The Comedy Man

The Comedy Man Blu-ray cover

The curtains go down and the audience applauds, the names forgotten but the laughter lasting, though Chick Byrd is determined to make his final night of a curtailed six month contract one to remember, taking the opportunity to publicly humiliate the producer who has just sacked him before he departs first the stage and then the north of England, taking the train to London where he moves in with his friend and fellow actor Julian Baxter.

Seeking work and currying favour with hard-to-please agents, stardom is not on the cards for Chick, “the king of repertory theatre” who is too proud to take work in commercials, earning disfavour and leaving him empty of pocket; his friend Jack Lavery hasn’t worked in three months, his wife Sandy increasingly desperate with their baby due, while Chick’s former lover, Judy, who preceded him in her migration from the north where she was a successful jobbing actor, now works behind a bar to make ends meet.

The Comedy Man; Chick Byrd (Kenneth More) removes his make-up but keeps wearing the mask of brave success.

Based on the novel by Douglas Hayes and adapted by Peter Yeldham, Sink the Bismarck!’s Kenneth More is Chick Byrd, The Comedy Man of the title in a film which he felt reflected the frustrations of his own career, an award-winning star and box office draw of the fifties who suddenly found himself struggling to find work as he entered middle age, the original release in September 1964 the same month as his own fiftieth birthday.

Directed by Passport to Shame’s Alvin Rakoff, the cast is a veritable who’s who of British cinema, with The Omen’s Billie Whitelaw magnificent as Judy, The Three Musketeers’ Frank Finlay as casting agent Prout, The Lady Vanishes’ Cecil Parker as down-on-his-luck actor Rutherford, Raiders of the Lost Ark’s Ronald Lacey as an assistant director, Are You Being Served?’s Frank Thornton as a stage manager and a roster of Doctor Who guests, The Romans’ Derek Francis, The Sea Devils’ Edwin Richfield, The Creature from the Pit’s Eileen Way and Battlefield’s Angela Douglas.

The Comedy Man; extras on set, Chick Byrd and Fay Trubshaw (Kenneth More and Angela Douglas).

Rakoff casting his own wife in a vital supporting role, it is a rare feature film showing the dramatic ability of the great Jacqueline Hill, best known as Barbara Wright, one of the Doctor’s original companions, but while The Comedy Man maintains an optimistic good humour in the face of encroaching despair and the mounting evidence that destitution is imminent any genuine laughs are sparse, Sandy describing her husband’s situation as “a sad, stupid joke” that it is past time to give up on.

Acting a pitiless profession which forces friends forced to compete with each other, unstable, lacking certainty and with few long-term prospects The Comedy Man is rare in that it shows the downside of the art as well as the behind-the-scenes shenanigans which create the magic which endures; More and Douglas later having married, her character jokes about their age difference that when she is sixty and he eighty-one it will seem less important, and still around at eighty-three she made it, while More sadly died at only sixty-seven.

The Comedy Man will be available on Blu-ray, DVD and digital download from StudioCanal from Monday 18th March

The Comedy Man; Chick and Judy (Kenneth More and Billie Whitelaw), the drama offstage more real than the parts they play.



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