Frank Herbert Muir (5 February 1920 - 2 January 1998) was an English comedy writer, radio and television personality, and raconteur.
Birth and early life
Born and brought up in his grandmother's pub, The Derby Arms
, he spent part of his childhood in the E10 district of London
. In later years, whenever his dignified speech patterns caused listeners to assume that he had received a public-school
education, Muir would demur: "I was educated in E10, not Eton
." In fact, he was educated at the Chatham House Grammar School
, in Ramsgate
, in South-East England
, whose former pupils included Edward Heath
, leader of the British Conservative Party
from 1965 to 1975 and British Prime Minister
Frank Muir joined the Royal Air Force
during World War II
and became a photographic technician, being posted to Iceland
. While there he became involved with the forces radio station. Also while stationed in Iceland -- as he describes in his memoirs A Kentish Lad
-- Muir suffered a spontaneous medical condition requiring the surgical removal of one testicle. Despite this loss, he later fathered two children. In his books he often wrote about his brother Charles Muir. He also dedicated one of his 'What-a-mess' books to Charles's granddaughter Christie MacInnes.
Writing for radio
Upon his return to civilian life, he began to write scripts for Jimmy Edwards
. When Edwards teamed up with Dick Bentley
on BBC Radio
, Muir formed a partnership with Denis Norden
, Bentley's writer, which was to last for most of his career. The vehicle created for the two men, Take It From Here
, was written by Muir and Norden from 1948 until 1959; a last series in 1960 used other writers. For TIFH
, as it became known, they created "The Glums
", a deliberately awful family, which was the show's most popular segment.
Muir and Norden continued to write for Edwards when he began to work for BBC television with the school comedy series Whack-O, and in the anthology series Faces of Jim. With Norden, in 1962, he was responsible for the television adaptation of Henry Cecil's comic novel Brothers in Law, which starred Richard Briers in an early role.
The pair were also invited to appear on the newly formed humorous literary radio quiz My Word! A feature of the show was the final round, in which Muir and Norden would each tell a highly contrived and often convoluted story inspired by a well-known phrase provided by the quizmaster and ending in a terrible pun on the phrase in question.
Frank Muir was also a contestant on the My Word spinoff My Music (as was Norden). As a television personality, Muir's unofficial trademark was a crisply knotted pink bowtie.
He was well known to television
audiences as a team captain on the long-running BBC2
series Call My Bluff
and did voice-overs for advertisements, notably Cadbury's Fruit & Nut chocolate ("Everyone's a Fruit and Nut case")
, Batchelor's Savoury Rice ("Every grain will drive them insane!")
and a coffee advert in which he used the phrase "impending doom"
, and the Unigate milk Humphreys
. In 1954 he founded the amateur dramatic society "Thorpe Players". He was a writer and presenter on many shows, including the 1960s satire
programmes That Was The Week That Was
and The Frost Report
His pets, which prompted many an anecdote on My Word!, included Afghan Hounds and Burmese cats. The hounds were also the inspiration for a series of picture books about an accident-prone Afghan puppy called "What-a-Mess".
In the 1960s Muir was Assistant Head of Light Entertainment at the BBC and in 1969 joined London Weekend Television as Head of Entertainment. His magnum opus, The Oxford Book of Humorous Prose, was published in 1990. In 1992, for Channel 4, he was host of TV Heaven, a season of evenings dedicated to television programmes from individual past years.
In 1976 Muir wrote The Frank Muir Book: An irreverent companion to social history, which is a collection of anecdotes and quotations collected under various subjects including "Music", "Education", "Literature", "Theatre", "Art" and "Food and Drink". (In the United States, this book is titled "An Irreverent Social History of Almost Everything.") For example, "Show me the man who has enjoyed his schooldays and I will show you a bully and a bore" Robert Morley. Or, "Education, n, That which discloses to the wise and disguises from the foolish their lack of understanding." Ambrose Bierce, The Devil's Dictionary.
In 1949, he married the former Polly McIrvine, who died on 27 October 2004. They had two children, Jamie (b 1952), a TV producer, and Sally (b 1954), who co-founded the Muir and Osborne knitwear design company, and is married to the journalist and author Geoffrey Wheatcroft
. In 1997, Muir published a well-received autobiography, A Kentish Lad
. BBC Radio declined to serialize it as a reading.
- The What-A-Mess Children's Books
- The Frank Muir Book: An Irreverent Companion to Social History
- The Oxford Book of Humorous Prose
- The Walpole Orange
- A Kentish Lad (Autobiography)
- Long time resident of the village of Thorpe, Surrey.
- Muir stood six feet four inches tall.