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Gyles Brandreth- remembering the great Dan Leno: the Funniest Man on Earth

By: stagedoorscribbler - June 10, 2019

Gyles Brandreth. Photograph by Hattie Miles

Spare a thought for our good friend Gyles Brandreth whose longtime interest in the great music hall artist Dan Leno was reignited by the success of a  stage production charting Leno’s life and career .

Packed houses and standing ovations have greeted the show, A Royal Jester! which stars Steve Royle. It follows Leno as he hones his skills, becoming a champion clog-dancer, acrobat and comedian. 

He was a huge talent and a big star on the music hall circuit during the late 19th century. He also famously appeared for 16 consecutive years in the Drury Lane Theatre's Christmas pantomime.

But Leno hit the bottle and his heavy drinking gradually ground him down. By 1902 he had suffered a breakdown  and his erratic and volatile behaviour saw him briefly committed to a mental asylum. He died in 1904 aged just 43.

It’s a fascinating tale but but probably because Leno predated film, radio and TV it’s a story that has been largely forgotten

A Royal Jester! has already drawn much praise from Leno aficionado actor and comedian Roy Hudd and his wife Debbie. Now Gyles wants to see the show himself. After all he once wrote a biography of Leno but is sadly unable to refer to his own book. 

He actually wrote  Funniest Man on Earth: Story of Dan Leno more than 40 years ago and though there are half-a-dozen second hand copies available on Amazon, Gyles is reluctant to fork out for his own work.

“I no longer have a copy. It’s out of print and I can’t bring myself to spend £11.94 plus postage on a book I wrote myself,” he wailed in an anguished Tweet. Maybe someone can send him a copy.