The Stark truth!

Tea-break in the Granada studio. On the Air technicians are resting. Comedian Graham Stark sneaks back into the studio. “I’ve always wanted to work behind the scenes while there’s nobody around,” he says. And that is how On the Air was almost OFF the air…

TVTimes masthead
From the TVTimes for week commencing 8 February 1959

IT is enough to make Stark raving mad! “It’s terrible,” groaned Graham. “Everybody I’m introduced to cracks the same old joke. They grin and say ‘Mr Stark, eh? Which branch of the family? Raving or staring?’

“I smile sweetly and mutter to myself, ‘5,924.’ ‘What do you mean?’ they ask.

“‘Oh, just keeping count,’ say I. After all, I’m the comedian.

Graham Stark
Graham Stark

“That’s another thing. Everybody expects me to behave like a comic all the time, but I’m not just a comic you know. Far from it. I’m a straight actor.

“The old yarn about the comic who wants to play Hamlet was never more true-to-life than it is today with TV. There’s no future for the chap who walks on to a stage in front of a camera to do four minutes of red-nosed comedy. Television humour is all sketches and situation comedy.”

Graham Stark — one of the stars of On the Air, goonster of ITV’s A Show Called Fred and Son of Fred — has been 24 years in show business. “And the goons didn’t come into my life until the last four years,” said Graham.

Before that he played Cinderella, with amateur operatic societies. Molière at the Edinburgh Festival, and Macbeth with repertory companies.

Stark — a lean-faced, boyish-looking 37 — was born near Liverpool, the son of a Scots marine engineer.

“I was 12 when I first went on the stage, as Buttons in an amateur pantomime.

“A theatrical-producer friend of my headmaster was in the audience one evening. He told my teacher ‘That boy’s a natural for the theatre.’

“My mother fixed me up with dancing lessons right away. A year later I was in pantomime at the Lyceum Theatre in London.

Stark dancing
A spot of soft-shoe shuffle

“At 16 I won the national youth dancing championship. I had an audition for Sadler’s Wells. They offered me a two-year scholarship, but I turned it down.

“I didn’t really want to be a dancer. I wanted to act. So I worked in a couple of plays in London and Glasgow.

“When I was 19 I went into the RAF. After two years as an ordinary airman, I had a stroke of luck. Ralph Reader was auditioning for a Services Gang Show. I joined it, and for three years we toured all over the world. What a bill! Tony Hancock, Peter Sellers, Reg Dixon, Cardew Robinson and Dick Emery.

“Things were sticky after the war. I tramped London’s West End in my demob suit looking for work, and living on sausage rolls. Then I went to the Coventry Arts Council company, to do one play … and stayed four years!

“I did a lot of radio after that, between variety dates and summer seaside seasons.

“After ITV’s goon series I had a spot in Granada’s Melody Ranch show, and now On the Air. Which just about brings us up to date…

One thing. That name Stark. “It’s my real name. It’s Scots. Should have a Mac in front of it, I suppose. Would sound odd, though, wouldn’t it — MacGraham Stark?”

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