What follows is an index of twenty five comedy acts that I would have liked to have seen live but sadly did not get or have not yet had the chance…
ERIC MORECAMBE OBE AND ERNIE WISE OBE
Morecambe and Wise are widely regarded as Britain’s most-successful, best-loved, and greatest ever comedy double act. They are usually at the top of many other comedians’ list of funny people and their legendary programmes are repeated every year on television. Like millions of others, my personal Christmas day highlights in the seventies involved the excitement of opening presents, the Christmas dinner and then the entire family watching The Morecambe and Wise Christmas Show. Everyone loved them from young and old; the pressure on the performers, writers, and producers every year to be funnier than the last must have been enormous. I have so many memories of them on television at the height of their fame in the seventies, having watched so many great sketches and read so much in print about their amazing career that they are the reason I love comedy. They were utterly unique, original, instantly funny, warm, endearingly memorable and without them, you would not be reading this blog.
Voted retrospectively, Comedian of the Century in 1999, Eric Bartholemew was born in 1926 and took his stage name from his home town, the seaside resort of Morecambe in Lancashire. On stage, He was famous for his glasses, his catchphrases, his lightning wit, and his love of Luton Town football club. In public, he also had the incredible ability to do very little and be genuinely hilarious, a twiddle of his glasses or a grin would reduce audiences to hysterics. Only a handful of comedians have this gift – Tommy Cooper, Les Dawson, Ken Dodd, and Peter Kay to name an elite few.
Born Ernest Wiseman in Leeds in 1928, Ernie Wise was the perfect foil for Eric Morecambe. He had an incredible knack of setting up funny jokes and stories He was famous for his short, fat, hairy legs, his ‘wig’ and ‘the plays wot he wrote’. Starting his show-business career as a song and dance man, Wise became the greatest comedy straight-man and a good comedian in his own right. Often wrongly overlooked because one needed the other for it to work at its best, Wise contributed enormously to the double act.
After an audition in Manchester in 1940, impresario Jack Hylton invited Morecambe to join a revue called Youth Takes a Bow, where he met Wise. The two soon became very close friends, and with Morecambe’s mother Sadie’s encouragement started to develop a double act. They got separated during the Second World War with Morecambe becoming a ‘Bevin Boy’ down the mines and Wise joining the Merchant Navy. After the War, they met by chance again in London, began working on stage and radio continuing as a double act. They were one of the very few acts to successfully transfer from theatre to television and their TV break happened in 1954 with Running Wild which unfortunately was not well received. Nevertheless, they were determined and bounced back with Two of A Kind from 1961 to 1968 for ATV written by Dick Hills and Sid Green, which did considerably better. In 1968 they swapped channels moving from ITV to the BBC acquiring Ken Dodd’s old gag writer Eddie Braben – ‘the third member of the double act’ and he transformed them into comedy superstars. Considering Braben did not know Morecambe and Wise, upon meeting them, he spotted something in them – the warmth of two brothers which he exploited to brilliant effect in the seventies giving Wise a key role as a hopeless playwright that Morecambe defended to the hilt. He replaced the studio setting by putting them in a home environment. The combination of Morecambe, Wise, Braben and producers John Ammonds and Ernest Maxim produced exemplary comedy and Christmas specials featuring incredible special guests. So many famous sketches – ones that come to mind are making breakfast to The Stripper music, their take on the film Singin’ In The Rain where Morecambe as a policeman gets drenched, Shirley Bassey singing Smoke Gets In Your Eyes with the duo having trouble with a smoke machine and ending her song wearing a Wellington Boot, Glenda Jackson appearing in the Ernie Wise version of the play Anthony and Cleopatra and Andre Previn trying to conduct Morecambe and orchestra in playing Grieg’s Piano Concerto. Morecambe famously commented afterwards that they would never make a sketch as good as the Previn sketch, but they came close. The trick to their successful sketches in most cases was that the guest had to play it straight and Morecambe and Wise provided the laughs. I used to love watching them make each other laugh when they lost their way with a script and adlibbed or when Morecambe seemingly got bored with a sketch – Robin Hood comes to mind – and he turned unaware towards the camera and pulled an amazing grin as the other actors followed suit.
