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Barry Took, 73; British Comic, 'Monty Python' and 'Laugh-In' Writer

April 02, 2002|From Times Staff and Wire Reports

Barry Took, the British stand-up comedian and comedy writer who helped produce such zany shows as "Monty Python's Flying Circus" and lent his talents to the much-loved American television classic "Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In," has died. He was 73.

Took, often called one of the funniest men in Britain, died Sunday in a London nursing home of cancer. He had suffered a stroke nearly two years ago, which impaired his speech and his storied ability to write.

Perhaps best-known for his post-World War II radio scripts, Took was responsible for such celebrated BBC series as "Round the Horne," "The Army Game," "Educating Archie" and "Bootsie and Snudge." The shows helped Britain cope with decades of austerity and its diminished role in the world.

Ever-employable in Britain, Took rarely worked in American entertainment productions. "Laugh-In" was a popular exception. The show, which flourished from 1968 to 1973, relied on witty writers, including Took, who could spew out one-liners and devise sight gags, blackouts, sketches and catch phrases.

Born in London, Took had an outwardly laugh-a-minute life that was clouded by depression and self-doubt rooted in an unhappy childhood. He once said his mother, who doted on his older brother, told him that his birth was unplanned, that he was not wanted and that the cost of rearing him had made his father have a nervous breakdown. Took underwent years of Freudian psychoanalysis to help overcome his problems.

He left school at age 15, worked as an office boy and film projectionist, and then joined the Royal Air Force, where he began working in entertainment programs.

Took went on to work as a stagehand and stand-up comedian, and in 1957 teamed with Marty Feldman to create and write several successful radio shows. The comedy writing team was fast and prolific, turning out four or five shows a week.

Dubbed Baron von Took by a television executive, Took helped create and foster a show originally called "Baron von Took's Flying Circus." That evolved into the hugely popular "Monty Python's Flying Circus."

Twice divorced, Took is survived by two sons, Barry and David, and two daughters, Susan and Elinor.

Always candid about his cancer, which began a few years ago with bladder cancer, Took frequently quipped, "It doesn't worry me. Everyone has to get ill and die."

But the stroke saddened him. "You realize," he said in late 2000, "however hard you try, that you cannot write, you cannot talk properly and you feel like a damn nuisance.

"I'd like to be remembered," he added in that interview, "as 'the guy who was rather talented once upon a time.'"

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