Neil Shand

Com­edy writer who kept pace with Spike Mil­li­gan and en­dured a bumpy land­ing with David Frost

The Daily Telegraph - - Obituaries -

NEIL SHAND, who has died aged 84, was a ver­sa­tile com­edy writer best known for his long and fruit­ful as­so­ci­a­tions with David Frost and Spike Mil­li­gan. A jour­nal­ist by train­ing, he ex­celled in top­i­cal ma­te­rial, a qual­ity that Frost drew on ex­ten­sively for 40 years. How­ever, he also proved to be one of the se­lect few, like Eric Sykes, who could keep up with the sur­real in­ven­tive­ness of Mil­li­gan, which he did suc­cess­fully for more than a decade from 1969 on the Q se­ries and, later, There’s a Lot of It About.

Shand also wrote much of the po­lit­i­cal ma­te­rial for Mike Yarwood’s BBC shows. Such was the es­teem in which he was held at Tele­vi­sion Cen­tre that when Yarwood was poached by Thames Tele­vi­sion in 1982, the BBC Tele­vi­sion head of light en­ter­tain­ment, James Gil­bert, and head of va­ri­ety Jim Moir, re­sponded in­stantly by of­fer­ing Shand an exclusive three-year con­tract.

The son of Glaswe­gian par­ents, Neil Hodg­son Shand was born in Lu­ton on March 3 1934. Ed­u­cated at Lu­ton Gram­mar School, he de­scribed him­self as “a work­ing-class boy with a strange posh voice”. He was nearly blind in one eye and what sight he had was saved by an oper­a­tion on July 5 1948, the day the NHS was es­tab­lished; as his ini­tials were the same, he liked to joke that they named the whole thing af­ter him.

He be­gan his jour­nal­ism career on news­pa­pers in Lu­ton, be­fore mov­ing to an evening daily in Bris­tol. Even­tu­ally ar­riv­ing in Fleet Street, he worked on the Daily Sketch, Daily Ex­press and Daily Mail.

When he was sacked from the Mail in 1961 af­ter a heated ar­gu­ment with a se­nior col­league, he went to drown his sor­rows at El Vino’s, where he found him­self of­fered a tele­vi­sion re­searcher’s job at As­so­ci­ated-red­if­fu­sion by the pre­sen­ter Michael In­grams.

There fol­lowed some years in current af­fairs at A-R and ATV be­fore he be­gan con­tribut­ing jokes to Bernard Braden for use in his con­sumer af­fairs pro­gramme,

On the Braden Beat.

The first gag he sold re­ferred to a costly Navy ad­ver­tis­ing cam­paign that re­sulted in a piti­ful num­ber of new re­cruits: “They’re call­ing them petty cash of­fi­cers.” Frost was watch­ing this ri­val show ea­gerly, and soon sought out Shand to join the Frost Re­port team, which in­cluded Barry Cryer.

When Bill Cot­ton Jr gave the former pirate DJ Si­mon Dee a prime-time chat show, Dee Time, in 1967, Shand was one of the main writ­ers from the start. A stint adapt­ing the Daily Ex­press col­umns of JB Mor­ton, aka Beach­comber, for BBC Two brought him into con­tact with Spike Mil­li­gan, who sensed a kin­dred spirit. When Q5 was com­mis­sioned, Mil­li­gan called Shand in to co-write, de­lay­ing the se­ries un­til Shand had a gap in his Frost com­mit­ments.

To­gether, Shand and Frost mas­ter­minded ITV’S coverage of the Apollo 11 moon land­ing in 1969. When Frost started a talk show for Amer­i­can tele­vi­sion, he took Shand with him as “cre­ative con­sul­tant”.

The writer re­called a flight from Long Is­land to Man­hat­tan in a he­li­copter that be­gan to fail. All aboard be­came con­vinced they were go­ing to die. An emer­gency land­ing in Cen­tral Park was the only hope. Af­ter an ex­tremely rough touch­down, a shaken Shand fol­lowed, agog at Frost, who was strid­ing back to the stu­dio as if noth­ing had hap­pened.

Af­ter his re­turn from the US in 1973, Shand wrote for the Two Ron­nies, Mike Yarwood, Marti Caine and Derek Nimmo among oth­ers, as well as re­unit­ing with Mil­li­gan in 1975 for a BBC One sit­com about racial at­ti­tudes called The Melt­ing Pot. Six episodes were made, but only the first was trans­mit­ted, such was the re­ac­tion. The re­turn of Q later that year was bet­ter re­ceived.

In 1977, Jim Moir called Shand in to shape Des O’con­nor Tonight, a se­ries that made a point of fea­tur­ing the best new young co­me­di­ans from Amer­ica along­side es­tab­lished names. Jerry Se­in­feld, David Let­ter­man and Jay Leno all got their first Bri­tish tele­vi­sion ex­po­sure on the sofa with Des, as did Kelly Mon­teith, with whom Shand would go on to write a lon­grun­ning BBC sit­com, Kelly Mon­teith.

Shand’s tal­ent was such that em­ploy­ers over­looked the fact that he could be a trou­ble­some, even un­pleas­ant, drunk. “I think the rea­son I be­came a reporter in the first place was that I quite liked a drink and be­ing a reporter made it le­git­i­mate,” he told the writer Louis Barfe at an event in Hull last year. “It was the be­gin­ning of a long, long down­hill slope.”

Col­leagues from Dee Time re­mem­ber him wrench­ing a fire­place off a wall in a Manchester ho­tel.

A great jazz fan, he ad­mit­ted re­morse­fully from a po­si­tion of so­bri­ety that he had heck­led some of the great­est names in mu­sic at Ron­nie Scott’s, where he was a reg­u­lar. “Years later, I asked Pete King why they’d never thrown me out for such ap­palling be­hav­iour,” he said, “Pete replied that I was family.”

In 1981, he sought ther­apy and went from scep­ti­cism about the value of AA meet­ings to be­ing one of the or­gan­i­sa­tion’s most elo­quent ad­vo­cates. Younger col­leagues who knew only the sober Shand re­mem­ber a charm­ing and kind men­tor with good ad­vice and a fund of anec­dotes. From 1983 to 1986, he worked on

The Bob Monkhouse Show, in which Monkhouse in­ter­viewed only co­me­di­ans, one show end­ing with a young Jim Car­rey sing­ing along to Les Daw­son’s out-of-tune pi­ano while the Roly Polys danced along­side.

The va­ri­ety of his later cred­its is no­table: Car­rott Con­fi­den­tial, Wo­gan, The Les Den­nis Laugh­ter Show, The Fer­gu­son The­ory with Craig Fer­gu­son, The Kenny Everett Tele­vi­sion Show. He also wrote most of Ned Sher­rin’s mono­logues for Ra­dio 4’s Loose Ends.

Shand con­tin­ued to work with Frost and Monkhouse into the new mil­len­nium, de­spite hav­ing re­treated from Lon­don life to set­tle in Win­ter­ing­ham by the Hum­ber.

Neil Shand was mar­ried three times: first to Mary (née Massie); se­condly to Pamela (née Reeves); and thirdly to Ju­dith Cor­co­ran, who as Ju­dith Kep­pel later be­came fa­mous as the first £1 mil­lion win­ner of Who Wants to Be a

Mil­lion­aire. He is sur­vived by a son from his first mar­riage.

Neil Shand, born March 3 1934, died April 12 2018

Shand, cen­tre, with Barry Cryer as Kenny Everett looks on: his other col­lab­o­ra­tors in­cluded Mike Yarwood, Jasper Car­rott and Bob Monkhouse

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