Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Jimmy Edwards - This Is Your Life (1958)

Jimmy Edwards, comedy actor and script writer, was surprised byEamonn Andrews at the BBC’s Piccadilly 1 Studio. Jimmy is perhaps best known as Pa Glum in BBC radio’s Take ItFrom Here and as the headmaster ‘Professor’ in BBC TV’s Whack-O.

This account of Jimmy Edwards This Is Your Life is taken fromGus Smith’s biography of Eamonn Andrews...When Eamonn was asked for hisdefinition of the ideal Life subject, he said thoughtfully, ‘The basicrequirement is a good story, a varied story, and if you can add to that apleasant, bubbling personality then you have something else going.’ He could not have looked for a more bubblingsubject than comedian Jimmy Edwards. Regarded as a larger-than-life individual,and a healthy mocker of false emotions, he posed an undoubted challenge toEamonn. Would the presenter try to match his ebullience? Or would he be contentto stick to his script and let the irrepressible Edwards poke his wicked funwithout provoking him?

The comedian had been born in Barnes in 1920 and served as apilot in the war with the RAF and was awarded the DGFC. It was a gamble whetherhe would become a school teacher or go on the stage. Deciding on the stage, in1946 he made his debut at London’ Windmill Theatre, the famous training groundfor most of the country’s comics. However, it was in the radio series Take ItFrom Here that he eventually made his name. Eamonn made no secret of the factthat he was a fan of the programme.

It was now 1958. Jimmy Edwards was being described as ‘a gruffbachelor, whose prowess on the hunting, shooting and polo fields were as wellknown as the shape of his moustache.’ When not working, he liked to retire tohis 400-acre farm in Sussex and keep an eye on the dairy herd and horses. The fun began as Eamonn led the comic,protesting loudly, to the stage of the Shepherd’s Bush Theatre. As his friendsin the business were paraded before him, Edwards ran his fingers lightlythrough his moustache and poked fun at all and sundry. Eamonn kept resolutelyto his prepared script and refused to be drawn into verbal combat. It seemedthe only course he could take, otherwise his words would be lost in the welterof audience laughter. Meanwhile, thereal drama was taking place behind the scenes. The Life team had been experiencing considerable trouble in locatingJimmy Edwards’ sister in Australia, but eventually contacted her. When theyexplained to her the reason for the call, she said enthusiastically, ‘I’d loveto be a guest in the show. I know Jimmy would love it also. But how do I getover at such short notice?

‘We’ll fly you over.’ The Life researcher told her. It meantsome hectic, last-minute flight arrangements, and when she eventually arrivedit was only hours before the show, or just enough time for flowers to bedelivered to her hotel room in Lancaster Gate. When Eamonn introduced her atthe climax of the show there was spontaneous applause from the audience. EvenJimmy, a compulsive talker, was almost lost for words. At the outset, he said he had anticipated aprogramme of such sentimental impact that there wouldn’t be a dry eye betweenLand’s End and Val Parnell. He was wrong. As one critic observed, ‘There wereno dry eyes last night. They were wet with laughter.’ And he added, ‘Edwardsmade wicked fun of Andrews. Andrews, playing himself, saw his programme rippedto shreds.’ Leslie Jackson disagreed. He felt that Eamonn, as presenter of theshow, coped admirably with the comedian’s non-stop wise-cracking. ‘It was a funprogramme and Eamonn helped to make it so by refusing to take on Jimmy.’

Off-stage, Eamonn and Jimmy were friends. Eamonn, a radio man tohis finger tips, admired the comedian’s technique and how he disguised it socleverly behind his large moustache. To radio listeners he came across, as onecritic put it, ‘with the subtlety of a battering ram, flattening resistance andsweeping the audience on wave after wave of hilarity,’ but to Eamonn, Jimmyknew how to make an audience laugh and sound extremely funny on radio.

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