In 1976 they were awarded OBE’s and in 1977 their Christmas Show was infamously watched by half of the population of the UK, 28 million people and then incredulously they jumped ship back to ITV Thames Television in 1978 after an offer of making more less successful but still massively popular series as well, after a brief spell making three films for the Rank Organisation, the disappointing TV movie Night Train To Murder which aired in 1985. They were never the same on film and needed a live studio audience to get the best out of them.
I so wish I had been given the chance to see them live on stage. They played Summer season after Summer season as I was growing up, but I never had the opportunity to go. Eric and Ernie Live is the only live performance to be fully captured on video. Recorded live at Fairfield Halls in Croydon in 1975, the performance features a brilliant encore where Morecambe gleefully asks the audience for any questions or comments. A voice can be heard from the back of the packed auditorium yelling ‘Can I have your autograph after the show?’, Morecambe off the top of his head replies, ‘You could have it now if I had long arms!’
The comedian Rob Rouse played the Always Be Comedy club in 2016. Watching from my usual front row seat, a police siren screamed past outside and Rouse referenced the favourite Braben-written Morecambe and Wise joke, ‘he won’t sell many ice-creams going at that speed’ which I immediately recognised through laughter and he acknowledged with a grin.
I have seen many plays about Morecambe and Wise over the years. In the West End of London, in 2001, I saw The Play Wot I Wrote written by the duo The Right Size (Sean Foley and Hamish McColl) and directed by Kenneth Branagh. The play was about two comedians who were asked to put on a tribute show based on Morecambe and Wise. The last twenty-minutes featured a classic skit with a surprise different special guest every night – comedian Dawn French in my case. In 2009, Morecambe, a play by Tim Whitnall celebrating the life of Eric Morecambe appeared at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. The one-man play featured actor Bob Golding who pulled off a very accurate impersonation of Morecambe but bizarrely replaced Wise with a hand puppet. In 2014, Jonty Stephens played Morecambe and Ian Ashpitel played Wise in Eric & Little Ern that really captured the essence of the double act in their excellent homage. The show was filled with popular sketches and routines and the likeness from both actors was uncanny. The show was a hit and the re-titled and re-worked Eric & Ern toured in 2020.
Eric Morecambe had heart trouble from working down the mines during the war. His career suffered with several heart attacks and he sadly died at just 58 years old in 1984 when a nation mourned. Ernie tried to continue his career with spells in the theatre and attempts to pair him up with other comedians (such as (Bernie) Winters and Wise) but the magic had faded, and Wise died in 1999 aged 73.
As a lasting memorial, sculptor Graham Ibbotson (who has created numerous statues of famous comedians including Max Miller and Ken Dodd) made a statue of Eric Morecambe which was unveiled by Her Majesty The Queen on Morecambe sea-front in 1999; a separate statue of Ernie Wise was unveiled in his Yorkshire home town of Morley in 2010; and one of them both together (revealed in 2016) which stands in the foyer of Blackpool Winter Gardens Theatre.
To bring such joy to millions of people over a forty-year career is the legacy of Morecambe and Wise. In many television tributes and repeats, the comedian Dave Allen once said; ‘I think of Morecambe and Wise and I smile.’ They were two comedy greats and as the famous song that was to become their theme tune that closed nearly every popular television show said, they really did bring us sunshine.
BOB MONKHOUSE OBE
Well-known for presenting many TV games shows such as The Golden Shot (when in the seventies, I can vividly remember watching with my Grandma at her house eating toast with cheese and home-made shortbread biscuits on a Sunday teatime in Carlisle), Celebrity Squares, Family Fortunes, Bob’s Full House and Bob Says Opportunity Knocks, Bob Monkhouse was always a comedian first and foremost and is widely regarded as one of the most successful comics Britain has ever produced.
Monkhouse’s career began as a radio comedy scriptwriter in partnership with Denis Goodwin, Monkhouse and Goodwin performed as a double act and also wrote for comedians such as Max Miller and Arthur Askey. They also provided jokes for American comedians, including Bob Hope, when he required jokes for UK concerts. However, Monkhouse was the star of the partnership and in 1958, he starred in Carry On, Sergeant – the first of the extremely successful Carry On films. Goodwin split from Monkhouse in 1962 and went to America to supply jokes for Bob Hope on a full-time basis.
