Entertainment & Arts

John Fortune: Bremner and Sergeant pay tribute

John Fortune, the comedian and satirist famous for his long TV partnership with John Bird, has died aged 74.

Here comedian Rory Bremner, who had worked with him since the 1990s, and political journalist John Sergeant, who worked with him in the 1960s, pay tribute to their friend and colleague.

Rory Bremner

He was the most lovely man. He wasn't an angry, dark, bitter, brooding satirist; he was a man who loved life. He loved characters, he loved personalities.

Above all he had the most beautiful brain of anybody I've ever known. He had a wonderful sense of humour and intelligence which made him the brilliant comedian that he was.

He was capable of inspired improvisation. He and John Bird took enormous care over the scripts they did; a lot of research and thought went into them.

They had the space - seven or eight minutes, sometimes up to eight or nine minutes - on their Channel 4 show to dissect a subject in those lovely George Parr interviews.

That came out of a deep friendship. He and John [Bird] had known each other for years since the '60s at Cambridge.

In some ways they were like the pillars of the anti-establishment.

He had years and years of experience as a comedian, as a satirist, as an actor and as a writer as well. He loved puns, he was a very, very warm and extraordinarily generous man as well, but behind it all the most brilliant mind.

If you spoke to him about anything you were doing he would listen and come back with a piece of experience from his own life that came out like a beautiful anecdote. It was something that made you roar with laughter and was just perfect for that occasion.

Bird and Fortune were on to things like the banking crisis, the discipline of the market, captains of industry and utilities years ago and doing sketches week in week out which were taking them apart in a way which seemed on the surface gentle.

But it was like a scalpel, beautifully taking issues apart - yet with a smile and a warmth,

I often thought that John Bird was a very thoughtful intelligent cerebral Frenchman and John Fortune was a romantic Italian literary figure. He loved reading and Italian folk tales.

He was the most extraordinary, generous, kind, lovely man.

Rory Bremner was speaking to the BBC News Channel.

John Sergeant

The first thing I was in, he was in too, which was with Alan Bennett in [1966 sketch show] On the Margin. He was a terrific man.

He was the perfect straight man; you thought he was being serious but he was being ridiculously funny. And he lighted up our lives for many many years.

I was pleased to act with him in Alan Bennett's only sketch show. He was everything I wanted to be at that time.

What I learned was that you could be really intelligent, really intellectual, and yet you could be in comedy.

The wonderful thing about John is he could pretend to be establishment but of course he was extremely subversive. That was where the joke was.

Also he was one of the few people who showed you could have a career in this, which he did. He had a marvellous career that started when he was an undergraduate and amazingly then went on.

A lot of undergraduate comics, like me I suppose, realised you can't go on fooling about like a student. But he proved that you could, and that you could reach a ripe old age doing it.

The last time I acted with him, I was another name on the bill at some evening in London. I remember him coming off the stage saying 'This is hard work, isn't it?'

He was with John Bird and I was one of the other acts on the bill. I just thought, 'Isn't that amazing?' He must have been around 70 but he was still working,

He was someone people wouldn't think was funny but he was wonderfully funny. His humour was always dry as dust but right to the point and he was always so intelligent

People think clowns are daft, but clowns have to be cleverer than other people.

It's amazing that it's been the year of Margaret Thatcher's death and then, right at the end, we lose John Fortune on the last day of the year.

John Sergeant was speaking to BBC News entertainment reporter Neil Smith.

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