20 February 2012
Jo: I first encountered Bob Booker back in the 90’s working in LWT’s entertainment department when producer, Sean Kneale, asked me to put in a call to a film collector in the States, a man who Sean then impersonated in order to prepare me – for the man was Bob Booker and he has a very, very deep voice and a very laid back, Californian manner. Bob had an established reputation with Denis Norden, having supplied reels of funny clips to Alright on the Night over the years, as well as occasionally exchanging clips & rights information; exchange often the preferred way to get clips back then.
In 1997, in ye olde days before email, we were producing the 2nd ever Laughter File. Bob had plenty of relevant funny clips which weren’t out-takish enough for Alright on the Night but worked well for Laughter File so I spoke to him a great deal, backwards and forwards with Denis’s selections and, later, for sorting out the third party rights.
Bob was a pretty prolific film and TV producer in the 60’s 70’s & 80’s in the US. He has a seemingly bottomless back-catalogue of quite random funny clips - out-takes, pranks or general foolish crazy silliness. Some clips translate well to this day – classic, I remember some clips with Phyllis Diller in a kind of Madame Tussauds pretending to be a wax-work and freaking people out!
Valerie: Bob Booker is well known to anyone like me who’s ever had the pleasure of working on a Denis Norden clip show. Just as his telephone voice and the quality of his clips never fail to impress, Bob in person doesn’t disappoint. He’s an engaging link to classic American TV shows and comedians and when we meet he casually name-drops the likes of Lily Tomlin and Jerry Lewis. Bob is obviously an anglophile who has worked here in Britain and personifies the strong ties of a shared entertainment between Britain and the USA.
Jo: Clearing those kind of clips can be really tough but Bob was always helpful and uncomplicated when it came to supplying the master material, licences or having all the necessary clearance information for any items he wasn’t able to fully licence himself. He was an absolute pleasure to deal with.
Simon: I first recall hearing of Bob Booker in the Denis Norden office at LWT back in 1997. Bob was supplying quite a lot of old Universal blooper reels from the likes of MacMillan & Wife and Quincy way before the Universal sales team had cottoned on to the fact that there was money to be made in blooper clip licensing. Bob kind of acted as a finder in many cases with the copyright ultimately being cleared through the studios themselves. However, in other cases, I think Bob must have been onto a winner with his original blooper shows that he produced back in the 1980s, as he seemed to have access and copyright to most of the clips he used in those shows himself. I wish my time producing It'll be Alright on the Night would have been so lucrative! Bob is a legend if you look at some of the things he's done in his life. He's got a story to tell about everyone from the Beatles to London in the swinging 60s to being on film sets with major U.S stars. He's even had his own hit comedy album! It was lovely to finally meet the man behind the deep voice.
Suzanne: I too have fond memories of Bob’s help on the Denis Norden shows, and it’s a mark of the man that we all remember him so clearly and were keen to meet this iconic figure for anyone who’s worked on clip shows, or heard that voice. What was so nice, on finally meeting him in London, was that none of his enthusiasm for television (and film, and theatre) has faded and apart from all the old stories, he’s just as interested in and knowledgeable about the industry today.
Jo: Looking for funny clips we could use in Granada TV’s “It Shouldn’t Happen to a ...” strand, another clip show series which ran for a couple of years during the heyday of clip shows Bob came up trumps again. Around that time, he said he was going to be in London as he’d been asked to present some BBC radio programmes about popular culture (not surprising considering his deep voice) Frustratingly I was going to be out of the country that time so I couldn’t meet up.
It seems we never tire of seeing people fall over or make stupid mistakes. Just before Christmas last year I was working for Roughcut TV and, once again, looking for funny clips that could go into Series 2 of Mr T’s ‘World’s Craziest Fools’. Hurray! I had a reason to contact Bob Booker!
He obliged by sending a heap of clips and also said he would be in London over Christmas. This time I managed to get hold of my lovely friend, archive researcher Suzanne Gray, who had worked with me on that Denis Norden show back in 1997 - and also we managed to contact the energized and organized wonderful Simon Withington as well as the elegantly laid back and witty Valerie Hetherington – both who had worked on Alright on the Night shows after I left in 1997. Together we ventured out on a pretty cold morning during the Christmas holidays. We met Bob at his hotel in Knightsbridge and had a wonderful time finally meeting him, hearing his stories of how, in the early 1970’s he had lived in London while working with the British comedy director Richard Lester and then, at another time, Peter Sellers. Sadly neither production reached completion but he had very fond memories of the time and has loved London ever since. Despite my attempts to steer him towards an unofficial interview for FOCAL, Bob didn’t talk much about his career - I think he just liked talking with us, tabout his time in London as well as telling us about how much his wife loves to come to Knightsbridge for the Harrod’s Christmas sale, about their life in New York and the shows on Broadway. I think they live between New York and Carmel now. He also spoke most proudly of his daughter who is now a very successful film-animator, credited with the animation work on films such as Coraline.
It was a truly worthwhile meeting up, a rare opportunity to meet a legend, a master of a specific kind of footage in popular culture, a film collector who has been known by so many researchers, not least because of his trademark voice! And it was a great excuse for the four of us to meet up at the same time, drinking coffee in a swanky Knightsbridge hotel!