Dennis Main Wilson

Dennis Main
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Interview Date(s): 
4 Jul 1991
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Interview with Dennis Main Wilson Part 1

The copyright of this recording and transcript is vested in the BECTU History Project. Dennis Main Wilson was interviewed by Alan Lawson with Norman Swallow in 1991.

1. Perfectionism at the Palladium

And then I met a gentleman called Sammy Davis Junior. I was given three months' notice that Sam was coming over to this country. He had never worked for the BBC, hitherto he had only worked for ATV commercial. He was very difficult to work with because he was a perfectionist. He could get very uptight and walk out, kid gloves, and would I like to do it? Yes please. So I see every film that Sammy Davis was ever in, I listen to every disc he'd ever cut, I rang all around London, the people, he'd ever worked with - oh he's bastard to work with, you won't like him, ur, ur, ur. I even rang an old mate in Australia because I'd heard that in Australia he had hit the director and walked out, is it true? Yes. 

There is a British show, the producer of it is still alive, I think it was ATV the year before, and when Sam flew in to do a five or six week season at the Palladium, they got him, same company pretty well. So they built a fabulous spangled set for him. They didn't even bother to discuss with him what they were going to do. When he walked in, the producer said, what do you think of that Sam? He stood back, I think it must have been the Palladium stage, and he looked up and said, when you've lost it give me a ring, I'll be in the hotel. They'd built up a multi spiral staircase, idiots. Even I knew, I was in love with a dancing lady for many years. In dancing if you're going to come down more than eight treads, plus two for the bop bop, boom, all the other treads you are egg on face. This was a 60-tread staircase and the rises lit up and said Sammy Davis Junior, Sammy Davis Junior. It cost a fortune to build. 60 bl**dy treads. And no way would the man have it. So lesson one, with some body who is that good, you don't become a world star unless you know exactly what you're at. You wouldn't even get on the first run of the ladder, never mind the top of the staircase. All great star performers are all nervous. Can they keep it up? Will they be as good as they were last time? Hopefully will they be better. Come up with ideas. Let them say no. Be enthusiastic. Do your homework as best you can. Don't b**it. Sammy Davis, if he'd sensed once that we were b**ing him him, either he would have kicked us out of his dressing room, or no way the show.

2. The idea for the TV show

So now how do you present this all-singing, all-dancing, all wise-cracking, enormous diminutive personality? [...]

So I had an idea and luckily I had a great set designer [...]. I knew what I wanted to do. I'd been watching Billy Cotton's variety department for years, The Billy Cotton Band Show and the Tom Jones shows and whatever. I hate seeing a close up of a great performer with out of focus trombones f**sing about while they are not playing, out-of-focus, it's distracting. WC Fields, nobody moves on the set when I'm working. Check? You don't distract for Christ's sake, so 1) the orchestra a big one, is behind the cameras, out of vision, and stay there. B) I'd got a world-class performer, one of the greatest in the world, what the public want to see, him. [...]

So I decide right, that's it - which is the next decision, he is alone on stage in television theatre, Shepherd's Bush, on his tod for 45 minutes, it's a 45 minute show, a). b) No scenery. What can scenery say? B**hit. We just had one opening caption which was about 30 ft high which they panned on for the opening titles but that was out of vision left of frame all the time. We lit for a downstage working area, about 8 ft circle. Upstage of that and to camera left, 8 feet, no 10 feet, was an overhead spot. Obviously with fillers, which is either a lamp-post or he had one stool only, it's the only prop he had. It's a stool and it's a bar, it's a quarter to three and there is no one in the place, and not a single light anywhere else except that. 

So what I'm going to sell him is a) orchestra not in shot, b) he's on his tod for the whole run, c) there's a no scenery, he works in a 90 ft cyc and that's it. And cross fingers, it could be he won't like it. That was problem two. Problem one is how do you say to one of the BBC's greatest set designers I don't want a set. And this is a month or more and we were going up to Liverpool to see Sammy do a break-in week in Liverpool before he opened at the Palladium. Stanley Dorfman, the designer Stan Dorfman. Yes, great, and a great producer-director too. Anyway Stan and 1, we both had been known to drink a bit, we met in the BBC club bar and like a couple of idiots, it's like High Noon, we're both standing there and unbeknown to either of us, neither of us wanted to build him a set. He didn't want to build a set either. This is again, luck. We both came to the same conclusion. Problem, persuade Sammy Davis.

So we got to Liverpool on the Thursday, early. We take in the afternoon matinee which is full of housewives, and this is in the pier, up there. And it's a different audience from the audience in the evening. It's a very macho city, Liverpool, I love it. He doesn't do apart from one number in the opening and one number in the closing, he didn't to the same thing in the second house that he did it in the first house. He changes the entire thing, just like that. He also, second house, knew we were in. We had a meeting with him the following morning in the Adelphi Hotel, but there's a couple of anti-BBC gags in as well, so shit, he knows we're in. So we've got to go back. And I've got a speech prepared very carefully for the next morning.

3. Persuading Sammy Davis Junior

So we go backstage and there's this enormous guy, George Rhodes, a great gentle giant negro boy, who's Sam's musical director and, he is expecting you. Oh by the way I've forgotten in our cables between us, I kept cabling him saying I have the good fortune to be producing your show, BBC, whatever. Please give me a ring. No answer. He was playing Las Vegas and Lake Tahoe. Until the end I said for Ch**t sake talk to me. And I got a cable back saying, to Dame Mae Witty. So till this day I'm Dame in that set-up. Dame, he's expecting you, there's a giggle, and there is this thing curled up like this, like a coil on a bloody spring. Hi, hi.

Now in those days I drank. The excuse was I used to burn it off, I needed it for the energy, I think, otherwise I'd fall asleep. And my standard drink was a pint of bitter and a large Bells whisky. Now only people who work with me know that, I've never met the guy. I'm sat down in an armchair beside which is a side table with a pint of bitter and a large whisky. The s*d. He's researched me as well. Opening question, what kind of the show are we doing? So I edge a bit and say, congratulations on the show, first house, second house we saw it. Yeah, yeah, yeah, what kind of show are we doing? I say we've got a meeting at II O'clock at the hotel. What kind of show are we doing? There's no messing. So I said I've researched you, I know how you work, you don't know us very well, but I believe in being direct. You're doing 45 minutes, on your own, in the BBC television theatre, the orchestra's behind cameras, I don't want any unfocused trombones coming out of your earhole. You have a 90 ft cyc on your tod for 45 minutes. Because if people want to see Sammy Davis, let them see Sammy Davis. Who wants to see musicians, they don't entertain. Live. He says I buy all that but not live, we pre-record. I said no, we do it live. If we pre record you're a great performer and you're a dedicated pro, noises to this effect but I will get an 99 and a half percent out of you. Do it live, I'll get a hundred and ten, I bet you. And he said, you'll never keep up with me. I said something like up your a**e. That's ridiculous. [...]

Then he said anyway British musicians can't play jazz to which I said rubbish, because American session bands are not as good as our session bands, to this day they're not, I promise you. So he said to my surprise, yes. I could have kissed him.

4. Production expenses

He then comes down to London to play the Palladium for five weeks. And this is why the BBC licence-fee is still so low. We saved them a fortune. Lew and Leslie Grade or Bernard Delfont or whoever brought him over to play the Palladium, paid all his airfares, his suites, numerous suites at I think it was the Mayfair Hotel for five weeks, and his fare back the Sunday after we'd finished. All it would cost the BBC was his straight fee, no overheads at all. Cheap! Great! But we're going to ad lib it and the guy changes, he literally changes it. I went every night to the Palladium, I stood at the back of the stalls every night with a light pen taking notes, and you can't ad lib forever, you know, there has got to be a repeat pattern so I can nail him. He's there one night and obviously he lost the audience, you could sense him feeling the audience, and he cuts, in the middle of the number, sat on the floor and said I was never a Nazi, I thought those camps was holiday camps. Big laugh, pick up, change the number. Wild

I'd formed a sort of pattern what I thought he was going to do, within the ad-libs, see if does that, he's gonna do that, if doesn't and so on. And I went, he rang me and said, you never come backstage. And I said well a) the dressing-room is full of well-wishers, but also it seems to me to be wrong somehow. I love you dearly but it just isn't, afterwards yes, mates, but let's keep it.

He said you come on the Saturday, which is his last night. Syd and I went to the second house and he is in the middle of the act. He does normally 58 minutes, but if he's going well the second house he will do up to an hour and three-quarters because he's enjoying himself, and so is the audience. And halfway through the show he suddenly stopped between numbers and said, are you there Dame?. So I said yeah, have you seen me do the guns? No. Right, Dame hasn't seen the guns, get the guns. Have you seen him do this? Colt the weapon manufacturers made him a pair of Colt 45s, silver-plated colts which weigh half a ton each, these were the full tchu tchu [imitates gunshots] bit. And he's a) so proud, because he's only a kid at heart, a) they're in a presentation case, he's proud of these things, they are balanced and you can do what you like with them. And he did a display loaded with blanks of cowboy gunfire. Do you like to that? Yes. Right it's in tomorrow.

The following week there was a letter to the BBC from Bernard Delfont complaining about BBC producers using the Palladium as a rehearsal room for a BBC production. But what I'm trying to say, it is relevant, it is what creating an atmosphere in which a director, producer-director and artist can work together. We're both probably round the twist. We're both probably a little bit potty otherwise we wouldn't be in the business. But you build a love and a trust and you don't give a fuck for anybody. And if you get in the way, hard luck, management or not. Does that make sense? Again, for young people, if you believe in it, stick your neck out. Have a go.

Part 2


1. The Rag Trade and women in comedy

In the fifties happened the Peter Sellers film I'm Alright Jack. And already the British trade union were getting very stroppy and so were management. And as usual in Britain we had a rotten bloody government. [...] And maybe harking back to my work early on in the satirical shows we did in Bush House, working with great journalists, documentary minds like Dick Crossman, Linley Fraser, Alan Bullock, Hugh Greene, we thought we'd climb on the bandwagon.

So I put up the first all girl lead comedy series, if only a bit of self- aggrandisement which for me is what it was all about I think in those days. And you know people won't laugh at women, there is this funny thing, the English do not laugh at their women. In America, great bl**dy comediennes, here no. I'm not quite sure why. It is that they are the fair weaker sex. There's a joke, that's a good joke, that is. It is that we are gentlemen. That's another joke. And in those days I just think we're chicken and we're scared to laugh at our women in case they have a go at us. Anyway it was enormous fun. It starred Sheila Hancock, Miriam Karlin, Barbara Windsor, the little diminutive Esme Canon whom I'd seen in so many films. A little tiny squidge of a lady about 4 ft 3 with the nervous fingers, and I'd seen her on stage in a review and for the first time in my life, this was some body who when she worked got a laugh on every line she did. She had some thing with an audience. She was dithering nerves everywhere. She was brilliant. Then against them I had Peter Jones, they were running obviously a rag trade, a schmutter shop, churning out of ladies' clothes and the governor was Peter Jones. And Reg Varney, long before On The Buses, Reg Varney was there because the authors were Ronnie Woolf and Ronnie Chesney, both of them ex variety writers from radio. Ronnie Chesney the international one time harmonica player would you believe. And it literally was feed line tag, feed line tag. The plots went from A, they did go through B and they did reach C. But that was about it. It was standard workers versus boss stuff. But it was 1957 for God's sake. And it was a female version of I'm Alright Jack but for laughs, and every line was written to get a laugh. We used to reckon on six laughs a page, 60 pages, that's 360 laughs in half an hour. And we are doing our duty, we're entertaining the nation and making the nation laugh.

