderful stories of Chris and his adventures. He was a special man and will be missed.”
I think he affected a lot of people like that.
I know Chris’s sound effects were unforgettable. But my main memory of Chris, oddly. is not the sounds he made but his eyes. His eyes always seemed to be sparkling. They were very bright and sparkly. And that’s bright in every sense. They lit up and he WAS bright. Very intelligent. And I guess very sensitive.
I always think that, if you die and just one person cries, you have done something right in your life. You have not lived in vain. And, I think when people heard Chris had died there were a good few tears being shed.
The other side of that is that I suspect there will be a lot of laughter in heaven tonight. The angels, quite frankly, are going to be pissing themselves over Trooping the Colour.
I don’t know what angels laughing sounds like. But I used to know a man who could have done a realistic impression of what they sound like. And I’m very sad he’s not still here to do that or to do the sound of the RAF fly-past he so richly deserves.
Rest in Peace, Chris – though it will probably be interrupted by the sound of the Queen reviewing Trooping The Colour.
* * * *
When comedian Malcolm Hardee died in 2005, Chris Luby spoke or, rather, made noises in his honour. He performed the sound of a flypast by an RAF jet. Here is a 53 second audio extract from that 2005 funeral service which is just as much of a tribute to Chris Luby himself.