Ray Brooks talks about 
Mr Benn’s magical appeal

Ray Brooks
Ray Brooks

There’s no mistaking that voice. Suddenly, the instant you hear it, you’re a kiddie again.

Who’d have thought? Dial those numbers and you get Mr Benn on the line, the bowler-hatted chap who had us all transfixed all those years ago whenever he left his house at 52 Festive Road.

Mr Benn has followed me around ever since

His destination was always the same, a fancy-dress costume shop where he was invited by the fez-wearing shopkeeper to try on a different outfit each week.

The series made Ray Brooks, who voiced it, a TV legend.

As he says, back in 1968, it was just another job, something to pay the rent. He never thought it would follow him around for the best part of 50 years.

Ray will discuss it all when he offers An Evening with Ray Brooks or As If By Magic, The Genius of Mr Benn, at Brighton Little Theatre on Sunday, April 12, at 7.45pm (tickets £10 on www.brightonlittletheatre.com).

The show was repeated twice a year by the BBC for the next 21 years and via other channels and DVDs it has never, ever gone away.

“Mr Benn has followed me around ever since. I say ‘Excuse me’ to someone, and they say ‘You’re Mr Benn!’ It’s just extraordinary – and extraordinary to think that at the time it was just another job.

“But the thing is with children’s stories and children’s shows, children grow up with them, and they still remember their past.”

And now, harking back to simpler times, for many children Mr Benn now offers something more civilised: “Children now get tired of the crash-bang-wallop cartoons, and you see them watching Mr Benn instead.”

Of course, Mr Benn will be a key part of the evening, but in Ray’s career, there are plenty of other highlights.

In 1962 Ray appeared in Bristol-based youth culture movie Some People alongside Harry H Corbett, Angela Douglas, David Hemmings and Kenneth More. Between 1963 and 1964 he worked with Bill Owen and Sid James on the BBC1 programme Taxi.

But Ray made his name in the 1965 film The Knack... and How to Get It; he was also in the Ken Loach TV film Cathy Come Home, in the comedy drama Big Deal and returned to TV as Pauline Fowler’s love interest in EastEnders.

“Cathy Come Home (first broadcast on November 16 1966 on BBC1) caused such a furore around the country. There was such an outburst that it was repeated the following week on TV. It was massive.”

The film was voted the best single television drama by the Radio Times in 1998; in 2000, it was declared the second best British television programme ever made.

The play tells the story of a young couple, Cathy (Carol White) and Reg (Ray) and their slump into poverty, unemployment, squatting and homelessness before a heart-breaking conclusion in which Cathy has her children taken away by social services.

It still ranks as landmark television.

“Shelter was formed immediately afterwards. Carol and I were on the board of Shelter for a while. Carol was living in a basement flat in Hammersmith. We were in a four-quid-a-week flat, and we found a place where there were three generations of one family living there. We just could not believe what it was like compared to what we were living in.”

Times were tough indeed. Carol shoved a cushion up her jumper and knocked on the door of a house apparently offering rooms.

“I said to the woman who opened the door ‘Have you got a room for me and my wife?’ The woman said ‘Oh dear, the landlord won’t allow pregnancies or dogs or even black people into his house.’ It was a very hard time for people who were poor.”