Michael Bentine

Michael Bentine
Born Michael James Bentin
26 January 1922(1922-01-26)
Watford, Hertfordshire, England
Died 26 November 1996(1996-11-26) (aged 74)
London, England

Michael Bentine CBE (26 January 1922[1] – 26 November 1996 [2]) was a British comedian, comic actor and founding member of the Goons. A Peruvian Briton by heritage as a result of his father's nationality,[3] Bentine received in 1971 the Peruvian Order of the Merit because of his fund-raising work for the 1970 Great Peruvian Earthquake.[4]

Contents

Biography

Bentine was born Michael James Bentin in Watford, Hertfordshire, of Anglo-Peruvian parentage.[3] and grew up in Folkestone, Kent, one of his friends being the young David Tomlinson. He was educated at Eton College. He spoke fluent Spanish and French. His father was an early aeronautical engineer for Sopwith aircraft during and after World War I.

In World War II he volunteered for all services when the war broke out (the RAF was his first choice owing to the influence of his father's experience), but was rejected because of his father's Peruvian nationality.[3]

He started his acting career in 1940, in a touring company in Cardiff playing a juvenile lead in Sweet Lavender. He went on to join Robert Atkin's Shakespearean company in Regent's Park, London until he was called up for service in the RAF. He was appearing in a Shakespearean play in doublet and hose in the open-air theatre in London's Hyde Park when two RAF MPs marched on stage and arrested him for desertion. Unknown to him, an RAF conscription notice had been following him for a month as his company toured.

Once in the RAF he went through flight training. He was the penultimate man going through a medical line receiving inoculations for typhoid with the other flight candidates in his class (they were going to Canada to receive new aircraft) when the vaccine ran out. They refilled the bottle to inoculate him and the other man as well. By mistake they loaded a pure culture of typhoid. The other man died immediately, and Bentine was in a coma for six weeks. When he regained consciousness his eyesight was ruined, leaving him myopic for the rest of his life. Since he was no longer physically qualified for flight, he was transferred to RAF Intelligence and seconded to MI9 a unit that was dedicated to supporting resistance movements and help prisoners escape. His immediate superior was the Colditz escapee Airey Neave.

At the end of the war, he took part in the liberation of Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. He said about this experience:

Millions of words have been written about these horror camps, many of them by inmates of those unbelievable places. I’ve tried, without success, to describe it from my own point of view, but the words won’t come. To me Belsen was the ultimate blasphemy.

Comedy career

After the war he worked in the Windmill Theatre and the Starlight Roof revues where he met and married his second wife Clementina with whom he had four children. He decided to become a comedian, specialising in off-the-wall humour, often involving cartoons and other types of animation.

He co-founded The Goon Show radio show with Spike Milligan, Peter Sellers and Harry Secombe, but appeared in only the first 38 shows on the BBC Light Programme from 1951–53. He also appeared in The Goon Show film Down Among the Z Men. He parted amicably from his partners and remained close to Secombe and Sellers for the rest of his life. In 1972, Secombe and Sellers told Michael Parkinson that Bentine was "always calling everyone a genius" and, since he was the only one of the four with a "proper education", they always believed him.

He left the Goons to work on his own radio series. Bentine spent two years in Australia (1954–55).

In 1954, he began as a television presenter with a BBC children's series, The Bumblies. These were three small creatures from outer space who slept on "Professor Bentine's" ceiling and who had come to Earth to learn the ways of Earthling children. He also appeared in the film comedy Raising a Riot, starring Kenneth More, which featured his five year old daughter "Fusty". He joked that she got better billing.

During 1959, he worked on the radio series Round the Bend in 30 Minutes. From 1960 to 1964, he had a television series It's a Square World, which won a BAFTA award in 1962 and Grand Prix de la Presse at Montreux in 1963.[5] A prominent feature of the series was the imaginary flea circus where plays were enacted on tiny sets using nothing but special effects to show the movement of things too small to see and sounds with Bentine's commentary. The plays were not serious. One, titled The Beast of the Black Bog Tarn, was set in a (miniature) haunted house.

From 1974 to 1980 he wrote, designed, narrated and presented the children's television programme Michael Bentine's Potty Time and made one-off comedy specials.

He was also the best-selling writer of 16 novels, comedies and non-fiction books. Four of his books, The Long Banana Skin (1975), The Door Marked Summer (1981), Doors to the Mind and The Reluctant Jester (1992) are autobiographical.

Other interests

During the 1960s he took part in the first hovercraft expedition up the River Amazon.

In 1995, Bentine received a CBE from Queen Elizabeth II "for services to entertainment". He was also a holder of the Peruvian Order of Merit, as was his grandfather, Don Antonio Bentin Palamero, for his work leading the fundraising for the Peruvian Earthquake Appeal.