Monkhouse was a fantastic comedian. He could ad-lib at ease often producing a joke on any subject. His joke books were filled with thousands of categories so he could easily find what he wanted to talk about. His timing and delivery of a gag were a joy to behold and he had some memorably funny jokes and routines.
Monkhouse became a favourite with impressionists however, and his comedy style fell out of favour in the 1980s when he was ridiculed for his smoothness, especially with presenting so many game shows. He did present his own self-titled TV chat show interviewing comedians which was a success and he came back into fashion during the 1990s. An appearance on Have I Got News For You during this time helped to restore his popularity. Monkhouse’s final stand-up show was performed at the Albany Comedy Club in London on 25 August 2003, four months before his death. He spoke about his career, his favourite comedians and featured an interview and rare appearance from his friend Mike Yarwood. The show was broadcast and repeated on the BBC as Bob Monkhouse: The Last Stand and was one final big success. Among the audience were a number of British comedians who had been personally invited by the star including Reece Shearsmith, Jon Culshaw, Kevin Day and Mark Steel.
Monkhouse died at the age of 75 from cancer in 2003 and is greatly missed. In 2015, at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, I went to see the play A Man Called Monkhouse which saw the actor Simon Cartwright play the comedian. As the lights went down, after a few seconds of total darkness, a spotlight fell on the stage and there he was. The likeness was uncanny and for an hour he was brought back to life in his study with two of his joke books missing as he tried to write a speech for the memorial of his former comedy partner Goodwin, twenty years on from his death. His joke books had been famously stolen in real life and returned to him and the nostalgic way the play portrayed the man was a fitting tribute to a great comic master of the craft.
Dave Allen was one of the funniest and most fondly remembered comedians of his generation. Famous for his relaxed comic style with a cigarette in one hand and a glass of whiskey in the other, the lost part of his finger and the line ‘Goodnight, and may your god go with you’ at the end of his show, he was a superb wit. Allen’s infuriated observations on the farcicalities of contemporary life hit home to legions of fans in Britain, Ireland, and Australia for over 40 years. He was a compelling storyteller — able to create stories out of the almost any subject, including the missing tip of his fourth finger of his left hand, for which he provided various unlikely explanations. But his mild, terse wit could also give way to fierce outbreaks against the media the state and, most famously, the Catholic Church.
Allen was a one off and he is most remembered for his two TV shows Tonight with Dave Allen and Dave Allen at Large (with the catchy theme tune and his mocking religious ironies). His 1991 stage show An Evening with Dave Allen at The Strand Theatre in London was popular which I so wish I had seen. He retired from performing in 1999 and died in 2005 aged 68.
PETER COOK AND DUDLEY MOORE CBE
Peter Cook and Dudley Moore were two very unlikely comedy partners. Brought up in Torquay, Cook was an English satirist and comedic actor. He was a leading figure of the British satire boom of the 1960s and associated with the anti-establishment comedic movement that emerged in the United Kingdom in the late 1950s. Beginning life in Dagenham, Moore was an English actor, comedian, musician, and composer. He was one of the four writer-performers(together with Jonathan Miller, Alan Bennett and Cook in the comedy revue Beyond the Fringe from 1960 that created a boom in satirical comedy.
In 1961, Cook opened The Establishment, a club at 18 Greek Street in Soho in central London, presenting fellow comedians in a nightclub setting. The Establishment’s regular cabaret performers were Eleanor Bron, John Bird and John Fortune.
From 1965 to 1970, Cooke and Moore’s TV show Not Only But Also was very popular. Building scripts from improvised recordings (although ad-libs and corpsing remained irresistible features of the final recordings), the young partnership created their own style of comedy including the memorable Dagenham Dialogues of the cloth-capped Pete and Dud, and Peter Cook’s magnificent old duffer Sir Arthur Greeb-Streebling. The series continued until 1970 and remains a seminal landmark in TV comedy. Many of Cook and Moore’s best sketches including One Leg Too Few, the Leaping Nuns, and the Goodbye-ee song.
In the 1970s the relationship between Moore and Cook became increasingly strained as the latter’s alcoholism began affecting his work. Cook persuaded Moore to take the humour of Pete and Dud farther on long-playing records as foul-mouthed Derek and Clive.
