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Bevin Boy, 82, now turns his hand to comedy

15 Oct 2008

An 82-year-old former Bevin Boy who recently graduated in history at The University of Manchester is now turning his hand to stand-up-comedy.

Robert Benjamin
Robert Benjamin

Robert Benjamin will be spending time in the company of experienced comedy writer Jenny Roche at a day school laid on by The University of Manchester’s “Courses for the Public”.

Robert, who describes himself as a frustrated comic, will be drawing on Liverpudlian origins when he tries out his routine on fellow classmates.

“Liverpool is the comedy capital of the world,” says the Scouser who hails originally from Bootle but now lives in Manchester.

“It’s because we are able find something funny in the face of adversity.”

And the would be funny man claims the funniest place in the funniest city in the world is the unlikely venue of Liverpool Magistrates Court.

After Robert had worked as one of the young British men chosen at random from army conscripts in the coal mines from 1943 – known as Bevin Boys - he started a 42-year-career as a solicitor in Liverpool.

He said: “Despite the seriousness of the business carried out in court, I’ve witnessed some of the funniest things: there was a time when a German speaking defendant was brought to court.

“The Clerk asked if anyone would be able translate for the court and a wily Scouser said ‘I’ll do it.’

“When the Judge told him to ask the defendant his name the Scouser said: ‘vas ist your nem?’.

“Once a judge asked a defendant if he had anything to say before he passed sentence and the defendant answered ‘beam me up Scotty’.”

Robert had missed his chance to go to university during the war and took a degree in history, graduating with a 2.1 honors degree in August.

Jenny Roche will teach him and nine other students at the University’s “Courses for the Public”.

Comedy writer Jenny has provided laughs for the Radio’s The News Huddlines and Week Ending, ITV’s Brian Conley Show and Channel Four’s 11 O’clock show – as well as countless others.

Jenny writes serious drama too and has provided material for Scouse comic Ken Dodd who she hails as the best ever exponent of the comic art.

She said: “Ken Dodd is a master craftsman – and is as funny as he ever was.

“He’s one of the few comics who aims to make all of the audience laugh and is as fresh and as funny as ever.”

Jenny too has a Liverpool connection: she lived there for 30 years – but says Manchester is the best for comedy outside London.

“Manchester is teeming with talent like Steve Coogan, Peter Kay and Caroline Aherne and has lots venues for comics to perform. It’s the best outside London,” she said.

Her career started unexpectedly after a night school session in creative writing in 1986. She has been writing since the early 1990s and hopes her pupils can be similarly inspired.

She added: “My students are generally either actors who see it as useful for their career, people who want to do it just for fun, and others – like Manchester University students – who use it to shape up their presentation skills.”

Robert's favourite jokes

A German speaking defendant was brought to Liverpool Magistrates Court. When the Clerk asked if anyone would be able translate for the court a wily Scouser said ‘I’ll do it.’ When the Judge told him to ask the defendant his name the Scouser said: ‘vas ist your nem?’.

Once a judge asked the defendant if he had anything to say before he passed sentence and the defendant answered: ‘beam me up Scotty’.

I remember the 1930s when people were very poor. In those days, a docker would know if he had a day’s work when the gang master would touch him on the shoulder. One day, a docker saw a tortoise in the street and kicked it. When he was asked why he replied: ‘it’s been following me all day’.

Before I became a lawyer, I was destined to go into the family iron and steal business. My mother used to iron and father used to steal.

Jenny’s top tips on being a stand up comic

  • Go and do it
  • Think about your material
  • Think about your audience
  • Plan and prepare your act.
  • Think about your on stage persona – it will decide your material.
  • Practice at home
  • Be prepared to learn.

Jenny’s top heckling tips

  • Always repeat the heckle
  • Heckle busters which are available on the internet
  • Predict what the heckles are going to be: prepare for people wearing certain clothes with hair colour or facial features

Jenny’s top jokes

  • They laughed at me when I said I wanted to be a comedian, well they're not laughing now (Bob Monkhouse)
  • The marvellous thing about a joke with a double meaning is that it can only mean one thing (Ronnie Barker)
  • She was such a gossip that it didn't take her long to turn an earful into a mouthful (from a joke book compilation)

Notes for editors

Jenny Roche and Robert Benjamin are available for comment.

Images are available.

Courses taught by jenny at “Courses for the Public” at the University of Manchester are:

  • From Smilers to Gutbusters: Scripting for Comedy'
  • Introduction to freelance journalism
  • Scriptwriting
  • Getting Started in Stand-Up Comedy

Anyone wishing to enrol in a course can contact courses for the public on 0161 275 3275 or email at

For media enquires contact:

Mike Addelman
Media Relations Officer
Faculty of Humanities
The University of Manchester
0161 275 0790
07717 881 567