13 July, 2008

Frank Muir

Frank Herbert Muir was an English comedy writer, radio and television personality, and raconteur.

Born and brought up in his grandmother's pub, The Derby Arms in Ramsgate, Kent, he spent part of his childhood in the E10 district of London. In later years, whenever his dignified speech patterns caused listeners to assume that he had received a public-school education, Muir would demur: "I was educated in E10, not Eton." In fact, he was educated at the Chatham House Grammar School, in Ramsgate, Kent, in South-East England, whose former pupils included Edward Heath, leader of the British Conservative Party from 1965 to 1975 and British Prime Minister from 1970-74.

Frank Muir joined the Royal Air Force during World War II and became a photographic technician, being posted to Iceland. While there he became involved with the forces radio station.

Upon his return to civilian life, he began to write scripts for Jimmy Edwards. When Edwards teamed up with Dick Bentley on BBC Radio, Muir formed a partnership with Denis Norden, Bentley's writer, which was to last for most of his career. The vehicle created for the two men, Take It From Here, was written by Muir and Norden from 1948 until 1959; a last series in 1960 used other writers. For TIFH, as it became known, they created "The Glums", a deliberately awful family, which was the show's most popular segment.

Muir and Norden continued to write for Edwards when he began to work for BBC television with the school comedy series Whack-O, and in the anthology series Faces of Jim. With Norden, in 1962, he was responsible for the television adaptation of Henry Cecil's comic novel Brothers in Law, which starred Richard Briers in an early role.

The pair was also invited to appear on the newly formed humorous literary radio quiz My Word! A feature of the show was the final round, in which Muir and Norden would each tell a highly contrived and often convoluted story inspired by a well-known phrase provided by the quizmaster and ending in a terrible pun on the phrase in question.

Frank Muir was also a contestant on the My Word spinoff My Music. As a television personality, Muir's unofficial trademark was a crisply knotted pink bowtie.

He was well known to television audiences as a team captain on the long-running BBC2 series Call My Bluff and did voice-overs for advertisements, notably Cadbury's Fruit & Nut chocolate, Batchelor's Savoury Rice and a coffee advert in which he coined the phrase "impending doom", and the Unigate milk Humphreys. In 1954 he founded the amateur dramatic society "Thorpe Players". He was a writer and presenter on many shows, including the 1960s satire programmes That Was The Week That Was and The Frost Report.

In the 1960s Muir was Assistant Head of Light Entertainment at the BBC and in 1969 joined London Weekend Television as Head of Entertainment. His magnum opus, The Oxford Book of Humorous Prose, was published in 1990. In 1992, for Channel 4, he was host of TV Heaven, a season of evenings dedicated to television programmes from individual past years.

One of his significant writings was the 1976 The Frank Muir Book: An irreverent companion to social history, which is a fascinating collection of anecdotes and quotations collected as "Music", "Education", "Literature", "Theatre", "Art" and "Food and Drink". For example, "Show me the man who has enjoyed his schooldays and I will show you a bully and a bore" Robert Morley. Or, "Education, n, That which discloses to the wise and disguises from the foolish their lack of understanding." Ambrose Bierce, The Devil's Dictionary.

Muir died on January 2, 1998 at the age of 77.

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