2. Tips for directors about actors and crews

DW: This is for anybody who is directing. There is no point in giving an actor or an actress any moves until he or she is on top of the text in the first place. And not only on top of the text but on top of his or her apposition to all the other characters. Let them work and run about, for a half-hour weekly strike by day three afternoon they will begin to enjoy the arguments, the cross mental swords in an argument, and they will find things in the text which even the author doesn't know exists. So there is no point in prefixing bl**y cameras. Now round about day four, I used to like having a tec run for cameras, lights, sound, and the crew. We would be very dependent upon their reaction, which is a b**er because some camera crews, some tec crews are easy laughers, others take their job terribly seriously. And it doesn't matter whether it's Panorama or Till Death Us Do Part or the Bolshoi Ballet, they're just there for us to light superbly. We used to depend so much on the crews. I won't mention the bloke, because he's still around, miserable sod, but we got to know him, and after the show he would tell us, on the Sunday night, after the show, we did quite well. It came up to his standards. The point I'm trying to make his how delicate we all are because we're working under abstract.

3. Comedians, studios and audiences

In my last, my penultimate year at the BBC I worked for six months with John Fortune, of the John Fortune, John Bird, John Wells, Eleanor Brown, ex University stable, brilliant, brilliant, brilliant. Genius. But a diffident writer until he gets the action right and when he gets it right it is a superb. I worked with him on the script for about six months and it came right. We offered it to Jonathan Pryce who at that time I think was with the Royal Shakespeare Company and now of course is in the Hitler Diaries thing in 1991 [Selling Hitler]. Jonathan read it, thought it was super, would love to do it and but not with a studio audience. It's got b**er all he said to do with comedy, 300 people do not represent 10 million. Anyway you can't concentrate and he said anyway you can't light it properly. And therein lies the bugbear.

If you can imagine, draw yourself a near square, be generous, make it a rectangle, say 100 by 80. And across the right hand, narrow end, which would making it 50 by 80 is the studio audience. In front of that knock of 10 feet for the fire lanes and public exits and these dreadful men of the London fire Brigade. Then get your lighting director to show you what you want and he will go white because there is at least half of the studio's lighting that he cannot use. With a live studio audience you cannot really fine light a scene. You are shooting virtually through the fourth wall of a theatre. Now, you can stop, and in comedy it's very difficult, you can stop, push cameras up, drop in a phoney flat for a 4th wall and do some reverse shots. But the moment you do that you've lost the audience and you've got to pick them up and start an all over again. The best show you can do is a comedy show with a live audience that goes straight through, maybe a retake for a fluff, but goes straight through as good as a one act play in a West End theatre. Because you pick up the audience, you give them the rhythm of the text of the actors energy. The nearer to live you can do it the better. Now every time you stop, you lose the audience. You put in some strange person who is not in the cast necessarily who tells a couple of filthy jokes, which I won't have, won't stand for it - in the middle of a clean show there is this guy talking about tits and bums and a**holes which throws them - so there we are. We had a tremendous fight with the BBC. By what 1981-82 this was, so I'd been in comedy for 40 odd years, and no way could I persuade the powers that be at the BBC that if I decide I want to do it without an audience, they should listen to me. [...]

The film industry took probably Britain's greatest stand up entertainer, I won't just call him a comic, this is actor, comedian, clown, Sid Field, who was absolutely genius. Hancock modeled himself on Sid Field, he was Hancock's idol. British film industry did two films with him, London Townand Cardboard Cavalier [actually his first film was That's The Ticket in 1940]. Again, this is like the BBC management. The film company, the producer and the director didn't understand that Sid Field only worked with an audience. Take away his audience, you cut his legs off, he cannot rise to an emotional height, either in terms of sound, body language, or just gut feel, without an audience to will him to lift them up. And having lifted them up, they lift him up. It's a team thing, audience to performer you know.

AL: It's encouragement

DW: Yes. But also it gives him his timing. Because his script was written to be broken up with an audience in mind. They used his photographers sketch and his golfing sketch, both of which were written for an audience laughter to break it up. And did it straight with no audience.

4. Film sequences

NS: Another point really, Dennis, a lot of comedy series including Till Death Us Do Part do of course have film sequences. Now they are often without dialogue, not always but usually without dialogue and of course no audience until they're played

DW: That's a good. Norman, can I add to that, it's a very important point

NS: How do they fit in, is that a problem

DW: Because by the time you've done a few series, and we're all at it now, it's down to you and down to the actor and director to have faith in each other, you work out between you where you reckon the laughs are going to come, and you ought to have a pretty good idea. And you arrange either some body spins around to look or some body lights a cigarette, but you arrange some natural bit of body language or bit of business to bridge the laugh. There is nothing worse and it is happening all the time in 1991.

AL: Telegraphing

DW: No, not telegraphing, you can always take it out, and you shoot it so you can edit it out if need be. But the lines of dialogue that are lost in filming because the director hasn't thought

AL: That's a laugh

DW: And the other appalling thing now is, the BBC swear they don't do and they're liars, is dub laughter. This is I think appalling. Throughout Till Death, you ask Johnny, Speight, You ask Warren Mitchell, you ask any of my video editors, I have never added a laugh ever. A) partly for self defence because if an actor gets a big belly laugh, his eyes change, his body language changes and he covers to cope. In fact Dandy Nichols did the classic, and this lady is probably one of the greatest actor-actresses. I learned so much from working with her, we were talking about audience laughter and she said darling the whole aft is you make the buggers laugh when you want them to laugh but even more important is you make stop when you want them to stop, so you can carry on. This is what actors are for, they're not just there to play a script. Once they are on, they are directing themselves, and the audience.

5. Societal changes breed new comedy

DW: I think the Second World War in Britain was the equivalent of the French Revolution to France. And you know what revolutions do, look at the French, 200 years later they're still trying to sort theirs out. [...]

But what did happen during the war is within the first couple of years all the old [...] officer class, disappeared up your kilt. It had to be young men who could fight a war, who were intelligent, regardless of class. A working-class boy might have been a charge hand on a caps and [?] lathe machine shop, would automatically if he was a charge hand would have became a sergeant major in charge probably of a squadron of tanks. It broke down all divisions, because only one thing mattered, we had to win the war. Or as a nation go under. It heralded the greatest social change in a hurry that Britain has ever known [...] because up until Sunday 3rd September 1939, the BBC had not allowed any jokes or piss taking of Adolf Hitler or the Nazis at all. And in the theatre, the Lord Chamberlain banned all anti-Nazi references and jokes. And indeed in 1938, Cambridge University Footlights were censored by the Lord Chamberlain for putting in a Hitler joke into that year's Cambridge University Footlight review. And these are the wrong guys, running the country, in charge of government, establishment and the BBC. [...]

The BBC producers' green book of which I'm sure ACTT or BECTU have a copy. If not, you can photocopy mine. I've still got my copy, its number 38. You couldn't do anything, you couldn't mention public figures by name. You were banned from mentioning politicians at all, you were not allowed to make humour about religious issues or church issues, at all. And then the string of jokes, jokes about chambermaids are banned for obvious reasons. Uhh. Jokes about animals, eg rabbits, banned, and all these idiot mimsy-pimsy, Mrs Grundy attitudes, hangovers. [...]

During the war I saw the most horrendous things happen in Normandy, I can't tell you. I saw the RAF drop bombs on the wrong places, on their own troops and then to have Fighter Command denying utterly to this day, 1991, they still deny it happened. I was there for Christ's sake. I nearly got hit myself. [...] I saw incredible bravery, and if you lived in that great mish-mash of emotion and danger - incredible bravery and suffering - you're not going to be put upon by some berk up on the 6th floor of the BBC who has got no balls do something worthwhile.

So Speight and I decided to do Till Death and our intention was a wholly healthy and positive one and that was to take a working-class man, in London, docks East Ender, which is where Johnny Speight's family came from and portray them through a microscope for what he was. He was a monarchist. He would fight for King, God and country - these are all the things he says he is - he's a hard worker, he's good to his wife. He loves his baby daughter and he's got friends, whatever. He is the average British working class good-guy. We take him to bits. He is a liar, he is a cheat, he is work-shy, he's a rogue, he's a coward, he embodies every weakness that you can find in Homo Sapiens through the use of Cockney language. Imagine putting that up to commercial television today and them saying to advertisers we're going to put up the most awful man you've ever seen in your life. [...]

Our intention quite clearly was to put Alf Garnett in the public stocks, to pillory a public shame and say to the British nation this, for better, for worse, is you, there is something of this guy in all of you. And don't pretend there isn't, be you working class, be you a lord, be you an MP, be you what. Everybody is an Alf Garnett. And we proceeded to do it, as you know for seven series.

6. John Sullivan and Only Fools and Horses

I would go across to the bar, a few yards, and have my small Bells whisky and a half pint of bitter. Drink it and maybe pass the time of morning with a colleague, usually from newsroom. And back in the office by half past I2. I was in there one day and a young man came up, his name was John. Good morning Den, good morning John, have a drink. Thank you John. Cheers. And he said, I gather, he said, that you are a reasonable man. I remember this almost by heart. I say what's up? In that you will read anybody's script regardless of who they are, whether they're pro or not pro, and whether it's hand-written and not typed. I said yes, just in case. And I reminded him of Galton and Simpson, who had done it once. I said yes. He said right. Yes. He reaches inside his pocket, read that. And it was a full script. May I take it away and read it. Yeah. Give me 20 minutes. I can do justice to half hour script in 20 minutes. I was back in about 15 minutes and said I'll buy it, even though the scene had changed, and I wasn't in a position to buy officially. But under my old thing I would have been, so sod it, I'll buy it. If not I'll bloody sell it to ATV or something. And I bought it and luckily our head of comedy in those days was Jimmy Gilbert [...] and I bashed into his office and read that, and anybody who works in light entertainment and is a boss, poor devil, the number of scripts that come in, even if they're filtered by script editors. I said to Jim, read that, not at the top, not at the bottom of the thing, now. We'll be in the bar. There was something, I wasn't b**ing. Bless his heart, in the bar, we were on the air within seven weeks. So don't tell me the BBC is a stuffy organisation. What year was that?

NS: What was it?

DW: Citizen Smith, starring Robert Lindsay.

NS: And who wrote it

DW: John Sullivan, a BBC day crew scene shifter [...] But this guy had never written a script in his life before. Do you get the import of this? And the reason he clocked on as a day crew scene changer was to watch them working in the studio and pick up scripts that somebody had left around and take them home and study them. He was a cockney boy, left school at 15. When I met him he was living in a two-roomed council flat in Balham with a newbom baby, and it was a rotten council flat too. He is now a millionaire, he has bought himself the most superb property in southern Surrey. And incidentally he has never changed, we still meet. He is still John Sullivan who was a scene hand and the first thing he does when he goes into the BBC Club. The BBC Club for those who don't know it by the way is one of the longest bars in the world in that the building was built to house some 8,000 workers, actors, musicians, dancers and soloists, so it had to be a big bar. There is however a small bar off to the left. The interesting thing is all the mates drink in the big bar, props and scenery as you go in the big bar, down on the left, they've all got their own little patch, scratching area. And it is interesting in the small bar drinks BBC Newsroom, editors and journalists, and BBC Light Entertainment. The two have gravitated naturally together, because we both are for real, whereas they are for fantasy. Does that make sense? It's very interesting.

But John Sullivan comes in and goes straight down to the scene area, and buys the entire, that part of the bar a drink, every time to say, to celebrate his good luck. He is a nice guy.