Bentine was a crack pistol shot and helped to start the idea of a counter-terrorist wing within 22 SAS Regiment.[6] In doing so, he became the first non-SAS person ever to fire a gun inside the close-quarters battle training house at Hereford.

His interests included parapsychology. This was as a result of his and his family's extensive research into the paranormal, which resulted in his writing The Door Marked Summer and The Doors of the Mind. He was, for the final years of his life, president of the Association for the Scientific Study of Anomalous Phenomena.

Bentine was also interested in science. On 14 December 1977, he appeared with Arthur C. Clarke on Patrick Moore's BBC The Sky At Night programme. The broadcast was entitled "Suns, Spaceships and Bug-Eyed Monsters" - a light-hearted look at how science fiction had become science fact, as well as how ideas of space travel had become reality through the 20th century. Bentine appeared in a subsequent broadcast on a similar theme with Patrick Moore in 1980. Following the death of Arthur C. Clarke, BBC Sky At Night magazine released a copy of the 1977 archive programme on the cover of their May 2008 edition.

Family and health

He was married twice, remaining with his second wife Clementina Stuart, a Royal Ballet dancer, for over fifty years. He had a child from his first marriage, Elaine from whom he has a granddaughter Marie Laurence and three great-grandsons, William, Arthur and Nicholas. His children from his second marriage were better known by their family nicknames than their birth names; Gus (real name Stewart), Fusty (real name Marylla), Suki (real name Serena) and Peski (real name Richard). Two of his five children, his eldest daughters, died from cancer (breast cancer and lymphoma), while his elder son, Gus, was killed when a Piper PA-18 (Super Cub, registration G-AYPN) crashed into a hillside at Ditcham Woods near Petersfield, Hampshire, on 28 August 1971. His body, together with that of the pilot and the aircraft, were found on 31 October 1971. Bentine's subsequent investigation into regulations governing private airfields resulted in his writing a report for the Special Branch of the British police into the use of personal aircraft in smuggling operations. He fictionalised much of the material in his novel Lords of the Levels.

When his son Richard's first boy Elliot was born, he tried to give him an MG 08 machine gun, which his daughter-in-law refused to accept. When Richard's second son Harry was born, Michael bought him a train set.

From 1975 until his death in 1996, he and his wife spent their winters at a second home in Palm Springs, California, USA.

Shortly before his death from prostate cancer at the age of 74, he was visited in hospital in England by the Prince of Wales, who was a close personal friend.

Programmes

Some of the programmes Bentine appeared in were:

Films

Books

  • The Reluctant Jester sub-title My Head-on Collision with the 20th Century - Bantam Press - 1992 - ISBN 0-593-02042-1
  • Open Your Mind sub-title The quest for creative thinking - Bantam Press - 1990 - ISBN 0-593-01538-X
  • Templar - Bantam Press - 1988 - ISBN 0-593-01339-5
  • The Condor and The Cross sub-title An Adventure Novel of the Conquistadors - Bantam Press - 1987 - ISBN 0-593-01265-8
  • Lords of The Levels - Grafton - 1986 - ISBN 0-586-06643-8
  • The Shy Person's Guide To Life - Grafton - 1984 - ISBN 0-586-06167-3
  • Doors of The Mind - Granada - 1984 - ISBN 0-246-11845-8
  • The Door Marked Summer - Granada - 1981 - ISBN 0-246-11405-3
  • Smith & Son Removers - Corgi - 1981 - ISBN 0-552-12074-X
  • The Long Banana Skin - New English Library - 1976 - ISBN 0-450-02882-8
  • Madame's Girls and other stories (1980)
  • The Best of Bentine (1984) Panther
  • The Potty Encyclopedia (1985)
  • The Potty Khyber Pass (1974)
  • The Potty Treasure Island (1973)
  • Square Games (1966) Wolfe SBN 0723400806
  • Michael Bentine's Book of Square Holidays M. Bentine & J. Ennis (1968) Wolfe SBN 72340019 9
  • Fifty Years on the Streets Michael Bentine & John Ennis (1964) New English Library, A Four Square Book

References

  1. ^ General Register Office for England and Wales - Birth Register for the March Quarter of 1922, Watford Registration District, Reference 3a 1478, listed as Michael J. Bentin, mother's maiden name as Dawkins
  2. ^ General Register Office for England and Wales - Death Register for November 1996, Sutton Registration District, Reference C6B 296, listed as Michael James Bentine with a date of birth of 26 January 1922.
  3. ^ a b c Oxford Dictionary of National Biography
  4. ^ http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0072760/bio
  5. ^ screenonline(British Film Institute Bentine, Michael (1922–1996)
  6. ^ Bentine's advice to counter terrorist units inside the SAS: article at BBC.co.uk website.

External links


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