ATV Today Editor Shaun Linden looks ahead to the ITV3 documentary celebrating the life and work of Larry Grayson in this special edition of Best on the Box.
The show opens with a montage of memorable performers from the 1970s and 80s including Ken Dodd, Morecambe and Wise, Benny Hill and Les Dawson, but of course, it’s Larry Grayson that this show is reflecting upon. From the production team behind the 2015 series Bob Monkhouse: The Million Joke Man and 2013’s Les Dawson: An Audience With That Never Was, this Grayson tribute is filled with many clips not seen for years on TV of the funnyman – in particular many from ATV’s Saturday Variety series.
Other archive clips include, as expected, from his run on The Generation Game, his LWT sketch series The Larry Grayson Show and from his one surviving Shut That Door! programme which he was bestowed following his success on Saturday Variety in 1972.
The first part of the programme looks back to his early years and his life before performing. It is worth noting that this is the most accurate documentary produced on Laz – as his friends called him – thanks to the discovery of his never-published autobiography. Impersonator Jon Culshaw does his best Larry impersonation to bring some of these words to life.
The filmmakers have enjoyed unrestricted and unprecedented access to Larry’s personal archive of correspondence, family photographs, personal scrapbooks and professional memorabilia which frequent the two-hour slot showcasing his ‘legacy of laughter’. Interviewees are kept to people relevant pretty much to Grayson’s life and career. For example, we have Jane Rossington pop up for his time in soap Crossroads and to talk about his ‘television romance’ and friendship with co-star Noele Gordon.
Lionel Blair, his Saturday Variety co-star, talks fondly of those ATV days while Michael Barrymore – his warm-up man on The Generation Game – shares his memories as does Gen Game co-presenter Isla St Clair. Others featured include former agent Michael Grade, manager Paul Vaughan, ATV co-worker Chris Tarrant and Janet Street-Porter who worked with Larry in 1983 on an LWT documentary to mark his 60th birthday.
Some of those who knew him well also take on other roles within the production, Isla for example heads to the Victoria and Albert Museum to look through Larry’s scrapbooks and poster collection, which is part of their showbiz archive, and Michael Barrymore re-visits the London Palladium to look around Dressing Room One, which Larry eventually made it to in the early 1970s.
The first 45 minutes follow his struggles in the world of show business playing workingmen’s clubs and theatres, but never getting the big break, the final 75 minutes celebrates his bright star and the ‘overnight television’ fame that made him one of the best-known faces on both ITV and the BBC in the 1970s.
Within a year of his debut on ITV he had been named Showbusiness Personality of the Year and was the subject of the Christmas edition of This Is Your Life. We also discover that the Beeb were not sure about putting Larry on The Generation Game following the departure of Bruce Forsyth, so ordered a pilot show – parts of which are seen on television for the first time.
In addition to his career journey from tiny venues as a stand-up and drag artist, to top of the telly ratings, the special looks at Larry’s ill-fated move from his beloved hometown Nuneaton to Torquay and his final years away from the spotlight following his decision to quit the Gen Game while it was still popular. The programme doesn’t shy away from his sexuality, and notes that some parts of the gay rights movement were not overly impressed with Larry – but the documentary fairly explains Grayson’s stance on this, best said by Michael Grade; ‘he didn’t hide it, and he didn’t promote it, he was Larry Grayson’. The producers also note how Larry ‘smoothed the way’ for future camp performers such as Alan Carr and Graham Norton.
The programme does feature talking heads, but there is an abundance of Larry clips which showcase the man who became loved by so many. Look out for a rare clip of Larry with Noele Gordon and also a brief encounter with Bob Monkhouse on Saturday Variety. There is also great footage of Mike Yarwood as Larry with ABBA (showing how popular he’d become he was now being impersonated himself), while other highlights include personal photographs as shared by his friend Thomas Bunn and family member Mike Maylon.
Shut that Door! Larry Grayson, Sunday April 1st, 9pm, ITV3