We did a third series, fine, he made a bit of bread enabled him to move, buy a semidetached and things. Let's stay with John Sullivan, he then came up with a new show called Only Fools and Horses, which almost immediately became the number one show in Britain, nationwide, wiped the floor with all-comers. And the boy's had no education, no formal training, certainly no show business training. You see comedy is a gift, you can't legislate for it.

Part 3



1. The Mitchell Glee Club

I arrived on the Tuesday, I know because the Monday was Whit Monday, I have never forgotten that. I went straight to Ronnie's office, he had been my umbrella man producer in radio. So we knew each other well. He said how would you like to jump in the deep end and learn to swim quickly. So I said sounds all right, what? He said we've got a show fallen out, artists ill or whatever, I've got seven half hour blanks. Radio Times goes to press in two weeks time. Can you do it? So I said you know me, have a go.

Went back to the office. I had never handled a TV show in my life. To talk about I inch and 2 inch lenses and even props versus wardrobe versus whatever. The usual thing, you've got to make it visual which is not necessarily so. I went back and luckily what I'd done in 1948, 1 think, in radio - I'm mad about choirs and big band music - and I used the George Mitchell Singers in one of my shows, only as guests, and there were 16 of them, 8 boys and 8 girls. They were the civilian end of what had been the Swing Choir of the Sergeants' Mess of the 33rd Battalion of the Royal Army Pay Corps. This is literal. George Mitchell peacetime was an accountant in Surbiton Town Council but an opera buff and a reasonable pianist. He started a quartet which became a septet which became and octet and then the ATS girls came in in the sergeants' mess. So he had a 16 piece choir. And George who was a perfectionist and a superb choral scorer, appeared on a forces show, somebody heard it and booked him into their show, somebody heard that and he ends up doing 6 or 7 shows a week. Hadley's Curbside Choristers in ITMA, Standeasy was another. It was doing good quality stuff, corny but quality. And George and I were very good friends, and thinking in terms of the great big American chorus, Fred Waring and His Pennsylvanians, which were all the rage in those days. This is 40 years ago. And he said great because we've had so many sergeants through the mess in the outfit over the years, re-assemble a glee club of 40, from all over Britain, as they dispersed for demob. Andy our lead tenor, a Welsh tenor, was a barber in Swansea. He came up 

NS: And you did this obviously very quickly

DMW: Very quickly. Now hold on, this is 48 and George Mitchell is still working as an accountant and he hasn't decided yet to take the plunge, to turn pro, nor to ask his 16 kids, now that they're demobbed. Some of them didn't have jobs. Risky. So this decided it and he went pro. I did a 16 week OB series with The Mitchell Glee Club. We played the Branwyn Hall Swansea, the Corn Exchange, Ipswich, would you believe. We played town halls and things all over Britain, always using a local choir. We were put opposite I think 20 Questions on the other channel and we knocked them out of the ratings and Kenneth Adam was furious. I remember that. But there it is, the all singing Mitchells, superb quality, very popular.

2. The Black and White Minstrel Show

AL: Where are we in time?

DMW: This is 1948, we've come forward now and this is 1956. Television

NS: You had a fortnight to get off the ground is that right?

DMW: Rang George, hurried meeting. He in the meantime had graduated to doing summer shows, seaside concert shows for about 2 or 3 years, had got into a bit of the old, not much, and he knew a few dances. Studio, Television Centre was still being built, Riverside One, big -studio, was in full use, drama, whatever, Ambrose had two. The only studio we had was Studio G at Lime Grove which if you remember is a long thin corridor with a knob on the end. Can you imagine, we put in 24 singers, 8 dancers and an orchestra and moved them, in studio G in Lime Grove. This is where to me BBC television is breathtaking. I'd never done a TV show in my life. I knew b****r all how to do it. My TMs one and two guided me through that, my designer guiding me through that, wardrobe and props makeup all guided me through. Fabulous. I had Malcolm Clare as choreography who had done a wee bit of television. I'd mugged up a bit on lenses. I still think in terms of degrees and not inches but I've even got the hang of that. Thank god it wasn't dialogue. It was non-stop. And blow me down we did it.

The upshot was we come to show seven and there is one whole bit in George's repertoire that we used to do with great success in radio which no way could we do, this is live, live television, is a change, all of us from white to nigger minstrel. A couple of weeks before we were sitting in the bar after the show at Lime Grove and the makeup girl came up and said I've just had a bloody good idea, how's this. The TM's with us as well. She said if I put on a very light green makeup for everybody, with slightish white lips and slightly whitish, but to keep the contrast ratio between the light green and the white, minimal. And Dennis sticks a red filter on a camera, what happens? Non stop, I ended up on a close up on Dai Francis white, cut to a long shot Dai Francis surrounded by the others with a red filter on, black, [singing] 'mammy, mammy'. And so began probably the most successful musical show the BBC has ever done. Black and White Minstrel Show which ran for years all over the world. Won for the BBC the first ever Golden Rose of Montreux, made George Mitchell a multimillionaire and fully deserved incidentally. Rich to the extent he could order his own Rolls Royce convertibles, built to his own specification, how's that for rich.

3. Pop music series 6.5 Special

DMW: We were living and working then in caravans in the design car park, whilst the Centre went up. Anyway I was blooded so I didn't get attached to anybody else. I was then sent for by Ronnie again. Got a job for you. What's that? Join Jack Good, 6.5 Special .

NS: Same Year

DW: Yes, 1956, 57, which I hated, and Ronnie knew that I hated it. Because I am a comedy and big band, I'm Basie, Ellington, Woody Herman, Boyd Rayburn. But he said it is not the reason you think it is I want you on, you're live and you're slinging cameras with no rehearsal for 55 minutes solid. You do a year on 6.5 Special and if you can't handle anything that can possibly happen in a television studio, I'll eat my hat. And of course he was absolutely right. You know we had lovely Freddie Mills, Jo Douglas, Pete Murray. Oh Bernie Winters and his brother and the whole from the Two Eyes Coffee Bar, Lonnie Donnegan, Tommy, upwards and downwards. That was quite fun. Pushing in a Vinton camera to a studio floor crowded with kids and you've warned them watch the cameras because when come through they're going to come, they won't get out of your way. On the narrow lens, big lens hood we had, and you'd see a turret spinning vision because it had hit somebody's head. Whee! But that was very, very good experience, I think.

And then I started getting my first film experience. We took 6.5 Special to Paris. Where I met another Dennis Main Wilson. An idiot, fabulous wild, wild character called Jean Christophe Abertie [?] a maker of satirical programmes and whiz kid, an absolutely wild character, he came in as director and we did it from the Caveau de la Richette [?] in the Rue de la Legere [?] on the Left Bank, opposite Notre Dame and I'd never handled film before. That was an enjoyment. To be able to set it up and actually wait until the sun had got into the right position in the sky to beam off the spire of Notre Dame and still put a bit of back light -through the trees, luxury. That was enormous fun.

4. Improving 6.5 Special

I was talking about my first attempt at filming and doing really 6.5 Specialwhich was the first ever pop show for the kids. My only I think addition to the quality of that - there wasn't much, it was a dreadful time, skiffle was in, kids playing guitars were in, they used to go into music shops and a guy would sell you a guitar shall we say for 20 quid and then charge you 5 quid to tune it for you, it really was that bad. And I have a horror of ever playing down to a public in order to make money out of it, I think it's bad manners, it is bad for the nation and it is sh**y from every point of view. I tried, maybe it's cocky of me but I tried to bring a bit of quality into 6.5 Special. All the kids were watching it because whatever was in the hit parade we did that Saturday and slowly I introduced the kids to Johnny Dankworth and the [?] quartet. I let them hear some decent modem jazz which is exciting and a bloody site more exciting, and Ch*t Johnny's wife, Cleo Laine. Let's see somebody who can actually sing rather than just bite the end off a mike with no bloody voice. And I brought in something which I regarded from my own selfish point of view as professional as opposed to amateur kids being taken advantage of by music shops and record companies. Anyway it was a great experience in that, I go into a studio now and if the entire gallery breaks down I'll ad lib off the top of my head on five cameras.

Part 4



1. Genesis and locations

DMW: In 1965 Johnny Speight and 1, Johnny Speight the author, well established, he had been writing a very successful series for commercial television, called the Arthur Haynes show, one of Britain's leading old-fashioned stand-up variety comedians, which had been a huge success. It ran for 10 years, there were over 150 shows and they are all still exist in the ITC library. We felt, this is jumping back knowing that already I'd started to The Goon Show, I'd done Hancock's Half Hour, I'd done the first all girls show, The Rag Trade which was about trade unions. I'd done some wild shows, all experimental so far and this is going to be the big one. And we'd decided a) that Homo sapiens is a load of lazy rubbish, give God full marks for trying but he won't be promoted next week. In that it appeared to us that homo sapiens was a liar, a cheat, a bigot, a liar, a materialistic greedy bastard and really wasn't worth two penneth of cold water, especially if you're British, and especially if you're Cockney. So we invented Alf Garnett. 

We did a flight over Wapping in a chopper. To save money we hopped aboard some body else's, Shell UK paid for it not us.

NS: This is you and Johnny Speight

DMW: This is me and Johnny. Looking for an area which would encompass all the location sequences, the area as we were going to describe. And it had to have a bit of a playing field, a pub round the comer, a church not too far away. It had got to be near the docks, got to be near the river. It had to be in Wapping High Street if possible. So we did that. And we then persuaded them to let us go back to opposite Big Ben, and I said to the pilot when I say go split us from opposite Big Ben to the end of Wapping High Street, where it becomes a dog leg and becomes Garnett Street, where the cement Silo is. He got that and we did it in one minute 23 seconds which is brilliant because it's one minute 43 for Big Ben to strike the hour and chime 11, and that was the opening titles if you remember. That was that.

So we'd established the area and then I called in my set designer to discuss what kind of house they lived in. And it was to be a 12 ft square front room with a scullery out the back, with an earthenware sink, a bath in the scullery with a lid on where you keep all the crockery, a copper where you heat up all the hot water to hand bale the water into the bath and run the cold tap, and a bog out the back, and a tiny garden, and a front door that opened into a hall and the stairs go straight up and you turn left into the front room. In the front room there's got to be a two-seater settee, two armchairs, a piano, a dining table, four chairs and a sideboard, in a 12 ft square room. Which as you know, that became our trademark, that was it. That in fact was the exact floor plan and the furniture arrangement of my mum and dad's house, and they never have spotted it. And they thought the Garnett family lived in the most dreadful circumstances.

NS: I hope they liked the series

DMW: They loved this he series, except my mother didn't like the language. 

2. Shooting dialogue

Till Death Us Do Part was a weekly turnaround and a Johnny Speight script is written in a convoluted pre-war, old fashioned Cockney and it's a pig to learn. We did one a week, Warren Mitchell by the end of the series was exhausted, you know, and I always worked, obviously we did a lot of the series, but early on, you know the set is only 12 ft square for Christ sake, which makes it even more difficult actually. Imagine a set that is only 12 ft wide and you've got five cameras, 3 dollies, you've taken up your 12 ft. So your middle cameras can come out or they can go wide which immediately makes a 12 ft set look 18 ft which is exactly what you don't want. So we ended up with 5 studio dollies, like knitting with the tripods interlocked, but I don't think we ever once made the set look any bigger.

