Entertainment & Arts

John Fortune, satirical comedian, dies aged 74

John Fortune, the British comedian and satirist who found fame through his TV collaborations with John Bird and Rory Bremner, has died aged 74.

He died peacefully on Tuesday with his wife Emma and dog Grizelle at his bedside, his agent Vivienne Clore said.

"I'm so sorry to let you know that my friend John Fortune died this morning," Bremner tweeted.

Fortune died after treatment for leukaemia, which he was diagnosed with several years ago.

Bremner remembered him as a "lovely man, dear friend" and a "brilliant and fearless satirist".

Born in 1939, he was educated in Bristol before going on to Cambridge where he met fellow satirist Bird.

A founding member of Peter Cook's Establishment Club, Fortune shared a Bafta with Bird in 1997.

Image caption Bremner [C], Bird [L] and Fortune [R] starred in their Channel 4 series together

The award, for Best Light Entertainment Performance, came for their work on Channel 4's Rory Bremner, Who Else? programme.

The trio went on to work together on the channel's satirical sketch show Bremner, Bird and Fortune, which ran from 1999 to 2008.

Comedian and impressionist Bremner went on to describe Fortune as "the most lovely man" who "had the most beautiful brain of any man I've ever known".

He said Bird and Fortune had been "on to" subjects such as the banking crisis and the utilities "years ago" which they dissected "beautifully" in their comedy sketches.

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Media captionJohn Bird: John Fortune "made me funny"

"In some ways Bird and Fortune were the pillars of the anti-establishment," he told the BBC. "Their timing was so superb and they had the ability to dissect a subject like a scalpel."

Geoff Atkinson, a longtime producer of Rory Bremner's shows and a head of Vera Productions, the TV production company set up with Bremer and Clore, described Fortune as "unique".

"His partnership with John Bird seemed effortless on air, yet every week they'd sit with a blank sheet of paper and 10 minutes to fill in five days' time. That they filled it so brilliantly week after week never failed to amaze me," he said.

He described his friend as "a joy to work with, an inspiration as a writer, and the funniest person you could ever meet", adding: "Honest, kind, caring, over 20 years, I benefited so much from his quiet wise words as a friend, and an inspiration."

Broadcaster Stephen Fry tweeted that Fortune he had been a "huge influence on the satire boom", while actor David Morrissey said he was "such a funny man".

ITV newsreader Alastair Stewart said Fortune, Bird and Bremner had created "some of the cleverist [sic], funniest stuff ever", while League of Gentleman star Reece Shearsmith also tweeted his respects, saying he was "a very funny man".

Only Fools and Horses star John Challis, who acted alongside Fortune in 1980s C.A.T.S. Eyes, said he was "so sad" to hear of his death.

Image caption Fortune and Bird's comedy partnership was forged in the 1960s

"I played henchman to his chief villain... and we laughed a lot," the actor recalled. "Another goodun gone."

Susan Penhaligon also shared her memories of Fortune, recalling the time they acted together in a production of Ibsen's play A Doll's House.

"So sad to hear about John Fortune," the Bouquet of Barbed Wire actress tweeted, remembering him as "a lovely, clever man".

Comic Frankie Boyle also tweeted his respects, and linked to one of his favourite sketches, in which Fortune interviews a British army general about preparations for the war in Iraq.

A former member of the Cambridge Footlights, Fortune was known for his imposing height and his knack for mimicking old-school establishment types.

Witty characterisations

He also had small roles in a number of films, among them Calendar Girls, The Tailor of Panama and Woody Allen's Match Point.

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Media captionRory Bremner: "John was one of the pillars of the anti-establishment"

Yet he remains best known for the Long Johns skits he performed with Bird, in which they offered witty characterisations of bumbling politicians, military figures and businessmen.

During an appearance on Desert Island Discs in 2004, Fortune said it was "very difficult to keep a straight face" during his and Bird's largely improvised duologues and that he was "very ashamed" whenever he 'corpsed'.

Fortune, who recently suffered a stroke, is survived by his wife and three children.

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