Friday, 24 June 2011

Bob Block

Bob Block
Bob Block five years ago, when Rentaghost the Musical toured Britain. The original was voted 12th most popular children's TV programme

Although he was a successful writer of radio comedies for Arthur Askey, Tony Hancock and Frankie Howerd, and television sitcoms starring Jimmy Clitheroe and Hattie Jacques, Bob Block, who has died aged 89, will be best remembered by those who grew up in the 1970s for the children's series he created – Pardon My Genie, Robert's Robots, Rentaghost and Grandad.
The first to capture the imaginations of adult viewers as well as the young audience at which it was aimed, Pardon My Genie (1972-73) featured a spirit (Hugh Paddick in the first series, Arthur White in the second) that appears when an old watering can is polished by Hal Adden (Ellis Jones), the shop assistant in an ironmonger's owned by Mr Cobbledick (Roy Barraclough). Much of the comedy derived from the fact that the 4,000-year-old genie's magic was as rusty as the can – and the programme was notable for its slapstick and farce.
That style was also a trademark of Rentaghost (1976-80), along with Block's inventiveness and wit, and cleverly constructed storylines and plot twists. It featured an agency renting out phantoms such as the Victorian fop Hubert Davenport (Michael Darbyshire), the medieval jester Timothy Claypole (Michael Staniforth), the Caledonian conjuror Hazel the McWitch (Molly Weir) and the hayfever-suffering Dutchwoman Nadia Popov (Sue Nicholls).
The ghosts had the ability to teleport by grabbing their noses between thumb and forefinger. However, their hamfisted attempts at running a taxi service and organising a highbrow concert and other activities invariably ended in failure.
The characters had also proved somewhat inept in Rentaghost's predecessor, Robert's Robots (1973-74), starring John Clive as an eccentric inventor, Robert Sommerby. He had a gift for building robots resembling and behaving like human beings, including the bad-tempered Eric (Nigel Pegram), who regarded actual humans as disgusting creatures with revolting habits, such as eating.
Clive Dunn's 1970 No 1 single Grandad gave Block the basis for a children's comedy series of the same name (1979-84). The Dad's Army star was seen as Charlie Quick, caretaker of a hall used by dancing and acting students.
Block was born in Plymouth, where his father was based in the navy. On leaving school, he became a mechanic in a garage, before joining the army as a fitter during the second world war and repairing vehicles in Normandy after the 1944 D-day landings. He also wrote sketches for troop shows.
After the war, Block worked as a mechanic in the fire service. He heard the comedian Derek Roy on the radio, and decided to submit some scripts. Soon, Block was contributing to Variety Bandbox, on which Roy was a regular performer before becoming its host. This led Block to work on another established radio show, The Starlight Hour. Then he contributed to Arthur's Inn (starring Askey, 1952) and the sitcom Life With the Lyons (1951-61), featuring the husband-and-wife team of Ben Lyon and Bebe Daniels as parents raising a family – their real-life children, Barbara and Richard – with Weir playing their housekeeper, Aggie MacDonald. It also became a TV series (1955-60).
Block was soon writing exclusively for TV. He contributed to sitcoms such as Our House (1960-62), which included Hylda Baker and the Carry On stars Jacques, Charles Hawtrey, Bernard Bresslaw and Joan Sims among the property's residents, and That's My Boy (1963), with Clitheroe continuing his "naughty schoolboy" persona alongside Deryck Guyler. He also wrote the children's series Crackerjack! from 1966 to 1972 and contributed sketches to David Frost's series The Frost Report (1966-67) and Broaden Your Mind (1968‑69), a forerunner to The Goodies.
Block's children's programmes were partly inspired by a love of science fiction. His final creation, Galloping Galaxies! (1985-86), was set inside a spaceship, and featured the voice of Kenneth Williams as its computer, SID.
At the age of 65, Block decided to retire, and enjoyed swimming into his early 80s. Five years ago, the comedian Joe Pasquale wrote, produced and starred in Rentaghost the Musical, which toured Britain, following a poll in which the original was voted the 12th most popular children's TV programme. Block also licensed rights for a film version of Rentaghost that will reportedly star Russell Brand.
In 1941, Block married Madeline Gamblin. He is survived by her and their three children, Colin, Steve and Trish.

• Bob (Timothy Robert William) Block, writer, born 20 July 1921; died 17 April 2011

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