Because Johnny Speight never did dialogue A to B, it was A to B, two shot, D would interfere, back to A and then there was 3 shot with B and C because it was an argument or you stay out long and you'd shoot it like a film but in so doing you would have slowed down the aggression, the claustrophobia, in that room. It had to be aggressive in order to make the show work. That was enormous fun, but we never told anybody to stand there or sit there, but about day 3 afternoon when the cast had felt their way around the words and the rhythms, you move on that word on Monday, round about Tuesday hold on, you've gone round the settee because there's an easier flow of rhythm whatever, or a cadence goes up in tone, you want to f**ing shout at somebody, upstage with them in foreground, and you've got him jeer in foreground, and they're are cringing without him seeing it. Or even, one thing which Warren Mitchell said to me once you can't do that, I had him downstage where on the 4th wall, where the fireplace would be, knocking his pipe out below the camera, into camera, mantlepiece, and does about four minutes straight into camera with his back to the kids and their reactions, turned and did two more minutes with his back to the camera.

3. The pilot

Our mistake was and I'm not quite sure, I know where it went wrong, I cast it too well. My original casting was Peter Sellers to play Alf except Peter was in a down period, this is when he disappeared and lived in Ireland with his lady. And my second choice Leo McKern with whom I'd done a couple of wild shows with Eric Sykes. And this man, part of a great actor, he knows more about comedy than most people I know and great to work with. Leo had just come back from Hollywood and made a fortune and bought himself a triple screw luxury diesel yacht. And was cruising up and down the Channel trying it out. We tried come in number 19 but it wouldn't work. And my third choice was Warren, Warren Mitchell, who had done a myriad of small parts in radio and television but never any big one. But good and of course the man is world class, little was Warren to know how good. And rather than the nation taking it seriously and laughing at Alf Garnett, they took him to their hearts, sort of they identified with him, and laughed with him, so we became an enormous success but for the wrong reason. We eventually hit, our peak figure I think was just under 24 and-a-half million. And thereby hangs a story. Because when we made the pilot which we knew was good, we had great confidence, Johnny and I went drinking in the White Elephant in Curzon St that night, all our friends had seen it and hooray, champagne. And in the Elephant you get next morning's paper round about half past 11in the evening. The crits were super, so we decided not to leave the Elephant, and we stayed there and drank champagne all night and then had breakfast. Turned up at the BBC Club bar at lunchtime still on champagne and all our friends came up and said wow, follow that. It was aggressive, within the first three pages we'd destroyed Harold Wilson, we'd destroyed Ted Heath, anybody in charge in Britain, wild, wild. 

And another thing Big Ben is slow by his watch. And that Harold Wilson, last time I wrote he never even answered my letter and I put a stamp on it, mate and all. But it was wild. It was a breath of total fresh air. It had never been done before and it was flat out. [...] And audience didn't know what had hit them. So we are back, it's now lunchtime-ish, in the BBC Club bar, on a Wednesday. And Wednesday as you know is programme board meeting, to review last week's output by all the bosses of BBC Television. And our mates were buying us drinks, and in came Tom Sloan who was the head of my department, entertainment. Johnny Speight who had this stutter, bless him, it's not so bad these days but when he was younger and excited, a-a-a-a-a, and he went up to Tom and he said a-a-a-a what about that for a bloody series mate, eh? Tom froze and actually said over our corporate dead body do we make series out of subversive murk like that. And my heart sank. The man was a Scottish Presbyterian, I think his father had been a lay minister in a kirk up there or something. [...] but typical, British timorous middle-class, with a set of rules to follow which belong somewhere round about Enid Blyton 1924. And you can't run business Iike that. 

Luckily down from the same board meeting came the controller of programmes BBC 1, Michael Peacock and the controller of BBC2 David Attenborough. And David giggled and nudged Peacock and said if you don't want it on 1, I'll have it on BBC2.

4. Annoying a BBC executive

Round about the third series of Till Death, Johnny wrote for me one of the funniest scenes ever. We open up and Garnett is already in mid-flight, he's fortissimo to start with, and he's going to go higher. Somewhere he's got the idea that the son-in-law, Tony Booth, had had it off with it his virgin, beautiful little rose of a daughter before they married, because if you did I'm going to bloody kill you, I'll.... And they chase him round, he's going to break his neck. We didn't, we didn't we didn't 

Una Stubbs is nearly in tears, all calm down, all calm down, but an enormous argument, dreadful, smash faces and things. It all calms down and Garnett apologises, unusually for him. This is Speight, good writer, hit big, and then leave it, and great comedy construction. Let it lay flat. And the longer your nerve holds out, you can keep it flat when you come to the tag, yes the longer the pause the bigger the laugh, does that make sense? He apologises, it's him getting old, you know and there is a lovely pencil sketch of him and Dandy Nichols when they were young. Of course when your mum and I were courting, I never. You wouldn't dare, she said, I'd have hit you. So all accurate stuff. And they clear up the tea things, tea for two, sorry tea for four. Four cups four saucers, four spoons. And they put them on a tray and they take them out into the scullery out back, leaving the kids on the sofa who collapse in giggles and Una says, God if only they knew, hoots. We couldn't get much of a laugh, because it's so normal. I don't know about you two, but certainly my wife and I had sex before marriage. Anyway we'd go into the scullery, and this is comedy, and this is relationship, actor, writer and director, and Dandy and I had worked at it and out. She said we can't miss can we, and I said no. Because they know you are going to have the final tag, they'll sense it. She washed four cups in total silence, quite slowly and four saucers in total silence, with Garnett drying them on a tea towel, and three spoons in total silence. And on the last spoon she said, you did you know. And the audience fell out of their seats. Now it's not clever comedy, it's confidence in, well it's innate

NW: And timing of course

DW: Can I tell you, the next morning, I was on Tom Sloan's carpet, you two-faced bastard, you've let me down. I said what was that? You promised me you'd never get up mixed up in sex and rude scurrilous stuff. I said we didn't. I mean, the Dandy thing last night. No where the daughter laughs and says if only they knew. How dare you let me down. I've a damn good mind to take you off the show.

Transcription PDF: 

This is an rough transcript using the Otter speech to text system. A more complete transcript will appear soon. 

Dennis Main Wilson Side 1

Norman Swallow  0:00  
The copyright of this recording is vested in the ACTT history project. Dennis Main Wilson, television producer, interviewer Norman Swallow, recorded on the Fourth of July 1991. side one we're running.

Norman Swallow  0:32  
We're on the air. We're on the first of First of all, where and where?

Norman Swallow  0:35  
Where were you born?

Dennis Main Wilson  0:38  
I was born in East Dulwich on the first of May 1924.

Norman Swallow  0:45  
And what about education?

Dennis Main Wilson  0:48  
 Luckily, it was before the war and not now. In the late 20s, early 30s. We were working class family. Dad was an engineer. And one went to primary school, run by the local council. Standards were very high, discipline was very strict. But then the discipline at home was strict. You know, apart from the silly thing of little children should be seen and not heard. That didn't apply, my old man. I talk like a lord knows what you know. But we were very fortunate in that,just a nice story. There were five of us who ended up in a school called Deansfield Road which is on the Rochester Way which is the A 2 Dover to London. Our house was right on the bloody thing. And when they opened it  up we did'nt  get any sleep from  about 1935 onwards. But further up the road was this nice Deansfield Road school. I remember well the Headmaster's name was Dixon. I remember him because his birthday was the same day as mine and we used to celebrate together. very kind to a little boy of 9  he was. But the standard of teaching in those days compared with what I see today, because I've  been on parent/ teachers committees with my kids  was comparatively brilliant. This is up to 11 years old. There were really four of us. One cheated , his father was in the army. Of the four of us, my dad was an engineer. Very working class. Bill Robertson's  dad was a railway goods yard coupler and uncoupler of shunting. waggons. Norman Bleigh's  dad was our local copper and David Armstrong's dad was our local United Dairies milkman. We all, thanks to this council school, got scholarships to a local Grammar School. Now that is what down our street and Christ they couldn't even speak literate English let alone anything else. And

Norman Swallow  3:09  
Which, which which Grammar School 

Dennis Main Wilson  3:11  
This was called Grammar School in Lewisham, which was a much more salubrious area than it is now.

Dennis Main Wilson  3:19  
We've had on rides and things that you know that there was a certain dignity about a school, but to get to our grammar school, our George Wilson boys don't eat his office either as easily absorb the scholarship cry. So you go there in your best suit. The master was a chap called Maurice ma oxen and he spoke rather well, whereas we was talking more a bit like that dollar unit. And I wouldn't 11 and in four years, not in six years, they hammered a good manners and knowledge into us. The standard of teaching was superb. The sports regular The school was superb. I got the OG middle for the medics and I've done rugby and cricket for the school and we were healthy. We had to work like mad. Remember before the war, everybody did a five and a half day week. The father's work the five and a half day week. And school you did a five and a half day we love luckily we had a brilliant foremast. When I first joined it was a bit overwhelming. One of my classmates his father was master of Delhi's college. He spoke rather well and was extremely well brought up and well dressed. But out of this I appeared that the dumb I had a talent for languages and took French and German And then lastly Spanish which is a STEMI in good stead because I ended up when I left school in the European service the BBC for a year and a half before I was called up at when the war finished obviously counted my regiment to become the audiotheme, chef of the Northwest Georgia oven in Hamburg when we did not survive the German radio system. So that was extremely fortunate. We were then evacuated in the week before the wall as an entire school from notion to Tunbridge Wells in Kent. He will msre 15 1515 years old note is that I remember no drama we were looking forward to as a part of a big adventure. A lot of today's in the 80s and 90s documentaries on the evacuation. tearful children. hysterical mothers, I'm sorry, I think it's grabbed. My mom and I both tearful we couldn't wait to get

Norman Swallow  6:17  
away. It's not only it's not only today's television, is it? I mean, the films of the time. And remember this we're also but also a bit tearful. And now those were shown during the war. I mean,

Dennis Main Wilson  6:27  
yes, but the duck today is documentary makers. I mean, look up the dramatic bits. The heavy bits is singularly undramatic happiness is not a good news, tragedy and drama.

Norman Swallow  6:42  
Only bad news is good news is

Dennis Main Wilson  6:45  
bad news is good news. quite sure. You know what, it was all about that anyone? As soon as we got off the train, you know the labels in our lapels? What was it been I got ready to go to Tunbridge Wells? Nobody Well, sorry. And there'll be a long crocodile I mean, the 800 boys around from 11 to 18 you know, a hairy bloody lot to go with. But you actually add him to the local big hall and a woman went through are here looking for knits and I wrote him to my mother is a you know who will ride safe etc. but net and she wrote a stinker to the Meritor visuels but it was fortunate in a way in that we were billeted with a Tunbridge Wells ran the school Skinner school, again with a very high standard. These What do you say? The grammar schools that are supported by the grant aided Park government, but also the city, liver and companies. My grammar school culture Grammar School, which was founded in the 17th century, by Abraham Colfer sort of local vigour from the word go was supported by the virtue Worshipful Company of leather cellars and still is to this day in 1991. So there's a great tradition, tradition seems to be an outward present. If traditional means discipline, there's nothing wrong with that, for Christ's sake. That was that and then the war on in 1940 this dreadful disaster. The Dutch Belgians and French one is laid down their owns stories of Belgian officers at their private cars parked just behind the front lines and Nippon quickly. So did the French and they dropped us in the guard. I mean, Dunkirk was a total European disgrace so much for the Commonwealth. And it meant that Britain virtually Adam, your tiny standing army left Jojo was made Prime Minister and in the House of Commons told Taylor Whoa, he checked on what weapons we had left. Because it was all lost. Most of it lost at Dunkirk. He had 70 tanks, only a long room sort of just post World War One that we're hoping now to date. At about 170 pieces of field artillery, some of it dating back to the Boer War. We were totally unprepared. it not been for the Air Force in the Battle of Britain. I think Britain would have an honour and what happened to us a long way to go right to run story up until Dunkirk had you been accepted but entrance to a university, you were allowed to go to university and see our three year degree goes after Dunkirk that was stopped, unless you were reading science, medicine, or something of direct help to the war of it. So we knew that Bob was going to be called up reading from foreign languages at a dealer half 17. My old father met a blog in a pub, whose auntie and uncle who knew a chapter in Plymouth, who happened to be a BBC transmitter engineer who said, What do you want his body not to do as during the BBC, or apply to him? Because they're looking for young men with their own languages? I think so at 17 I went up to broadcasting house. And I think I had three interviews all together and was made a recorded programmes assistant. Vital,

Norman Swallow  11:05  
that's not that's a technical job. Is it? No.

