'Tales From The Woods' raises a glass and says farewell to Barry Took who died recently aged 73.


Born 19th June 1928 at Muswell Hill in North London, receiving his education at a minor public school before wartime evacuation forced him to Wisbech, Cambridgeshire for the remainder of his school life. Life in the rural fens did not appeal to Barry; so much so that on his final day at school he cycled out of the gates and didn’t stop until he reached his parents’ home on London. He worked as a general dogsbody at a Tin-Pan Alley publisher before landing himself a job which really excited him - as a cinema projectionist at The Gaumont, Wood Green. 

His fascination with the cinema was matched only by his love of Music Hall which drove him, with much trepidation, to tread the boards. His confidence growing as time passed, he decided to try his luck on steam radio – Carroll Levi’s Discoveries would put him on the (eventual) road to success. He worked in variety with Shirley Bassey, followed by a long run on the West End stage with a revue called “For Amusement Only”. The same period would find Barry meeting the man who would become his long time writing partner – comedian/writer Marty Feldman. 

The writing partnership was given a healthy boost at a chance meeting with BBC Radio “Goon Show” producer, Dennis Main-Wilson. Soon, the pair were commissioned to write scripts for highly successful television comedies “The Army Game” and its spin-off “Bootsie and Snudge”. 

Although their greatest triumph was still to come and amazingly, being the 1960s, it was not on television but on radio. “Round the Horne” starring Kenneth Horne, Kenneth Williams and Hugh Paddick amongst others would, for the first time in over a decade, produce listening figures that would prove beyond the wildest dreams of the BBC. It was an orgy of double-entendres and camp patois, mostly in the guise of Julian and Sandy, the chorus boys played by Williams and Paddick. The show ran for 66 episodes spaced out over three years, ending only with the tragic and sudden death of Kenneth Horne in 1969. 

As the sixties gave way to the seventies, the writing partnership continued on television’s “Marty Feldman Comedy Machine”, although that would come to an abrupt end with Feldman’s departure for Hollywood. Took himself also landed a plum job as a comedy adviser for the BBC. His tenure would prove lucrative, being instrumental in bringing the Monty Python team onto the television screen as well as Barry Humphries in his Dame Edna Everage persona, before accepting the invitation of a job in the United States to join a 15 strong team writing for the hugely successful (on both sides of the Atlantic) “Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In”. Alas, homesickness would force him back to England where, virtually immediately, he landed on his feet, penning the scripts for the long running sit-com “On The Buses”. 

Barry would soon feel it was time to take his career in a different direction, writing and presenting adult literacy programmes for the BBC. The same period would see him accepting a position on BBC Radio 4’s “The News Quiz” which ran for over 17 years and, if that was not enough, he also presented “Points of View” which preceded the Nine O’clock News on television. He also found time to write seven books - six histories of theatrical comedy and the seventh being his autobiography. Certainly sadly ironic, last month 'Tales From The Woods' had to say goodbye to the creator of the Goons, Spike Milligan, and this month the man who created “Round the Horne” - a double blow for the glory days of radio comedy.