Moore then moved to Hollywood in the late seventies and became a film star. Moore starred in film successes including Foul Play (1978) (with Goldie Hawn), 10 (1979) (with Bo Derek) and Arthur (1981) (with Liza Minnelli and John Gielgud) mush to Cook’s jealousy.
Moore was deeply affected by the death of Cook in 1995 and died seven years later in 2002.
Alfred Hawthorne ‘Benny’ Hill was an English comedian and actor. He is best remembered for his TV show The Benny Hill Show which was on screen from 1955 to 1989, an incredible thirty-four years. The show combined slapstick, burlesque, and seaside postcard end-of-the pier hilarity. The format included live comedy and filmed segments often speeded up involving Hill being chased by scantily clad women, Of its time and in its heyday, the show was watched by up to twenty one million people in the seventies and was a big hit around the world. Hill played many different characters, most notably Fred Scuttle and the regular support cast included Henry McGee, Bob Todd, and Jackie Wright. The women in the show were known as Hills Angels and one such woman, Jane Leeves, took an offer to star in the TV comedy series Frasier playing Frasier Crane’s psychic housekeeper Daphne Moon and became one of the highest paid comedy actresses in the United States.
Hill also starred in British comedy films including Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines (1965) and Chitty Bang (1968). He even had a number 1 hit single in 1971 which he wrote and performed ‘Ernie (The Fastest Milkman in the West)’ which was full of innuendo.
Hill died of kidney failure at the age of 68 in April 1992.
In 2018 at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, I saw a fascinating one-man play called Benny about the comedian’s life and career and featuring a stellar performance by Liam Tobin. The play was a popular hit and reminded the audience of the comedian’s legacy.
SIR NORMAN WISDOM OBE
Born in February 1915, Norman Wisdom was a great British clown prince of comedy. He was an English actor, comedian and singer-songwriter best known for a series of comedy films, most notably Trouble In Store (1953) which featured his theme song Don’t Laugh At Me, Cause I’m A Fool, The Square Peg (1958), On The Beat (1962) and A Stitch in Time (1963). Rising to become the third most popular British film star in 1959, most films featured his unfortunate onscreen character, dressed in cloth cap, an ill-fitting suit, and often named Norman Pitkin. The film audiences rooted for the ‘little everyman’ much put upon who always fought towards a happy ending.
On stage, Wisdom had the same persona as his films. His wallpaper routine with Bruce Forsyth first seen at the London Palladium in 1961 remains a classic. He toured for many years and he was extremely popular wherever he went because he was distinctive because he was able to deliver his comedy to all different age groups.
I almost had a chance to see him live in 1994 for his Trouble on Tour live show but missed out on the opportunity to see this comic genius. I was gutted to have missed the chance.
Wisdom died at the age of 95 in October 2010.
FRANKIE HOWERD OBE
Frankie Howerd was an English comedian and comic actor whose career spanned six decades. Determined to overcome a stammer and break into show business, Frankie Howerd worked in an insurance officer until the second world war where he was allowed him to hone his act. A series of troop shows alerted an agent and resulted in a successful audition for the popular radio show Variety Bandbox (1948 – 52). He also appeared on radio in The Frankie Howerd Show (1953 – 1958). Films included a number of Carry On films in the sixties as well as The great St Trinians Train Robbery, (1965), Up The Chastity Belt (1971) and Up The Front (1972). He was extremely popular on stage with his mannerisms and camp humour. What is interesting to note is that every utterance, every Ooohhh! and Aaahhh!, every catchphrase: Titter Ye Not, Nay and Thrice Nay was scripted. He had crippling nerves before he went on stage but nevertheless enjoyed one of many comebacks in the eighties with tours and television work.
Howard died in 1992.
SPIKE MILLIGAN KBE
Terence ‘Spike’ Milligan was a comic genius. Born in 1918, he was a comedian, writer, poet, playwright, and actor. Born to an English mother and an Irish father, Milligan was born in India where he grew up, relocating to live and work most of his life in Britain.
His long career included The Goon Show (with Peter Sellers, Harry Secombe, and Michael Bentine) and his solo work in in TV series such as Q, not to mention his film work, novels, songs, and children’s poetry. Added to all this, Milligan suffered years of depressive experiences however his zany, surreal and unique style won him legions of fans from fellow comics to Prince Charles and the general public. Milligan changed the landscape of comedy with his controversial World War II memoirs, his distinct poetry and outrageous comedy sketches.
