Graham Stark used to take great delight in describing how he had once presented an Oscar to Sir Bruce Forsyth but the trophy he handed over in the 1950s was no Academy Award.
In 1954, Clive Dunn had asked Graham to join him in a summer show in Norfolk and as it was to be Graham’s first ever summer season, he needed an act for it. He asked his close friend Larry Stephens to write some sketches for him and the result was apparently more esoteric than the usual comedy routines of the time.
Graham had trained in ballet and played the part of the Dancing Master in a 1950 production of Molière’s Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme at the Edinburgh Festival and he remembered that, “Larry was fascinated by this. He wrote a very funny sketch about a dancing instructor who was giving a lecture on dance but while wearing big army boots.” Larry also drew inspiration from his own experience of acting in the Molière classic during his schooldays in Birmingham after which, “the stony silence of Stephens” had been mentioned in his school magazine’s review of the production.
Graham’s summer show, ‘Fraser and Dunlop’s Take It Easy’ at the Summer Theatre in Cromer, was a resounding success. As well as Clive and Graham, other notable performers included Michael Darbyshire and a newcomer called Ronnie Corbett who, according to a report in The Stage on 29 July 1954, showed, “a marked penchant for comedy.”
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The summer in Cromer was a particular success for Graham as he was awarded a ‘Concert Party Oscar’ or as it was more commonly referred to, a ‘Bucket and Spade Oscar’ after having been judged the best individual act in the UK that season.
The idea for a Bucket and Spade Oscar had been conceived after an article in a Sunday newspaper declared that seaside summer shows had become passé and the Concert Artistes Association (CAA) wanted to prove the journalist wrong. The award was sponsored by the South African Outspan orange company as part of their tercentenary celebrations and Gordon Marsh, chairman of the CAA, went on a six-week tour on the organisation’s behalf to find the worthy winners.
Graham was presented with his Oscar – a silver trophy in the form of a starfish balancing on an Outspan orange and playing a seaside spade as a guitar – in a special ceremony at the Arts Theatre Club at the end of October. Several of Graham’s friends attended the celebratory party and performed a brief chorus in his honour. Dressed in Pierrot hats and ruffles their number included Peter Sellers and Harry Secombe. The following year, Graham presented the award to the 1955 winner… Sir Bruce Forsyth!
Graham had previously joined Peter Sellers and Harry Secombe in several episodes of the Goon Show when he stood in for Spike Milligan and he also appeared in Christmas and Coronation specials. When he wasn’t acting in the show he would join Larry and Diana Stephens in the audience to watch the recordings being made.
A talented photographer, Graham’s work included nude portraits of model Diana Stephens, photographs which Stanley Kubrick particularly admired. Graham claimed that having seen the pictures, Kubrick expressed an interest in making an erotic movie, went on to obtain the filming rights to Arthur Schnitzler’s novella ‘Dream Story’ in the 1960s and eventually shot it in the 1990s under the title ‘Eyes Wide Shut’, starring Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman. The film didn’t receive any Oscar nominations – Bucket and Spade or otherwise!
Glarnies, Green Berets & Goons: The Life and Legacy of Larry Stephens
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