Dennis Main Wilson  11:08  
Thank you for the question. Please explain here. This is the elite elitist snobbery thing about the British establishment. Had I been to the wrong interviewer, I would have become a Junior Programme engineer doing the same job. But because apparently by now I spoke quite quite well in the improved BBC manner and had a good record at the grammar school. I was sent to a programme interview board. So I became a recorded programmes assistant, which is in the programme division and not the engineering division. And thanks to that, this is my career at five weeks training. Remember, tape recording has not been invented. there been a disk a rough attempt to build a thing called Black Navone with steel tape that was run at about 2000 miles an hour broken cut people arms and legs off, which was a disaster. But it was soft 78 discs. And if you wanted to edit you in this modern day and age of the hi fi and debt now you're incredible. To edit a 78 you used to have to put the turnabout mark on the out and agenda golf mark on the in groove and do a jump cut from groove to groove to hide the cut you rent a blank disc so you wouldn't notice the loss of surface noise. You added interference in other words

Norman Swallow  12:55  
What's this Dennis at broadcasting house or

Dennis Main Wilson  12:57  
training was a broadcast Yes. The phone came was when you were playing in music on a 78 and something quite complex with a lot of movement. And you had to do an overlap changeover. And if you didn't get in sync is people that swear to this day. Hands on televisions waiting for something? Yes, you missed it you know when crunch it on the soundstage or whatever. So one learn very quickly. And when accuracy and the general excitement of playing with the greatest toys out in the world, really. Should they pay you. I was on a panel. I think I was on a panel weekend trading. And then I was interviewed at bush house for languages and after five weeks I went to bush when I became a general, departmental aanbod just playing in discs in the news talks recalling people in peluche Yugoslavian Yugoslavia is rather topical at present, not just Yugoslavia in slowly in chromatin zurb occasionally separating the warring factions from the three divisions of the country. I used to look after Madame Levon dishes the Luxembourg, who'd escaped and the Nazis and broadcast to her country every Sunday morning. And then players talk to him in the afternoon, she even took me to lunch one day, proposed 17 to be taking the lunch with the grantee, she has he was very charming. And Leo Clausen's was a finance minister. He was over here as well. And they took me to the rose door I think all shovelled or something in Jamaica. For a bunch of us just beyond the Ruth's I've never seen anything like it can arise. So the eyes are being opened up broadcasting meeting every European nationality some of them couldn't speak English. Putting out news talks in checkers, no bank in Polish, German French in a problem Spanish. We won't do he was speaking to Frank in Italian sylvans brains became quite quite flexible in the handling of things and emergencies because we used to work 72 hours on his 72 hours off. And in 19 4041, the news 1941 42 but the news was moving very quickly. So use next a couple of hours given the others it will be opposite had bumped in. And then three days of continuity announcing notice still playing in this?

Norman Swallow  15:58  
Nobody had nobody heard your voice. Right? That case

Dennis Main Wilson  16:01  
occasionally did the odd broadcast here is a young English student. And I'd read something in in French or German. But it says this pair of eyes

Norman Swallow  16:10  
Did you did you write any scripts for example, you

Dennis Main Wilson  16:14  
know, in a majority of the beauty of the whole thing was the men under whom I worked were in their mid 20s to early 30s. They were you Carlton green. Professor Linda Fraser. Dick Crossman, MP to be Alan Bullock. Now Lord Bullock has just published in 1991. Is it a versus darlin book. And these guys are writing the copy and broadcasting and I'm servicing them of this is better than going to any university and work with brains like that completely random. And then I was given as a sort of a PA. full production assistant isn't just to remember I got to Mario scoring. Great actor, great writer, great broadcaster, who had recently as one regard, written and starred in this under the shadow of this was to go series, which was warning about Hitler. And we then embarked on a whole series of quite advanced documentaries. Using an American documentary about a normal common adult would you know him very famous, who wrote the most stupid documentary. So we're now into full blown radio documentaries, and I don't think I'm yet 18 years old, or features as we call it features. Yeah. So the experience I mean, this is years of experience in months, where there was tremendous pressure to get up and go when you're young, you can learn with you anyway. So that was that. And then this was the huge read Linda Fraser. Ellen book, probably judging what you think. They decided that this is beginning of my real career, to use humour against the Germans. So there's all this talent. Why is journalism great broadcasting sense? The Germans didn't have a chance. So I worked on lots of wiki programmes. One, for example, was called caught on to really, and they're set in a sort of Southern German town.

Norman Swallow  18:48  
So this wasn't in which language or menus is in German. Yeah, just one language.

Dennis Main Wilson  18:52  
This is in German, and indeed, not only in German, in the Varian, at the very end to Elijah and Hawk Deutsch is Cornish King's English. Gordon, really quiet, was in the little town, the local Gestapo bus galleta, whatever. And villy was his mate with a little village town school teacher. And he was to meet for a beer in the bar every night. typical example would be now that good Elliot, Elliot Rivoli Then did you hear the pure speech last night? Pause. Yes. What did you think of that? We thank the entire British merchant fleet in the Atlantic last month. Yeah, but I thought we did that the month before. Yes, sort of thing. There was a that was hard. And never stop it was a sort of beyond the fringe with a reason

Norman Swallow  20:07  
did you then Sorry to interrupt Did you then know or later get to know the kind of feedback as that's the word from the German always I

Dennis Main Wilson  20:13  
worked in Hamburg for a year and a half so you knew after the war and obviously counted my regiment and they listen to it young indeed in Berlin but the Berlin dialectic is hilarious it it's funnier than company all the hard consonants go soft like I went to the cinema been in ski no gigamon in Deutsch in Berlin even it's Hito young and young and and it's all very soft. Amir this old cow frog Anika rabbit rabbit rabbit rabbit rabbit rabbit rabbit complaining about rationing about lies on the radio by Neverland to stop rabbit rabbit every time you got one, maybe only got one great effect. That was that and I joined the 1718 and a half. You called up when you are willing not. I would love to get into aircrew because my dad had been in the wrong flank or in the first war and they've been brought up on aeroplanes as a kid. But my eyesight is very bad. So that was that. You know, if you break your glasses, you'll graduate. Clever so they put me on the roll armoured car where you're standing in a bloody tank, Derek will find more chances of

Norman Swallow  21:45  
breaking breaking your glasses.

Dennis Main Wilson  21:48  
And again, this is what I believe in luck. This is a separate paragraph I believe in luck. It is inevitable that some people are born lucky. touchwood and I've been fortunate as opposed to the random school force it was my parents fortunate to find the BBC even find the right department, the BBC. Fortunately w Gordon green and all those super intellectual capacities of everybody then and to indeed to join BBC. So called up you go for six week primary training, which is you know, there'll be up and down Barrick squares and things. Except we'd already done that at school with an opposite trainee God. I was a sergeant in the local school Training Corps. And before that God may say in Tunbridge Wells, the local defence volunteers DVS Yeah, if you're ever 16 you are allowed to have a loaded weapon and join the Navy and man God and indeed it was September the 16th wasn't it 1940 when the church bells rang at Hastings there was a an emergency we were on duty Guarding an old Brigadier on his country house just outside w models a really first first of all Colonel black lovely man that are my dear and we're on duty to the time that on to our shift and I swear I could hear bloody church was ringing in the distance, which was the invasion warning. So we were not in the garden and my jump to I can even do probably a better way the man up. So his bedroom and shook himself has said, Sir, the church battery, and he flooded. This doesn't make that panic. And we also want to add Indeed, the church bells did ring down on the south coast. And to this day, I've never had the true story. But apparently cemetery barges were washed up on the coast.

Norman Swallow  24:06  
Anyway, so you're now in the army.

Dennis Main Wilson  24:12  
And strangely, as my son said the other day when he went into a general hospital, waiting room. I didn't realise what a sheltered life I'd lead. I was brought up on an old Co Op housing estate. Everybody down our street was either a working man or unemployed. Nobody undercard. Nobody had a telephone Christ. When there was no money, no poverty. Everybody neat and tidy. And compared with what I met in my first week in the army, it was paradise. These kids came from launders were all over southern England. They were dirty, filthy, unwashed. lice writtens illiterate innumerate bless their hearts an absolute bloody shambles. So I had obviously another working class and I've been very lucky what you can imagine you're interviewed by the major of your company because I got rid of the oblique Maxine. Proper slide you're right in the house now. And it said BBC on that haters, BBC chap. Yes, sir. Sargeant, given the stripe, even run your own background and you run a background was one stripe the third year? Not because in the language you wake up in the morning? Yeah, well, it was please Martha inputs and pizza a practice by some trucker as you fucking know Camilla Lee, you know, in seeing what happened to language that was disgraceful. How dare a nation that it's young people being in that state? or How dare the parents? Because you before we went to school at five years, we started at five. We could all read and write because I'm on my dad's daughters. And we were clean, because that's where our mums and dads left. So Lord knows. Anyway, long story short. By the end of six weeks, I survived the last coppers, right. And I posted to a tank training regiment where again, oh, BBC, USA, keep an eye on him. So you do three months and you learn the ins and outs. It was the comment tank in the Crusader and the comet tanks was about 26 tonnes of tank powered by the Rolls Royce Merlin aeroplane engine, which bothers bit brown American except in the planes they were supercharged in the tanks they weren't. So you had some numbered holes as opposed to 1000 holes. And I learned driving and maintenance gunnery wireless transmission on the old 19 sets the A and B said that was it. Apparently I came out of that or I was doing fairly well. They sent me to a more of a selection board which is four days of unmitigated hell it's a commando battle course built around somebody's stately home where all the offices and instructors in psychiatrists live in absolute luxury. By third tried to break it and you sit around a breakfast and there is a goddess listening to you or engaging you in talk the hard military men teasing you are teasing somebody who start with PT two instructors know bom bom bom had one particular exercise when you're nearly passing up with fatigue because the Trump's is doing it with you. When he's passing up. He moves on and is fresh make takes over but you carry on. And they tried for four days to break you physically. There was one battle cause where you would have done about two hours pee in you've had a light lunch and then the afternoon you go out and using all the things you know crossing the rivers on the road Piece of cake but have fun. The Broken bridges where you drop a six foot gap which if you've got dodgy eyesight isn't very pleasant at the tunnels with amazing building underground to start up cost of leaks and things and the other must share