Milligan died in 2002.
Tony Hancock was an English actor and comedian. With his deadpan features and little man lost in a big world persona, he had a major success with his BBC series Hancock’s Half Hour, written by Ray Galton and Alan Simpson and first broadcast on radio from 1954, then on television from 1956, in which he soon formed a strong professional and personal bond with comic actor Sid James. His own decision to cease working with James from early 1960, disappointed many at the time although his last BBC series in 1961 contains some of his best remembered work (including ‘The Blood Donor’ and ‘The Radio Ham’). After breaking with his scriptwriters Galton and Simpson later that year, his career declined.
Hancock continued to make regular appearances on British television until 1967 but did not have much luck and by then alcoholism was seriously affecting his performances. Things were not going to plan, and his final television appearances were in Australia under a contract to make a TV series.
Hancock was depressed and committed suicide, by overdose, in Sydney, on 25 June 1968. He was found dead in his flat with an empty bottle and a scattering of tablets. A tragic end to a comic life.
Mike Reid was a London born comedian and actor. Through working as a comic on cruise liners in the early 1960s, Reid developed his act, he became one of the original stars of the TV series The Comedians (alongside Roy Walker, Jim Bowen, Frank Carson, and others). On the show, he capitalised on his cockney charm, extremely funny mannerisms, his gravelly voice, and well-known catchphrases including Terrific (emphasising on each syllable) and Turn It In. He released a novelty version of The Ugly Duckling which became a hit single in 1975 and he also became the host of ITV’s children’s quiz show Runaround from 1975 to 1981. I have very fond memories of laughing at Reid so much watching him on television in the eighties and would have loved to have seen him live over the years live on his many tours.
In 1987, he was offered the role of Frank Butcher in the BBC soap EastEnders, a character which he very popularly played until 2000. He died from a massive heart attack in Spain in 2007 aged 67.
Larry Grayson (born William Sulley White in 1923) was an English comedian. He was best remembered for hosting the BBC’s popular series The Generation Game (taking over from Bruce Forsyth) in 1978 highly successfully until 1982. He never made references to his sexuality, but audiences warmed and loved his outrageous humour and his catchphrases including Shut that Door, Look at the muck in ‘ere and I’m ever so giddy!
His camp stand-up act consisted mainly of anecdotes about a cast of imaginary friends; the most frequently mentioned were Everard and Slack Alice. He made me laugh so much on television and regularly toured in the seventies and eighties enjoying mass appeal. He was devoted to his adopted home town of Nuneaton, where a memorial has been established and he died in 1995.
During the sixties and seventies, Dick Emery was extremely popular on TV. Born in 1915, the comedian created some memorable and unforgettable characters for his self-titled The Dick Emery Show which ran from eighteen years from 1963.
In the show, there was man eating spinster Hetty, an outrageously camp man with the catchphrase Hello Honky-Tonks, a buck-toothed Church of England vicar and Gaylord, a dim-witted hard nut in a double act with his long-suffering father sometime brilliantly played by the comedy actor Roy Kinnear). There was also Mandy, a peroxide blonde whose catchphrase, Ooh, you are awful … but I like you! (given in response to a seemingly innocent remark made by her interviewer, but observed by her as coarse double entendre), heralded a substantial push on the shoulder of the interviewer, and a rapid about-turn walk-off with a slip.
I always used to marvel as to how Emery could easily transform into these funny and bizarre characters and I thought they were hysterically funny. To my knowledge I don’t think he ever toured the show, but it would have been something special.
Emery died in 1983.
If Mike Yarwood was still performing today, he would be extremely popular at something like the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. Appearing on TV from the sixties to the eighties, Yarwood was the first superstar impressionist and hit the big time on television in the seventies with his show Mike Yarwood In Persons. He could impersonate everyone from the leading political figures to sports commentators and comedians. His impersonations were so diverse from brilliant political caricatures of Denis Healey, Edward Heath and Harold Wilson to Eddie Waring and Bob Monkhouse of name a few. He was made up to look like the character in sketches but could also transform his features at the drop of a hat into the character. His Harold Steptoe was inspired. He always ended his show by saying and this is me finishing with a song.
