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Clive Anderson, Ben Miller, David Walliams and Eddie Izzard celebrate Radio 2's comedy greats

BBC Radio 2 announces a major four-part documentary series which profiles a quartet of enduring and celebrated icons of British comedy to transmit from Tuesday 15 September 2009.

Four of today's best loved comedians, Clive Anderson, Ben Miller, David Walliams and Eddie Izzard, will commemorate the lives and legends of four national treasures – Frankie Howerd, Benny Hill, Dick Emery and Stanley Baxter – in Radio 2's Comedy Greats.

Clive examines Howerd's influences and the extent to which his style of performing revolutionised stand-up comedy in post-war Britain. In the late Seventies when Clive's day job was still working as a barrister, he wrote for Howerd for The Frankie Howerd Variety Show on Radio 2 along with Rory McGrath and Jimmy Mulville. Clive brings that special perspective for this programme to ask the question what made Howerd so funny?

Titter Ye Not – The Frankie Howerd Story includes a range of new interviews, including the last ever interview from Howerd's partner of 40 years, Dennis Heymer, who died in May this year and who only did one previous interview about Howerd. Clive also takes a tour of Wavering Down, the home that Heymer shared with Howerd in Somerset and where he continued to live.

Dennis Heymer said: "He once said to Cilla Black: 'I wish I wasn't gay', he just didn't want to be a homosexual. When I first met him and moved into the house, I was always hidden away. I was in another room whenever anybody came to talk to him, a producer or anybody in the profession or writers, even his sister."

Other new interviews include David Walliams who recently played Howerd in the BBC Four drama, Frankie Howerd – Rather You Than Me and Griff Rhys Jones, who produced The Frankie Howerd Variety Show.

Barry Cryer talks about writing for him, producers Bill Lyon-Shaw and David Croft discuss working with him on shows such as Up Pompeii, along with actress Jean Mockford who appeared alongside him.

His former agent, Beryl Vertue, recalls how she helped him revive his career in the early Sixties while his last producer, Trevor McCallum, discusses his last ever conversation with Howerd.

Biographer Graham McCann argues the case for Howerd's revolutionary impact on British comedy.

Clive comments: "Heavy brows above and dark bags below, his eyes could flash enjoyment excitement or even aggression, but the set of his jowls was always gloomy. Like a naughty bloodhound endlessly seeking sympathy but instead providing endless entertainment he provoked fun because the way he said things or even despite the way he said things."

Ben Miller, best known as one half of a comedy writing partnership with Alexander Armstrong, explores the life and talent of Benny Hill, the iconic English comedian.

Benny shot to fame following the launch of The Benny Hill Show on BBC Television in 1955. Hill also played the straight man admirably by starring in legendary films such as Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and The Italian Job, as well as scoring the Christmas No. 1 in 1971 with Ernie (The Fastest Milkman In The West).

Benny moved his show to ITV in 1969, enjoying huge success on the network until 1989. Hill's unique style of humour was publicly admired by Michael Jackson, Snoop Dogg and Charlie Chaplin.

Contributors include former Benny Hill Show child star Joanna Kirkland, US TV executive Don Taffner (the man who launched Benny in America), Michael Grade, Tom O'Connor, Nicholas Parsons, Bella Emberg, Coronation Street star Betty Driver, Radio 2's Stuart Maconie and Tony Blackburn.

Ben comments: "Benny Hill got a bad rap towards the end of his career, but his early work was groundbreaking character comedy which had more in common with The League Of Gentlemen than Bernard Manning. If your knowledge of Benny Hill is limited to scantily-clad women chasing him in stop-motion across a chilly-looking football field, this is the show for you."

David Walliams takes time out of his busy schedule to profile Richard Gilbert "Dick" Emery, the English comedian and actor.

In the Fifties, Dick joined his friend Tony Hancock in The Tony Hancock Show and Hancock's Half Hour. His role in the final series of The Army Game led to an exclusive BBC contract, and the legendary The Dick Emery Show was born and ran from 1963 to 1981.

His memorable comic characters included Mandy, a busty middle-aged blonde whose catchphrase was "Ooh, you are awful... but I like you!"

Contributors include Dick's daughter, Eliza Emery; the comedy writer (Reggie Perrin creator) David Nobbs; Michael Grade; former Carry On star Jacki Piper; actress Helen Fraser; and Allo Allo star Vicki Michelle.

David states: "I am thrilled to be celebrating the life and work of one this country's finest character comedians, Dick Emery. His work has been sadly neglected in recent years, and I hope this show makes a case for him to be seen as one of the comedy greats."

Eddie Izzard takes a break from running the length of Britain for Sport Relief to present a rare profile of comedy actor, Stanley Baxter.

Stanley Baxter began his career during wartime on the BBC Scottish Home Service, after making a local name for himself doing impressions in Glasgow church halls. After a spell in the army in National Service, Stanley joined the Glasgow Citizens' Theatre where he learnt his craft under the highly respected director Tyrone Guthrie.

Another member of the Citizens' was Jimmy Gilbert, who moved to London and invited Stanley to take part in a television revue series he was putting together in 1959. On The Bright Side was a success and Stanley was on his way.

He did several sketch series for the BBC in the years that followed but, by the mid-Seventies, he was down to one minutely crafted Christmas show a year, working with the same writer, Ken Hoare, and the same director, David Bell, every time. His most recent outing was an archive Christmas special last year on ITV with one or two new sketches.

Interviewees for this documentary include Maureen Lipman, Julia McKenzie, Barry Cryer and Stanley Baxter himself, along with many of his character creations.

Lewis Carnie, Head of Programmes for Radio 2, said: "I am delighted that four comedians of such stature have agreed to profile four of this country's leading comedic lights."

Titter Ye Not – The Frankie Howerd Story is produced by Simon Jacobs for Unique Productions and will transmit on Tuesday 15 September 2009 at 10.30pm.

The Stanley Baxter Story is written and produced by Neil Rosser for Above The Title Production and will transmit on Tuesday 22 September 2009 at 10.30pm.

Dick Emery – The Comedy Of Errors? is presented by David Walliams and is produced by Ashley Byrne, Made In Manchester Productions. It will transmit on Tuesday 29 September 2009 at 10.30pm.

Benny Hill – The Untold Story is presented by Ben Miller and produced by Ashley Byrne, Made In Manchester Productions and will transmit on Tuesday 6 October 2009 at 10.30pm.

SH

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