Dennis Main Wilson  29:07  
of you break up into teams you know the latest wraps around what you're doing things like that. And then the final one really is just a break. And they got us on the third day to mother's breaking point. And the final one was the scale. A huge old tree I think must be an old oak with about a five foot girth. Get up it except there are no branches lower than about nine feet up to the top grab rubber rope throwing lead on a pad and you've done it except there was a huge muddy pool at the bottom of the tree. You're covered from had to put in shoes and muck anyway, from what you've been through already. Your hands are wet, your body is wet. Your pencils are just caked in mud. Everything is slippery and there's no bark on the first seven Up to the dream. You got to make it. I tried Bhavana and then then I collapsed. But I didn't stop trying. Nobody made it the body fat. And they came up with the B plus. which apparently was good. So the semi dishonest This is luck. Cockney boy from a working class Co Op housing estate, to Sandhurst via the BBC. If that isn't luck. You know? Can I pause there for a moment? Because I like to talk about my family background from that. Because it has a bearing on what happens if that I'll start is what happened in 1965. Johnny spade and I don't expect the author well established in writing a very successful series for commercial television, called the author hen show, one of Britain's leading old fashioned stand up variety comedians, which have been a huge success. It ran for 10 years. There were over 150 shows and they all still exist in the ITC library, under the ACTT know that, but they all exist. And if you don't want to use them, you ring me or Johnny's back john has given me access to all of them. Now I can do what I want. We've held this is jumping back knowing that already I've done the Saudi at the gun show. I've done Hancock's have done the first all girls show the reg trade, which is about trade unions. Yeah, done some wild shows. All experimental server. This is going to be the big one. And we decided agate mo Sapiens is a load of lazy rubbish. Give God full marks for trying, but he won't be promoted next week. In that, it appeared to us Ms. epeans was a liar, a cheat a bigot, a coward. A materialistic greedy bastard and really wasn't worth a bit of the Goldwater especially if you're British and especially if you're a company. So we invented Afghanistan. We did a flight over Wapping in a chopper saved my money we hopped aboard somebody else's show UK bed right not us. This is you and Johnny spec This is me and Johnny looking for an area that will encompass all the location sequences and the area as we describe it. It adds a bit of a playing field a pub around the corner immediately. Church not too far away got to be near the docks got to be near the river. It had to be wobbling High Street if possible. So we did that. We then persuade him Let us go back to opposite big done. And I said to the pilot When I say go split us from opposite Big Ben to the Adobe High Street where it becomes a dogleg and becomes Gannett Street, where the cement silo is, he got that and we did it in one minute, 23 seconds. Which is brilliant because it's one minute 43 that Big Bend to strike the hour and join 11

Dennis Main Wilson  33:47  
and that was many titles. If you remember. That was that silly, establish the area and then I called in my set designer to discuss what kind of house they lived in. And it was to be a 12 foot square front room with a scullery out the back was an earthenware sink, bath in the scullery, with a lid on where you keep all the crockery a copper where you eat up the hot water. Jan bale got water into the bathroom and they called up and a bug out the back and the tiny garden in the front door that opens up and into a hole in the stairs go straight up and you turn left into the front room. In the front room, there's got to be a three a two seat, two seater settee, two armchairs, a piano, a dining table, four chairs, and a sideboard in a 12 foot square room. Which is your note that became our trademark now Was it that, in fact was the exact floorplan and furniture arrangement of my mum and dad's house. And they never spotted. And they thought that the Garnett family lived in the most dreadful that was dead. I hope they liked the series, though they love this series, except my mother didn't like the language

Norman Swallow  35:22  
anyway. So so we pause for breath. And we want to go back to the army

Alan Lawson  35:27  
and yeah, yeah. In the army. Yeah. So

Norman Swallow  35:32  
you want to military service then? Yeah. And then. And then. And then radio Hamburg at the end of that.

Dennis Main Wilson  35:40  
What did you say you're running? Yes. That Sandhurst was marvellous, in that it had become the was the Royal Military Academy that stand out for purposes of war, had become the Royal armoured car, officers Training Unit. And I think effectively, we did the three centres training goals in six months. They were desperately short of them, young leaders and young officers, you know. And there were two wings, there was tanks, and then what they called a JC Squadron, which is the honourable artillery company, which was cavalry, blues Royals, whenever you drills into that. And I was having a beer in cambly. The tone we tend is about with my parents who come down for a weekend we met an old Army Sergeant. Probably heading to him is that your boy over there is head introduced. So we saw what you're doing. And the article is good. You have the right thing. And you could say you are a lazy bastard, sir, which is fair. He said, Well, I tell you, why don't you let your boy join them takes he said in the first place. They're slow. In the second place, they're pulling bloody petrol. If you get it up they go. He said in the third place. He said the officer in charge is only a few yards behind you and is currently on your monitor behind him. He said the difference is something shocking. This boy had been discharged because his 1725 Lancer cavalry, he said you get into an H AC Squadron. He said you have to be good. Maybe take the best. He can incoming cavalry said I just come back from the desert. He said he was wandering around 300 miles away. But the desert wall Brahma Gods was brilliant. So for the first two months, again, they're trying to break you we had a regimental Sergeant Major. So about six foot six tall by about six foot three wide and about 18 feet run the chest correctly. pigeon party just promised Redman sugar brand sugar brand Grenadier Guards, who was brilliant, evil and I mean the standards that discipline there will be 110% you went on parade every morning to rehearse the Royal parade, which have to do in six months time you could you could shave in the crease in your houses. You know, you could shave looking at your looks the polish. I should think the barrels of the rifles and revolvers. Guns are millimetres too wide through constant cleaning. We were immaculate, and they still nailed you when you're on punishment parade on the Saturdays. You know one thing got under one here. Surely don't get your cancer. And this dreadful thing. Your ramrod rigid. used to walk down behind you with his pace, stick the yardstick and it would stop anything shit, here it comes. The dreaded word. You've lost that, sir, because your name in the book will be banned something I mean until you burn these two frontier buttons. It'd be knocked there. If the button if we look underneath of love and hate is in the magazines at the ripe old seven day wallet when he had them. We were shipped out really was. And then on the on passing off parade. Sandhurst, has an enormous perimeter road facing the old building called the Kings walk. There were 1200 officer cadets in training. I shudder to think how many are left alive.

Norman Swallow  40:00  
What What do Is this

Dennis Main Wilson  40:01  
where are we now be 1943 I was going to put in 43 and you the band would start strike up and the Adjutant on his white horse in the middle of the square which was exactly 440 yards quarter of a mile across a quarter mile deep is a quarter mile away he would drill you there until you'd start and come around the perimeter of walk going towards the building and then I think we were about 24 abreast I think as a sharp left turn and you're in ranks have to be sure it was 20 holes and you would form square and God help you if you weren't kept images out when you stop that was all done in music. Once the big robbery mechanic sided and liberal arrow hence I love biebs he was at a coda cut off they got a new music which means you do a whole very aggressive deep removing so we do that go through that we did a month gunnery training month while is training a month driving and maintenance as near as dammit you can take attentiveness and put it back again or you know enough about it so that if your tank is some nugget of inaction you call for a Remi crew where the expert to come in but you can tell the guys what to do when you cuz you couldn't do it yourself. But you know what to look for and what to expect. So three months out and then we did the final month of tactical training and then passing operate and that's wild. Oh, the funny thing was it when I got there, I had a servant but my number one been a downstairs maid and she was a teenager. You know I love to talk with servants, but not to servants. It was a bit of blessing but there we used to be chopped. And they assumed that you would fake up a psychology that you would work hard and be passed out as a suitable officer. Because you bought your uniform. Your dress uniform. And you Sam brown measured for it and your servant polished the SAM brown every day. For six months. I've still got mine upstairs and in my regiment we didn't wear army records the officers wore white British warms it was Snow White. I set my dad back about four months salary

Norman Swallow  43:09  
Can we move on? I don't know. Sir. We've seen a forgotten broadcasting a

Dennis Main Wilson  43:14  
bit No, I'm sorry, can do but you can erase some of that. It's absorbed me long time yet that pass of bad days filming. There was a fog my mother by the game down and they drilled 1200 opposite cadets who couldn't? The guy that obviously couldn't see then we couldn't see him and we did it more or less blind. Versus commissioned. Big excitement. What 90 love on a train, put it to you Ghazal Inns of Court regiment which comes under the AJC honourable artillery company with a Rifle Brigade and all that kind of thing picked up by the regimens not major Mr. Whitehead. There are two of us both working class boys, both chemical wise. He looked at us as though we chip better for breakfast. And that was it. And for the first six months, we are on regimental Sergeant Majors young officers drill parade is nothing and a small group of young officers drill in front of the entire regiment. And if you cook it up, the boys cheer and eventually you're going to lead them into battle. So you got to make a good, very good secondly at a great Squadron Leader, George ratash who was related to the debeer diamond family. I think is under those Governor the Bank of England was I mean, I my squadron was the only working class officer, the first working class officer to be allowed into the country.

End of Side 1

Dennis Main Wilson Side 2

Norman Swallow  00:00

Dennis Main Wilson Side two

Dennis Main Wilson  00:03

Having cut the end of side one I hope. Trim the army bit. Very briefly great experience. We are told as this module we got a special job to you on D day to Hello year which is a mobile dirty tricks unit. So when especially training courses kumada causes outer kills with leaside at the implantables out of law bridges are discovered behind lines etc. which I've never chose to use yet. I'll use it when there was that as regiment was about to move south to Southampton ready for the invasion. I was seconded to the General Staff. more luck of general surgeon Crocker, who was the command the British Army landing on the day I began his career as an officer bodyguard again more luck had I landed with my squad Monday day I wouldn't be here today. The amount is wiped out in the first few days. Luck again you see I served with john all through Normandy the crossing of the Seine the capitulation of lahav the split us right now to the Dutch frontier into Holland where having worked with the BBC we were welcomed with open arms because I kept checking his his eight years that one dice which was the only thing is there topical news thing and then trying to get across the Mars which is as the end of the Rhine. Eventually the Remagen bridgehead and the bridges at Remagen, or Katya and eventually ended up in Germany, when a military police jeep pulled up immaculately with a military police sergeant. I was fully attentive by then. Mr. Wilson, yes, your wanted Army Headquarters where so many of the Danish border an army code is is in Brussels. But no through drains anywhere yet, most bridges ever most rivers done. It took three days to get back to Brussels, and I still don't know what I done. Think about leave in Brussels, you know, we had a bit of a pest. And I was taken into a short term. Where was the judgement called hue carbon green luck with whom you work before course, with whom I've worked in, which was the long story short, I was given a mess of classified documents to read, which was a breakdown of the staff of the NW EDR. They're not they're starting with Eric Bach, who ran it was a leading Nazi. He was to be arrested and putting on the neck. And then a breakdown on every single member of the staff. We must have had the most fantastic intelligence that was lacking in quality. Anyway, because I was I never been to university. I was therefore not classified as an intellectual. Because the aim was really to bring psychologically philosophically bring the German nation back in to the realm of world nations as a civilised country and rehabilitate them by the use of freedom in broadcasting and books in cinema in theatre, all of which have been rigidly controlled by gubbels. So because I was an intellectual, they may be head of light entertainment. And I started with nothing except an orchestra and some singers. Absolutely, I went around pw camps, trying to find young writers, young performers. I even went into Buchenwald.