Yarwood lost his confidence when most of his famous subjects retired or died and he was unable to master new celebrities. He did make occasional appearances, but depression took over and he was not seen in public for years. He did appear and interview Bob Monkhouse for his last recorded show The Last Stand in 2003 in front of an audience of comedians. It was a joy to watch on TV as Yarwood impersonated the great comedian again and would have been great to see the master impersonator live on stage. Maybe yet one day – I can live in hope.
Born in 1940, American stand-up comedian, actor, and writer Richard Pryor. He reached a broad audience with his fearless acerbic observations and storytelling style and is widely regarded as one of the greatest and most influential stand-up comedians of all time.
Highly influential, and always controversial, the African American actor/comedian who was equally well known for his colourful language during his live comedy shows, as for his fast-paced life, multiple marriages, and battles with drug addiction. His most notable stand up shows are Richard Pryor Live in Concert (1979), Richard Pryor Live on The Sunset Strip (1982) and Richard Pryor: Here and Now (1983). His no-holds barred view of life is extraordinarily funny and he has been acknowledged by many modern new comedians as a big influence.
Pryor had a heart attack aged 65 and passed away in 2005.
If you walk down the stairs of The Comedy Store in London, you will see a photo of Robin Williams amongst many of the other acts who famously played there. Williams played there by chance in 1988 and was a one-off, an extraordinary whirlwind determined to make an audience laugh on stage. Born in Chicago in 1951, Williams established a career as both a both stand-up comedian and film actor. He was known for his improvisation skills and the wide variety of memorable character voices he created.
Widely regarded as one of the funniest comedians of all time, Williams took his own life in 2014. How incredible would it have been to be in the audience at The Comedy Store on the night that he performed?
An innovator of improvisational stand-up comedy with a gift for imitation, impersonations and a seemingly bottomless reservoir of creative energy, American comedian Winters (who was born in 1925 and died in 2013) was an extraordinary talent. I discovered him relatively late on as he was a big fan of my brother and I have watched online his extremely funny routines.
With his round, rubber-faced mastery of impressions (including ones of John Wayne, Cary Grant, Groucho Marx, James Cagney, and others) and improvisational comedy, Winters became a staple of late-night television with a career spanning more than six decades.
Norman Collier was an exceptionally funny man who reduced me to tears every time I saw him on television during the seventies and eighties. He had a unique act that was so refreshingly different with the classic routine of the broken-down microphone. This got big laughs every time he did it as well turning into a cockerel squawking and gesticulating with hilarious effect.
His first profession engagement was in Summer season in 1963 and at the 1971 Royal Variety Performance, his act got a standing ovation. A genuinely warm and funny man, Collier never looked back and had a successful act until his death in 2013.
Born in 1908, Max Wall was an English comedian and actor, whose performing career covered music hall, theatre, television, and film. He is best remembered for his ludicrously attired and hilariously strutting character Professor Wallofski who used to reduce audiences to hysterical laughter on television.
He appeared on TV and stage for years as the character who used to have a very distinctive wig, walk, and look about him. Wall also appeared successfully in TV dramas and on film. He died aged 82 after a fall in the street.
ROY HUDD OBE
Roy Hudd, born 1936, was an English comedian, actor, presenter, radio host, author and authority on the history of music hall entertainment. For over twenty-five years he wrote and starred in The News Huddlines on Radio with June Whitfield and Chris Emmett. Hudd appeared in many pantomime and variety performances.
Some of the highlights of his career were he starred as Fagin in 1977 in the West End revival of Lionel Bart’s musical Oliver! at the Albery Theatre in 1982 he played Bud Flanagan in Underneath the Arches at The Prince of Wales Theatre in London, for which he won a Society of West End Theatre Award and from 2002 until 2010 he played Archie Shuttleworth in the long running TV soap Coronation Street. He was a very warm and funny man who was very much at home on stage making audiences laugh.
Hudd sadly passed away in 2020.
In all the years I have been watching comedy, I have never seen Ross Noble perform live on stage. This of course can be rectified as he regular tours but yet, I have not chance to see the Geordie funny man.
