They took away his beautiful girls, they chopped out some of his best material and they banished the press, but Bob Hope said nobody could keep him from entertaining the troops on Christmas.

"They couldn't hide this war from me. Boy, they tried," the 87-year-old dean of stand-up comedians said Tuesday."The whole country feels the same," said Hope, who has performed on USO tours for troops around the world since 1941. "This is our blood and guts out here. And this is the day of all days. Christmas."

Hope talked to reporters at a hotel press conference as a concession from the Army and his bookers for the semi-off-the-record tour.

Although an NBC camera crew is following him around to tape a Jan. 12 television special, no reporters were allowed to watch him shake hands with the troops or to attend any of the three shows he is performing in Saudi Arabia for up to 7,000 soldiers at a time.

U.S. military spokesmen blamed the ground rules on Saudi authorities who wanted to limit publicity drawn to the tour in a land where public entertainment is banned by Moslem law. The Saudis refused to grant visas to actress Brooke Shields, or singers Janet Jackson, Marie Osmond and the Pointer Sisters, who will perform with Hope at a USO extravaganza in nearby Bahrain, which is considerably more liberal.

For the troops in the Saudi desert, Hope had to make it an all-male show, bringing along former all-star baseball catcher Johnny Bench and a Nashville country singer, Aaron Tippon.

Hope also said he received three briefings on the difficulty of performing in Saudi Arabia and an Army officer chopped out several jokes.

Nevertheless he said there was plenty of good material left for the troops.

An example: "This Baghdad Betty on the radio. She says our wives are being wooed by Tom Selleck and Tom Cruise and Bart Simpson. Next day, she said they are being wooed by Rudolph Valentino, John Barrymore and George Burns."