Dennis Main Wilson  04:47

But he's not television. I've got some pictures of him. I got another job and I met an old Oh pile of bones. Walking around and I said, "How  are you? Wie gehts ?  Gut danke, What is your name? Because the good foods you know, what did you do with all this horrible thing and he was the first if I took omega, I was an old comedian. And I said, Ah, because Jeep we took him back to Hamburg put him in the hospital and slowly sort of tried to beat him up a bit and I put him on the air telling jokes preroll jokes with me you died soon after but that was good. But I had to move I got some audit my scripts out and I tried to encourage my German staff to write comedy laugh For God's sake you make fun of it what's funny we blow food that's all we had no good in England but we added well you know food was rationed and we've abandoned the you were bombed with nothing like that to make fun of the British occupying authority be like the time come take laugh make fun of the British authorities noise quit button God knows I dried the Germans to this day My daughter is married to a German by living in Munich don't have humour as we noted they are unable to laugh at themselves. And therefore at the establishment there is a German version of till death of course it only lasted I think two or three episodes with till death is to part the john is he used to come over phone call john is what you're doing I'm doing a new show. What do you got? Till Death us do part. Is it good? Yes, we come. And they'd sit up in the gallery behind you.

Dennis Main Wilson  07:02

And with till death and the minds boggled and things like because it used to go like the clappers. How many days did you have in the studio? One today? How many weeks rehearsal. Five days we did one a week ago. today. remotely impossible. It we tried to help them It used to take them three weeks to Reza hava coming in. And three days in the studio, which I found surprising knowing how organised they are as a nation, but I think this is organised mechanically and logical thinking. comedy is an abstract if you tried to regiment and mechanised comedy, you get Who's that day those will be last night there's a lady as my wife You will sort of inorganic comedy as it were, you know. Anyway, did you have that? And we ended up with a full schedule 70 shows a week.

Norman Swallow  08:13

How long were you there

Dennis Main Wilson  08:14

you're now unfortunately, with nappy prices and the strain because I worked seven days a week and I had got learned about it in normally. I think a combination of overwork. Does whisky I should take it about 10 Bob a bottle 60 cigarettes a day

Dennis Main Wilson  08:41

in general fatigue I mean to get this bloody on the air I bet a nervous breakdown came back that'd be IV demand they wouldn't have to do six moments so I was made second in command of a squadron in a tank training regiment

Dennis Main Wilson  09:00

upon wake with more on the Yorkshire Mars we had that winter 1946 47 they would cut off well anyway this is where is the assembly room to the story really starts with demand at a resettlement interview with generals guy men regarding who was the bbcs resettlement officer who known my old Colonel which was beautiful and suggests you must I went back into the European service and to which I said thank you know I'm light entertainment now I want to go into a variety department and they're a bit cross you know, I turned down a quite quite a good offer to go to Europe. But no. So I need to teach me a lesson. I was sent it to BBC Radio variety above it was made a supernumerary because there was no poster for me in charge of auditioning returning ex servicemen.

Dennis Main Wilson  10:14

This was wild. Already at the windmill and beam every second time I saw the windmill and Michael benteen and went to the windmill and Jimmy Edwards. It might seem that the windmill

Dennis Main Wilson  10:35

the windmill was the Proving Ground for returning talent. Six shows a day with statuesque news. We weren't allowed to wobble even a nipple without breaking the law, Chamberlain's law. And they used to put young comics in between the tableaus literally, we get a lot of bloody lucky because it's full of dirty almond and raincoats. And there's no show number three ended that afternoon and there's 15 minutes while the owners go out the show number four come in. All the old men would climb over to get front row to ogle the girls branding, but by golly, do make them laugh. You had to be good. benteen I remember brilliant. Just came on with the broken back of a chair. which had happened in his home Actually, he broken it. So there's the upright, the chair and a flag thing across and he came out doing a wild declination where he does a flag and they're gonna fight to the death with it man under his arm. It was a machine gun. It became a plough. Marvellous, totally original stuff. Harry's he can do the thing he'd been doing in Italy. During the war, when the war was over. You couldn't D mob? All the servicemen and 2 million men under arms and bring them all down. But once you've never Fida Maoism drawn to Adam, whatever. So they brought him in dribs and drabs, according to when they were going up. So overseas, local commanders went guys to get the boy to entertain themselves as Harry Sagan was in a, an army concert bodyboarding that Spike Milligan and all that kind of thing. Peter Sellers, God, Peter Sellers, Benny Hill, Graham, stop, all that crowd. Were going around the world entertaining in RAF camps. They were an area of NGOs. So there was the window because they cannot determine again the business. Harris he could have been a tea boy in South Wales steel factory. bent in was that was that had to be no war. I'd have ended up somewhere. My father goes in getting the post office you got a good pension in the post office then. Terrible lack of adventure. We're all nothing's until the war happened. There was a marvellous place in the West End it had been get his own restaurant, just not the strand or betweens random tomatoes, which have been endowed by Lord Nuffield to me the Nuffield forces centre, and it was run by a fabulous woman called Mary cook, who loves her boys. And as he says, we can go there any time of day for a very cheap water GAVI and the odd canadair, whatever. And on Tuesdays and Fridays in the evenings, anybody wants to do a turn? Could you stand up and do a turn? That's where I first saw Tony Hancock work before he went to the middle. Like many comedians, most I think he started as an impressionist or is he considered is an impressionist, doing a nervous man shaving with a contract for the first time. Another surgeon performed his first heart operation. Hancock did the whole of an endo pa concert party. He played the comedian, the tenor, the soubrette. All these things, not bad stuff. Certainly original and good, and very funny. I then saw Tony at the window. And in the meantime, there was a club around the back of the window where all the boys and the girls used to drink called Ellen's club and it's where virtually everybody demand In the business went so I met and God is writer Larry Stephens, ex commander major areas he can, obviously Mike benteen bilka a rather language Australian, who just come onto your maleness act saying I'm only here for four minutes. You I wouldn't say if I was you look around to this place ever caught fire you'd never get out. There's only one door. It's busy. We're right outside.

Dennis Main Wilson  15:35

So I met Bill. Add it turns out that Eris e comm had an agent, he really wasn't organised, called Jimmy Grafton. It also turned out that Jimmy Grafton owned a pub in Westminster called the Grafton arms, which have been his family for over 100 years. So quite naturally, when all our curtains came down or whatever, we started gravitating to the raft alarms were after closing time. We go upstairs indigenous lounge and chat, adlib gags ideas, whatever. And literally, that's where the girl job started. But literally the opportunities with the BBC I thought handled it very well. They allowed me to cover anything where there was young talent. I was given filmhouse in waterstreet for six months in the downstairs studio there and I still audition from 10 in the morning until 10 o'clock at night for six months changing shifts of audition panel every two and a half hours because you you will party after after a while. And we did just over 6000 donations didn't find very much. Except the big one was was Bob mangas leading aircraftman Monkhouse. He sent a letter signed by his Wing Commander saying you know you've got to get this job. He's totally brilliant. And if you don't give me a nervous breakdown, like under this Mou, we are but I didn't know was at the time. And not until I went on this is your night but Mancos did the truth come out. He was putting a bird who was secretary to the Wing Commander. He'd had her type it and fiddle their signature on it without knowing what he was signing. And that was it. He was brilliant. He did 10 minutes straight. Bang bang bang bang bang up off the cuff Ganga Ganga get absolute breathtaking. You're under present marks all of us. Years later I discovered it was on lifting Jack Benny Bob that material. And I found that out because I did a series with Bob Hope to the BBC Radio. And Bob cabled me from Hollywood to say can I get Bob Monkhouse to write the English side of his materials why him because he knows my material may stay over 12 Point taken. So omega. So this is where the battle with the BBC begins. And the reason we did all this army bit and luck. I come out of the army very fit as you can get through what we went through, you know he was solid muscle very fit. I was used to commanding then. I was used to commanding very senior people in a foreign language. We had won the war, don't forget, I'd served with a very fine regiment I'd been through Sanders, who green had given me enormous, confident confidence. And I wasn't even pushed around by any bureaucratic boss didn't the BBC. I didn't go in thinking that. But when it happened, that was my reaction was instinctive, instinctive, because there were a lot of very old fashioned pre war thinkers. Except for one band, thank god who was the head of variety, Michael standing, who was a brilliant broadcaster, good old fashioned gentlemen. And his opening line to me once was I know nothing about light entertainment young man. But I know a lot about broadcasting is that the other thing in those days unlike today, I think when you applied for a job as a producer, in those days in the job description must be able to devise and produce and innovate own programmes. And this is wreath attributed to john Reed and somewhere along the line he said I choose to think that I delegate my total responsibility from this office down to all of my every one of my producers in every one of my studios. delegation of authority yeah tempered by exact grade system tempered by referral upwards if you think you're wrong or it could lead the corporation into problems it's there's a marvellous way to work and the way I've worked all my life but what I will not have is dominance downwards from people who don't know as much about comedy as I do 

Norman Swallow  20:50

You know in my experience the reference upward system has always been there and and i agree with you it's a splendid is it there now?


One of the reasons I left a year early I discovered that when out of good  manners you send the script to your departmental heads I'm gonna do this and the other jazzanova it didn't have to be sent to the network controller and if needs be to the managing director BBC television no I love Bill Cotton's  a great mate of mine but he knows fuck all about highly intelligent comedy he's brilliant. You know at game shows he's brilliant, a variety comedy the Yard woods in the mobile visors. But when it comes to written construction, comedy, it's not his scene. He knows what he likes when he sees it and he has it

Dennis Main Wilson  21:48

but I'll fight the ground on this. Anyway, so go back to the front. We had an idea

Dennis Main Wilson  22:00

built from NBC comm appearing on site that's positive with martial thoughts rezeki thought the BBC also to encourage servicemen returning this is in the 45 or is it for example he had a massive live Sunday show called variety but unbox one produced by Greg woman joining us as men who get every young aspiring comedian, an audition after the show be Sunday night. And if you're any good, bingo, you're in next week. Don't maybe the student is ready to regress. She gave everybody a break was anybody seeking we've been on two or three times. Sellers got on very early. The sun is is interesting. I was the first person I think by no to see Peter Sellers work at the window. Except for a young agent called Dennis Salinger who is probably the most senior agent in Britain. today. He's got Michael gain, opposite dominance and went backstage afterwards. What Peter did but he did about four and a half minutes of drums, did ribbon pompom, getting Jean Jean jinkin and bartering changing, that sticks down, down to the votes, close the tabs behind him. He then went into about three minutes of impressions, which were breathtaking, breathtaking. So backstage, grabbed him. I said, brilliant. Got a grip. The BBC friend of mine is casting his show Royce bear casting a new company series. Give him a ring in the morning. You Rang reisberg The next morning and said this is the very second talking of this is I know can the phone talking or the Sigma Murdock talking on this? Well, I sent him up Rutten and I called him and he was booked that day. You know that this is sort of the spirit of adventure there was around in those days. So somebody must have been area I think, dropped the word goon. around during the variety, bandbox. And two years before the goons actually got on the air. You hear tragic title, gunnery, adverbial, double good re that Guney. abune is champion air is EGA Ma, whatever, whatever. So the word existed that was getting established. We kept suggesting ideas for the guns. There was a senior producer great, great producer, Pat Dixon, Patrick McNeil Dixon. Didn't get the task for the BBC either. And his own office with his own furniture of his own library. You put the fear of God into Junior planners and he kept putting up ideas. Peter Eaton. We mentioned together the goons from me put up ideas. No, not very good. I've got some of them here. But then we put up the gun show proper. Two and a half years. Before I got on, was the first transmission date was May 1931. Exactly 40 years ago. Straight 40 years ago, the goon show started this year. And 50 years ago this year, I joined the beaver somebody over there were rumours, the story up in some great big executive meeting, programme meeting in broadcasting, as somebody said, Well what's all this about this go on the show. Anyway, we got one. It was wild. And very important. We were only in our early mid 20s. Except for like what I think was 30. Now if you co relate that to this year 1991 that is the equivalent of coming down from this year's can be University provides. And starting from scratch. Not being worldly wise, though. We had the advantage in that we've been away for four or five years in a wall.