His stand-up performance is a largely improvised and surreal routine with a stream of consciousness delivery. His comedy is unplanned and often, a large percentage of his set becomes based around heckles and conversations with members of the audience. The act is apparently extraordinary to watch and one day I will get around to seeing it.
In 2017, I did see Noble on stage appear as Igor in Mel Brooks’ musical Young Frankenstein in the West End of London, His performance was amazing, lurching around the stage creating laughter wherever he went. So much so, that Noble was nominated for a Society of West End Theatre Award.
STAN LAUREL & OLIVER HARDY
One day sitting at home, my mum told me out of the blue that she had once served Mrs Laurel and Mrs Hardy in the Antique shop where she worked all her life. She told me that this would have been around 1948 when the shop was next door to Carlisle’s famous Crown and Mitre Hotel where royalty and celebrity tend to stay.
Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy were of course a comedy duo act during the early golden Hollywood era of American cinema. The duo consisted of Englishman Laurel (who was born in 1890 in Ulverston, Cumbria) and American Hardy (who was born in 1892 in Harlem). They became well known during the late 1920s to the mid-1940s for their slapstick comedy, with Laurel playing the awkward and childlike friend of the arrogant bully Hardy.
They famously played a final tour of UK cities fin the early fifties. Their stars had long faded, but fans still wanted to see them live on stage., The tour is well documented in the 2018 film Stan & Ollie starring Steve Coogan as Laurel and John C Reilly as Hardy. One of the stopping off points for this final tour was indeed my home city of Carlisle where they played Her Majesty’s Theatre in Lowther Street in 1954. How amazing would it have been to be sitting in the audience watching these two comic film legends on stage?
Thomas Henry Sargent best known by his stage name Max Miller and also known as The Cheeky Chappie, was an English comedian who was widely regarded as the greatest stand-up comedian of his generation. He made films, toured in revues and music hall, and sang and recorded songs. He was known for his flamboyant suits, his wicked charm, and his risqué jokes which often got him into trouble with the censors.
His near-the-knuckle act featured a red book and a blue book. He always asked the audience which book they wanted to hear jokes from, and it was always the blue book. The gags were often filled with double entendre and Miller always left the end of a joke to the audience’s imagination.
I have seen many a play about his life and career at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe and would have loved to have seen him live on stage, Miller died of a heart attack in 1963 and in 2005 a statue was unveiled in his honour which was designed by Graham Ibbotson and stands in the Pavilion Gardens in his home town of Brighton.
When I worked in the Civil Service in London in the nineties, a friend always used to come into the pub and say I won’t take my coat off, I’m not stoppin! This phrase always used to make me laugh and my friend had taken it from Ken Platt, a British Northern comedian who featured a lot on TV in the fifties. The catchphrase was usually Platt’s opening line to any routine and always wearing a cloth cap, he had brilliant timing and ad-libbing. Another of his catchphrases was Ee, I’m as daft as a brush! and he was, delighting audiences with his unique brand of humour.
ARTHUR ASKEY CBE
Arthur Askey was born in 1900 and was an English comedian and actor. Askey’s humour owed much to the playfulness of the characters he portrayed, his improvisation, and his use of catchphrases, which included Hello playmates!, I thank you and Before your very eyes. He was a short man with a breezy, smiling personality, loved by millions and wore famous horn-rimmed glasses.
BOB HOPE KBE
Bob Hope (born Leslie Townes Hope) was a British-American stand-up comedian, vaudevillian, actor, singer, dancer, athlete, and author. With a career that spanned nearly eighty years, Hope appeared in more than fifty feature films, including a series of seven Road musical comedy movies with Bing Crosby as Hope’s top-billed partner.
In addition to hosting the Academy Awards show on nineteen occasions, he appeared in many stage productions and television roles. The song Thanks For The Memory was his signature tune. Hope was born in 1903 in the Eltham district of southeast London,, and moved to the United States of America with his family at the age of four.
He began his career in show business in the early 1920s, initially as a comedian and dancer on the vaudeville circuit, before acting on Broadway. Hope began appearing on radio and in films starting in 1934. He was praised for his comedic timing, specializing in one-liners and rapid-fire delivery of jokes which often were self-depreciating. He helped establish modern American stand-up comedy. Hope died in 2003.