01 May 2017
Comedian Jimmy Cricket is a variety star. He worked as a Butlin’s Redcoat, honed his craft on the northern club circuit before breaking through to TV. And he’s not finished yet
When did you know you wanted to be a comedian?
Since I was a young child. My folks had a shop in Belfast and part of the layout went into our living quarters. So I used to appear and entertain the customers from when I was a toddler and moved on to doing impersonations to amuse them. My dad also took me to the Variety shows, which gave me a taste for show business. The top of the bill, such as Max Bygraves, Dickie Valentine or Lonnie Donegan, only did about half an hour. The whole show was packed with jugglers, acrobats, comedians etc. As my friend Roy Hudd says, it was two and a quarter hours of pure escapism.
Did you enjoy your early days as a Redcoat?
I really did. The big thing about all the Butlin’s was that there was a custom-built theatre, with an orchestra! My first break was in the ‘gang shows’, where the Redcoats took over from the main act for one show a week. In some ways you had an advantage over the headline act as you were on a first-name basis with most of the audience because you had been talking to them all week. Looking back,
I think about what a visionary Billy Butlin was. Remember, this all started in the late 1930s. He sees a family getting thrown out of a guesthouse at 10am in the morning in the pouring rain to walk the streets and he thinks: “Let’s create a place where they can have entertainment all day.”
How did you develop your comedy style?
After working at Butlin’s in Ireland I got transferred to Clacton-on-Sea and met Bill Martin, the entertainment manager. He saw something in me and said: “You’re a character comedian, Jimmy, you’ve got to listen and learn while you’re here.” He put me into the shows and he told me an amazing thing when the season ended. I was heading for London, but he said: “What are you going to London for? That’s for West End stars, you’re a stand-up, get up north, all the clubs are there.” He was right, as they were in the late 1960s.
How did you develop your character’s look such as the evening trousers, the dinner jacket and the hat?
It was a slow evolution. I started out just hitting the audience with gags and one-liners. It was really trial and error. I realised that it goes easier if you can get a laugh at the start and that it often works visually. You can see it in many acts such as Bobby Ball and his braces. The wellingtons were inspired by a famous music-hall comedian called Billy Bennett. He would dress immaculately and then wear a pair of big brown boots. My first TV break was Search for a Star, where I wore a white dress jacket. However, when I did The Good Old Days, from the City Varieties, they wanted me to dress a bit Edwardian. So I wore the tailcoat and hat for the first time there.
Is having a recognised look and popular catchphrases a blessing or a curse?
I’m lucky that the public know me for a few things. The outfit for instance, I’m often asked “Where’s your wellingtons?” and talking about my “mommy” and her letters. I don’t have a hang-up about it. When you start off it’s one of the goals to get little gimmicks that help generate interest and work. The other day I was with my wife and we were dropping some rubbish off at the local tip. The guy working there saw me carrying the stuff and he looked desperate to say something. “Don’t worry, you can say it,” I said. He looked back at the car and said: “Is there more?” We both laughed.