November 16th, 2020

Des O'Connor RIP

There's a routine Norman Wisdom used to perform on chat shows, where he'd toy with his glass of water, raising it to his lips, then at the last moment lowering it again when the interviewer asked him a question or he appeared to think of something new to say. He unrolled it once on the Des O'Connor Show- with O'Connor playing along- and it built and it built into a masterpiece of comic timing.

I've looked for that clip on YouTube and either it's never been uploaded or it no longer exists (but Ailz assures me she remembers it as a highlight too- so I've not imagined it.) I've also checked out other chat show interviews with Wisdom- but no-one handles him as well as O'Connor did. There's a little bit of the glass routine in Wisdom's appearance on the Clive Anderson show, but Anderson is not in sympathy and cuts him short whenever he's in danger of taking flight- and it's not the same.

O'Connor has just died. He was an all round entertainer- a good technical comedian though not a particularly distinctive one and a crooner who had top ten hits- but his greatest talent was allowing others to be funny. For years he let Morecambe and Wise use him as their whipping boy- and it would have ben cruel if he hadn't been writing half the gags himself. On his own show he was an enabler, not exactly a straight man, more like a privileged member of the audience- laughing along and lifting his guest to new heights. I've always thought of that particular session with Wisdom as one of the funniest things I've ever seen- and since Wisdom has never amused me in any other context I reckon much of the credit must go to O'Connor for providing the context in which Wisdom could soar.

O'Connor knew his limits. He could be funny but others were funnier- and he was delighted when they were. He was that very rare thing- an utterly selfless performer.