From Kemsing to Los Angeles – comedy writer remembers how Roy Hudd helped start him on his way
Former Kemsing resident Malcolm Williamson recalls how top entertainer Roy Hudd OBE, who died recently at the age of 83, gave him his first break in comedy writing and started a journey that has taken him all the way to Hollywood
Earlier this month, the funeral of Roy Hudd, one of Britain’s best loved actors and entertainers, was held almost unnoticed. Normally his service would have been packed with celebrities, including stars from Coronation Street in which Roy played the role of undertaker Archie Shuttleworth from 2002 to 2003. But because of the coronavirus crisis they were not able to attend.
Malcolm Williamson lived in the Landway in Kemsing, went to the village Primary School followed by Judd in Tonbridge, performed with The Kemsing Players and sung in the local church choir. He would have loved to have been at the funeral to say farewell and thanks to the man who helped launch his comedy writing career.
Malcolm takes up the story: “In September 1984, I walked nervously up to 16 Langham St, London W1, an office building next to Broadcasting House which housed the BBC Radio Comedy Department. For some months previously, I had been sending in ‘hilarious’ sketches – well, I thought they were – to the Radio 4 programme Weekending and had finally received a letter back to the effect of ‘Your stuff’s not complete rubbish. Come and see us’.
“I did and immediately realised just how low down the showbiz hierarchy an un-commissioned writer on a radio show was.
“After a few weeks of attending regular meetings for new writers on Weekending, I heard about a Radio 2 show called The News Huddlines. I knew who Roy Hudd was from his Tetley teabags ads of the 1970s – ‘It’s all in the little perforations’ – and was delighted to discover that the Huddlines was recorded with a live audience (unlike Weekending).
“I went to see one and was hooked. I immediately began submitting sketches and after a couple of duds, they tried a short effort of mine, about Neil Kinnock if I remember correctly.
“Staggeringly, it made the audience laugh, which is the most satisfying sound in the world for a comedy writer. This began a five-year stint as a regular contributor to the show, before I was seduced away by the glamour – but more importantly, the money – of TV.
“It’s hard to convey the sheer pleasure I experienced watching The News Huddlines cast wring the maximum laughs out of something I’d written. Roy, June Whitfield and Chris Emmett were the regulars, with occasional appearances by Alison Steadman (when June was unavailable). Alison had the misfortune to star in a sketch I’d written about a nudist colony in the Midlands having a new clubhouse built.
“The comedy on the Huddlines was often ‘end of the pier’, but in this sketch, it had dived way beyond the end of the pier and was now swimming furiously for France. It was so risqué it prompted a scolding letter from the Head of BBC Radio Light Entertainment as to how disappointed he was with all the innuendo.
“BUT it got huge laughs, which was all I was interested in, and Roy received several letters from listeners about how much they’d loved it. That was enough for me.
“Watching the cast week in, week out, was an education in the art of comedy and one from which I learned invaluable lessons. Roy was the most generous of stars to his writers, and the nicest of men – as much fun as the Huddlines recordings were, the sessions in the pub afterwards, during which Roy would tell trouser-explodingly funny showbiz stories, were their equal.
“And Roy’s love of Max Miller was never far from the surface. My father – also a Max fan – came to a recording once and I mentioned this to Roy before the show. When Roy went out to warm-up the audience as usual, he did five minutes of Max Miller jokes, and it was a joy to watch.
“As a performer, Roy’s decades of experience gave him the instincts and intuition to ‘play’ an audience perfectly. I never saw him mis-time a line or ruin a moment by over-doing it. His impressions weren’t the best compared to Chris or June, but his incredible enthusiasm and energy made up for that. Towards the end of my time on the show we did a live Children In Need Huddlines Special.
“I wrote an Oliver Twist spoof with a colleague, Martin Booth – who coincidentally went on to join the church and recently retired from his post as the Vicar of St. Mary’s, Riverhead! – and it included this immortal exchange:
June: “Are you Fagin?”
Roy: “No, I’m doing this for real.”
I guess you had to be there!
Malcolm is a TV Comedy Writer and Producer who started out in the UK and somehow ended up living and working in Los Angeles. He’s still not entirely sure how that happened.
In the UK, he wrote multiple episodes of the No.1 Children’s TV comedy My Parents Are Aliens, adapted several of the popular Horrid Henry’books for TV, while also writing on the International Emmy Award-winning sitcom, Drop The Dead Donkey.
Since arriving in the US, he has been a Consulting Producer on some of TV’s biggest shows, including ‘America’s Got Talent’, ‘Little Big Shots’, ‘World of Dance’ and ‘Showtime At The Apollo’. He’s written for Steve Harvey, James Corden, Nick Cannon, Tyra Banks, Terry Crews, Neil Patrick Harris, George Lopez, John McEnroe, Ozzy, Sharon, Kelly and Jack Osbourne, Jerry Springer, Khloe Kardashian… and British Prime Minister Tony Blair.
In his personal life, he has done the world’s highest bungee jump, fallen off a cliff, been chased by C3PO and upset the Queen’s sister, Princess Margaret. None of these incidents were connected.
The Plebbles is his first move into writing a children’s fiction book and he is finding it a lot more fun than writing for a British Prime Minister.
John McEnroe said to Malcolm: “Thanks for making me seem funny.” And Kelly Osbourne once told Malcolm: “Thanks for stopping me swearing.”
* Roy Hudd’s wife Debbie says that any donations in memory of her husband, who was born in Croydon, will go to The British Music Hall Society, where he held the position of president for 28 years.
Chairman Adam Borzone has set up an online donation page which will be open until 1 July.
The link is also given on the British Music Hall Society’s website: www.britishmusichallsociety.com