Dennis Main Wilson  26:51

Some things are quite hairy time. And we bashed around the world. And for 2324 25 year olds who were pretty bloody my job.

Dennis Main Wilson  27:02

That's the difference. But when we started the goon show, we were younger I think then when Ben Elton was when he started, but about the same age as Hillary, Steven Bryan Emma Thompson when they started because it was a robot's even dry. She was already there Murdoch from Cambridge, for their first ever BBC. Jeff. And what happened today people look back on the gun show, as if we were the same age that spike is now criticising that bond if you've been with kids, just as they were. Very quick to series The gun show. It was a documentary format, because Michael Bennett he was in it and provide documentary work in German region. I was documentary literal minded. Spike on the other hand, who was articulately illiterate? I think is the best way to describe him. was what he's Irish if you read his poetry, you know there's a hole in the sky where the rain comes in. That is why rain is thin and was going into total surrealism. He's also some kind of very interesting psychotic nut either that was the biggest con man ever after I decided yet even outdoor media or both, or both. Yeah. Well, your your precise role was then a producer. You were credited. I was I was the producer, who was trying to bash the BBC to let us do it.

Norman Swallow  28:47

Was it was it a live show? Yes. had to be had to be. So it's an obvious question, but posterity austerity?

Dennis Main Wilson  28:55

No, I couldn't get it up. So the goons appealed about Dixon was very senior. And he persuaded them to do it. And somewhere in my archives after the pilot, I have a note copies of me from Pat Dixon to the head of department saying having done it I've never used to do this here is Wilson's you're doing there's nobody to us and I'm too old doesn't mean again. So it came back to me for all the work. I did two theories. It was awful. It was exciting. In the benteen was co writing as well and took a bear benteen from eating with spike brought up son of an Indian Army NCO one a wild What do you think of the other one? Almost a scientific thinker. believes to be good on the human the human chemistry in humans, you imagine that all right, would you like to stop for a second? Yeah, I think that the person was at the good job, which be among our own age group at work, but didn't create any great term pendulum in the nation. So some of the boys had wanted to do a television series. Already. This is 1952. And I was furious. I couldn't even we have done the scripts for the radio series, which has contracted but you did start eliminating them. So I wrote complaining bitterly. This is my memo dated eighth January 1952. With regard to this proposed good television shows, I've elicited the basic idea here from Michael benteen, when he was offered his own single TV show. With regard to the three other guns Spike Milligan tells me was tucked into it by benteen. But if I can get him out of it, he'd be grateful. He's of the opinion that would be impossible to do a television show and write the radio show at the same time. He's also basically against doing mock only be a goon television show, without having the fourth Newbery seachem available, because he's on stage. Peter Sellars thinks what anybody else is thinking at any given moment that that's the sort of who the Who do you address that Mike was standing head of whatever I've got lots of notes here saying there must be more planning of the complete show some weeks before settling down to work them add info. In other words, let's meet before rather than during the writing, especially in the studio on the day of the show. It was really spiked to this day still does. spikes difficulty is it's an insecurity and what he's written so like his cue series. You know, you've done the camera run through. Yeah, he still wants to, he pulls out a love with one idea was to rewrite it on the spot, which is different props to pretty readable costume. Oh, yeah. And then he gets upset because when he goes wild, and since my pricing, BBC don't like me, rubbish. Anyway, it will blow up in the end, in the meantime, motorway net anchor. And I knew what I wanted to do. benteen left, it was fairly amicable and I left. I was also I think the wrong guy to produce a goon show, because those are wild and hairy youngster. And nobody else knew about it needed an older, steadier, experienced hand to run this motley lot. And Peter Regan was an old established BBC drama producer who'd been insulated out during the war who treated them like rookies but with the greatest hidden spike going on very well indeed. So that Anyway, I've also met up with these 219 year olds, Goblin Simpson. Again, lucky you see, I met Hancock and dude, he wanted to work with him. And this is in 19 I think October 51. The year we started with him Joe. A programme called happy go lucky was a big one our spectacular on Sunday night starring Derek Ryan was willing to bet the seams the guards hated each other. They did the writers and writers they did them and bless him the producer and nervous breakdown. So there were three modules ago, when I take it on, be can't get any worse was the feeling.

Dennis Main Wilson  33:48

Do what you think that? Well, in it, there was a resident sketch for sea scouts and the Scoutmaster was one Tony Hancock. The young man called Benny Hill and the Omega dig Emery. It's all the 1951 so I arrived to look at the script fired all the writers and I fired a lot of the cast. Abroad he knew we'd only had about a few days notice so we scrambled together to close your eyes. Which I thought was an improvement. And I grabbed the alight entertainment script at Graham mangled Gal bedrich to say two most years ago, going to new harmony but the youngsters who need experience because we need some serious ideas. I've got these two young chaps who wrote to me they're only 19 and the other ones 20 I think. And this is where I met alan simpson Ray golden. They came in to write the last two sketches which included Hancock And we never looked back. Because apparently I'd done quite well on the spectaculars and then not launched on a series of one, our live spectaculars and the various kinds of all star bill titles forces All Star bill, all star bill etc. And it literally was used to take the cream of the talent in the West End at Sunday night. So whenever there was American musical, all in the stars, if there was a big film, with a big American star in, grab him, the boys were by the sketch for him and then God, then whatever. When lovely scene with her Gaga, Marie shivali, this was was beautiful. But there became a big fight, because we were the new generation. It'd be worth skinnier, to get a decent studio. We don't do it on Sunday, Sunday nights, because the boys wouldn't get it. And of course, the BBC is starts to deal with the power of cinema for radio and take it from there had that Jimmy Evans joined the girls and they were the senior. Very good talk show. So I was talking to Peter Sellers in Jimmy rafters. And I said Where can we get up here to talk to our good buddy? Uncle Bert is Peters uncle Bertie Ray. His mom was Peggy Ray. And uncle Bertie is manager of the galaxy Theatre in China for Jack Buchanan, who is in Hollywood making bandwagon with Fred Astaire and has been for at least a year. So we took that as jambu Bertie, come here this Sunday night? Yeah. Are we Jack? There we are. So for nearly two years, I have the Garrick theatre every Sunday night. They used to have to strike whenever play was on. Reset for a 40 a piece orchestra. Those days, the enmu ruined, I think the superm genius and believe musicians, they were three quarters session. Plus, it overlapped at the time. And the MMU study bumped up the rates. I used to work with a 40 ap study orchestra. The amount of work I gave to musicians. This fabulous you know, these days it's a keyboard drums in a couple of guitars. And in proportion, it still costs more than a 48 piece orchestra comparatively speaking, in real terms human silly union silly man. But I'd certainly back in the dance orchestra was my MD for 10 years used to augment older brass with the Teddy's band of the noise we're neighbours out of this bloody unit. So we did that. And then we started we put Tony and President against guest stars so Jimmy Robertson justices in the new film bring in Jimmy Robinson Yazidis things like that. Margaret Locke was made a film to a loveseat and Gaga and Maggie Lockwood. mondesi experienced Don't forget was still was it and not yet 3353 at least sequences were written by a golden all totally about what Muslims everyone know the humour wasn't that brilliant. I mean, we did one was it was Marie shivali and then we were working in French and allied like

Dennis Main Wilson  38:46

to Hancock rucola ruptura self legionnaire remount canal, well get your new jacket. You read it wasn't altogether that brilliant, but for the 1950s it was better than most that was on there. So that was that and then if I can find it that a pause for a sec, pause, pause, pause, pause, pause while I try and find

Dennis Main Wilson  39:12

it. And then in May 1958, first of May 1933. Notice it's my birthday, which probably explains this memorandum. Probably one of your jars golden Simpson and Gaga and I were in the office and we wrote a sort of Gettysburg Address to BBC executive programme management. saying we tell you how goc Dragan Simpson and I are of the opinion that it is possible to please most of the people most of the time Without in any way dropping as standards of human and quality, a broadcasting driver burden is made wasn't nothing for a long time. And then the tickle started we did a couple of really super All Star bills in which run were rehearsing in the Garrick on a Sunday and the commissioner came up on the stage. He said, I don't know why you're done as a funny man wandering around the back of the theatre with a funny hat on where they come down. So I go down, and this chapter cannon you know always welded Fedora and l. w. JOHN to think about you want to come to Greenland. And he said welcome with you, if they will, right. So is it just remind you it is my theatre. And I do do welcomes. And I thought probably for you. He said, I watched those years and I'd come up to the plate, never drink afterwards. And he had a penthouse suite on top of the Garrick theatre, as indeed he had had on top of the old Alhambra Theatre in Leicester Square. He had a super palatial luxury penthouse overlooking Leicester Square. Before I began the Odeon list as well as the old man. So that was that. And he watched the show, from the back of the stalls, took us up the drinks and made noises to the effect. The standard he thought was superbly high quality was good musically, script everything is that make your proposition. You write me a review for this theatre as we used to do in the good old days with Tom rolls, Raven, whenever a charter is said and you got a job for life. So we went buggle none of us knew the slightest thing about the theatre about stagecraft in any way we're on the wireless so that's that. You got to be should be taking it up.

End of Side 2


Dennis Main Wilson was born in 1924 and joined the BBC in 1941 as a junior production assistant. Following war service, he became head of light entertainment at a local radio station in postwar Hamburg. He rejoined the BBC upon demobilisation, and became head of auditioning in the variety department, where his ability to spot and nurture new comedy talent soon emerged. In 1951, he became a BBC radio producer, one of his first productions being 'The Goon Show'. Dennis went on to produce the first two series up to May 1953. 

Also in his first year as a producer, Dennis was brought in to help the ailing show 'Happy-Go-Lucky'. He immediately replaced the writers with the young Ray Galton and Alan Simpson. 

Dennis' other radio productions included 'Forces All-Star Bill' (1952-53) and 'Star Bill' (1953-54), both scripted by Galton and Simpson and starring Tony Hancock.  'Forces All Star Bill' became so popular that the BBC gave their approval for Hancock's own show, 'Hancock's Half Hour', which was first broadcast on 2 November 1954. Dennis produced the series until February 1957. 

Dennis also worked extensively with Eric Sykes and Hattie Jacques on the long-running 'Sykes' series. Some of his other credits include 'The Rag Trade' (BBC, 1961-63), 'Lance at Large' (BBC, 1964), starring Lance Percival; and three BBC specials starring Terry Scott, 'Scott On...' during 1964 and 1965. 

Dennis recognised the importance of the writer. He enjoyed a long working relationship with Marty Feldman, and also worked extensively with Johnny Speight, initially on the first series of 'Sykes and a…' in 1960, but more famously, on 'Till Death Us Do Part' (BBC, 1966-75) In 1968, Dennis received the BAFTA award for top light entertainment producer for his work on the series. 

Another writer Dennis promoted was John Sullivan. Whilst working as a sceneshifter at the BBC, Sullivan approached Main Wilson with a script he had written. Main Wilson was impressed with what he read, and the script led to 'Citizen Smith', the majority of episodes being produced by Dennis. Sullivan later went on to create 'Only Fools and Horses' in 1981. 

Highly regarded by all who worked with him (Johnny Speight described him as "one of the greatest of comedy directors"), Wilson created a standard of comedy that has rarely been equalled, let alone surpassed. He died from lung cancer in January 1997

His own typed "cv" appears below as a pdf; as do his own pre-interview preparatory notes.