Can’t remember who I wrote the is article for now. I just remembered it was inspired by something Roy Walker said.

By Word of Mouth


Bob “the Cat” Bevan looks back on his unusual route up the ladder of the entertainment world

I was doing this dinner in the Rose Room at Twickenham and I’d gone down well. Toastmaster Ivor Spencer allowed the applause to die down and then said: “Once again, gentlemen, your appreciation for Bob “the Cat” Bevan.” I took another bow and sat down again.

Ivor said: “Mr Bob “the Cat” Bevan…….and now some entertainment for you.” The place was in uproar. I pretended to walk out and Ivor, for once, looked very embarrassed.

It had easily been done. Ivor was reading from the programme where it showed

“Guest Speaker – Bob “the Cat” Bevan

Entertainment – XYZ Show Band”

It is common at sports dinners to have a speaker and then a local act, normally a comic. The latter normally goes out cheaply. One of these guys in Yorkshire once said to me on my arrival “what’s the difference between an after-dinner speaker and a comedian?” I thought about it. “Dunno” I said. “Give up.” He fixed me with a hard stare then spoke. “About two grand.”

After-dinner speaking is now a serious part of the show business scene and the corporate market is much sought after by entertainers, especially the comedians.

And, it has to be said, that we are normally well treated with expenses added to a healthy fee.

Barry Cryer summed it up in an article in the Sunday Times. He pointed out that if you are booked as the comic you will be met by the organiser who will offer you a room to change in, often with the band. Here, if you’re lucky, you will find a light ale and a stale sandwich. The booker heads back to his banquet, telling you that he’ll give you a shout when they’re ready for you.

Booked as an after-dinner speaker you will emerge from your hotel room (often a junior or full suite) not only for dinner but also for pre-dinner drinks with the Chairman in his penthouse. 
Recently, during a recording of Auntie’s Olympic Bloomers, Terry Wogan invited me to join his team in a charity golf day. When I arrived I found our other team members were Jimmy Tarbuck and Roy Walker. We had a great laugh during the round with plenty of show business stories. Theirs were all about clubs and theatres they had played while mine were largely about other venues.

It came home to me that my career had been via a different and quite unusual route.

This was confirmed when Roy Walker, who I had not seen for some years, drove me away in our buggy. “So, Bob, “ he said. “ You’ve become famous by word of mouth.”

It all seems a long way from the day 50 years ago when, at the age of five, I dragged the family together “for a show.” I was the sole artist and did my famous impersonation of my then favoured radio comic, Robert Moreton. I know. Nobody else remembers him either.

In those days all comics had a catch-phrase with which they would end their act. Robert used to finish by saying “Get in there, Moreton.” I still don’t know what it meant.

Not long after I went to a fortune-teller at the school fete. She told me I was going to be a comedian on the radio. I ran off to tell my mum. She was not impressed. “You must have told her what you wanted to be,” she said. I refused to admit that I had, although I am prepared to admit it now. I wonder if I can get my money back?

In those days radio was king. Everything would stop for Hancock’s Half Hour and Take it From Here. Even now my 85-year-old father is far more impressed with my radio appearances than anything I do on TV.

Comedy was clearly an interest even ahead of football. When I was only seven I got to hear one of Charlie Chester’s shows three times and I virtually memorised it. Soon afterwards at school I stood up and performed it in front of the whole class.

I can still see the teacher, Mrs Tanner, leaning over to one of the pegs holding the blackboard on its easel and saying, as kindly as she could, “I think we’ll turn the radio off now.” It was the first, but not the last time I was to die a death.

All the greats have “bombed” at one time or another. In fact Richard Digance says that you’re not a proper comic until it’s happened to you. The first time exposes suicidal tendencies. Still, 95 per cent would be a pretty acceptable success rate in any other job - unless you’re an airline pilot.

Apart from my oral French exam (failed) I did not get to speak in public again until my old boys dinner in 1966. Mickey Stewart was the other speaker and afterwards an actor told me I had good timing. After that I was in some demand.

It was not until 1976 that I realised good money could be earned from dinners. Even so it took me four years to get my first paid fee.
It was Harlow Town Football Club and I was speaking with the late Ron Pickering, Spurs footballer, John Pratt and a comic, Mike Felix. (He was the drummer for the McGill Five who had one hit – Mockingbird Hill - and is now an actor as well.)

I was told not to admit to the others that I was being paid as they were all doing it free. At the end of the evening I was slipped a brown envelope. I can tell you this as I did, of course, declare it. I went into a toilet cubicle, not to count the £150, but just to look at it and punch the air. My first fee! I was absolutely delighted, if not overjoyed.

Just then I heard someone come in. A zip was pulled and then he spoke. “That you in there, Cat?” I was stunned. I checked to see if my cubicle door was made of glass. I replied hesitantly. “Er, yes?”

He spoke again. “Counting your money?” I was in panic I had been sworn to secrecy and, in any case, how did he know? I quickly denied it and said it was a charity do. “Leave it out,” he said “you blokes don’t work for nothing.” I denied it again and waited until long after he had gone. I’ll never know who it was but it’s OK now because I told the story to the other three long ago.    
A month later I spoke at the Footballer of the Year Dinner. At the end of the evening one of my boyhood heroes, Bolton and England centre-forward, Nat Lofthouse, asked me to speak at his club’s dinner.

Also that night Ranjit Anand, who used to run Keith Prowse, booked me to appear a year and a day hence with Jimmy Tarbuck and Billy Connolly.

Soon I was to give up the day job and get to meet most of my sporting and show business heroes, not least through the Taverners. I’ve played football at Wembley, cricket at Lord’s and done much much more than I have the space to tell you about here. You’ll just have to buy the book.

And, as Roy Walker said, it’s all been by word of mouth.

Grumpy old goalies


Bob 'The Cat' Bevan