An Evening With Ray Brooks: As If By Magic – The Genius of Mr Benn
Brighton Little Theatre, Clarence Gardens, Brighton, Sunday, April 12.
Starts 7.45pm, tickets £10. Call 0844 888 0432.


ANYONE over the age of 25 will get a flash of nostalgia when they hear Ray Brooks speak.

The Brighton-born actor has been in both the country’s biggest soaps, Coronation Street and EastEnders.

But it’s for voicing a short series of 13 animated shows for children that he is best remembered – and the inhabitant of 52 Festive Road is the focus of his new one-man show.

A creation of illustrator David McKee, Mr Benn was about an ordinary man in a suit and bowler hat who embarked on extraordinary adventures every time he visited a fancy dress shop. His adventure always ended when, as if by magic, the shopkeeper appeared to bring him back to reality.

The show became a staple of BBC programming for generations of youngsters in the days before digital channels.

“I was living in a £4 a week flat when Mr Benn came up,” says Brooks today in the bar of Brighton Little Theatre.

“I thought I was going to get £760 which would have paid the rent for a couple of years!

“It was about six or seven months later that they finally said they were going to do it. The money came in dribs and drabs so it all went quite quickly.”

The full impact of Mr Benn – and idea for the one-man show – really hit Brooks two years ago when he was at an event marking the 100th anniversary of Peter Cushing’s birth.

“We did the Dr Who film Daleks – Invasion Earth 2150 AD together,” says Brooks. “I was on stage talking about the film and Peter, and the interviewer brought up Mr Benn. When I said the phrase: ‘As if by magic, the shopkeeper appeared’ the audience leapt to their feet. I thought it was quite extraordinary.

“I can’t think of anything else I’ve done which had such an impact.”

And it has been a pretty amazing screen CV – not just covering both the UK’s two biggest soaps, but also Taxi with Sid James, ground-breaking drama Cathy Come Home, bawdy comedy Carry On Abroad, cult horror director Peter Walker’s Brighton-set The Flesh And Blood Show, and the classic Richard Lester directed The Knack... And How To Get It, which won the Palme D’Or at the 1965 Cannes Film Festival.

After voicing Mr Benn, plus McKee’s follow-up series King Rollo and the “obnoxious” Rupert The Bear, Brooks admits he was worried about being typecast as a children’s presenter.

But in recent years he has expanded into writing, penning two books of fiction Echoes and Lies, as well as the first volume of his autobiography Learning My Lines which he started during his two years in EastEnders.

“My son said I should keep a diary otherwise the experience was going to blur into nothing,” says Brooks. “I would sit in my dressing room and think back over my life.

“It was written as a stream of consciousness – I didn’t want to write about my mum’s varicose veins and the colour of my front door, it was more fun this way.”

That unpredictability has been a major feature of his career – which even saw him record an album of his own songs in the 1960s.

“When I was working in Butlins at Clacton this adagio dancer taught me three chords on the guitar,” says Brooks. “Sat at home unemployed with my baby daughter I thought I would try to write some songs and record them on a reel-to-reel tape recorder, using a capo on the neck to get some more chords.”

He played the tape to Mike King of early 1969s vocal group The King Brothers, who got him a record deal.

“I went into the studio to sing to some backing tracks,” remembers Brooks. “I couldn’t tell what was what! The single got into the US top 100 though.”