Jimmy Clitheroe was a star of Variety, films, radio and television.
Born in 1921, his career spanned five decades, from the 1930s to the 1970s,
and he made his mark in every medium of show business.
From small but humorous beginnings in Variety, as a boy in an all-girl
juvenile troupe, he moved into films, firstly with Arthur Lucan
(Old Mother Riley) and subsequently with George Formby, Jewel & Warriss
and Frank Randle. The two films he made with Randle
were for Film Studios (Manchester) Ltd, and are featured in a recent book.
In the 1940s he worked in Variety with comedians Albert Whelan and
Albert Burdon, principally in the North of England, and most
often in shows presented by John D Roberton or by Jack Taylor.
He began working in Blackpool.
He built an impressive reputation in Variety, and in Blackpool set a record
for the number of appearances in summer season shows. He worked there with
Frank Randle, Jimmy James and Ken Dodd,
He also played in Pantomime. His first panto appearance was alongside
Two Ton Tessie O’Shea in 1938. His final panto was in 1971.
In the mid-1950s, Jimmy Clitheroe moved into radio. His first appearance
was on the Home Service, in comedian Jimmy James’s show ‘The
Mayor’s Parlour’. He soon had his own series, ‘Call Boy’ -
a Variety show.
Then came his biggest hit, ‘The Clitheroe Kid’. It ran for
15 years from 1957 on the Light Programme and Radio 2.
It was the BBC’s longest-running situation comedy.
· Listen to a clip
from the show (requires Winamp)
In the 1960s he broke into television, starring on ITV in ‘That’s My Boy’ and ‘Just Jimmy’
for 5 years from 1963 to 1968. Both shows were made by ABC Television. In the 1960s he also made his best remembered
film, Rocket to the Moon,
which he made in 1967 with Burl Ives and Terry-Thomas.
Don’t some mothers ’ave ’em ?
Coming from a background in the Variety theatre,
his humour was broadly in the style of the St Trinians films
and early Carry On pictures. His most famous catchphrase was
“Don’t some mothers ’ave ’em” - though when
referring to Alfie, it was often amended to “Don’t some
twits mothers ’ave ’em”.
Another of his catchphrases was “I’m all there with me
cough drops” (a Lancashire expression for someone quick-witted).
When he got into a scrape - as he frequently did - his catchphrase was
“Ooh, flippin’ ’eck”.
He was born in Clitheroe, but his childhood was spent in the village of Blacko
near Nelson, Lancs. His first stage appearances were in the local Methodist Chapel,
performing in Sunday School concerts.
At the age of 14 he joined a professional juvenile troupe and began
touring in Variety with them, under the stage name “Little Jimmie”.
He was the eternal schoolboy. He never grew taller than 4ft 3ins,
and for most of his life he could easily pass for an 11-year-old boy,
a role he played to the hilt.
He never told people his age, in case it spoiled the illusion, and always
performed in schoolboy cap and blazer (even at radio recordings, for the benefit
of the studio audience). He fostered the illusion by appearing in publicity stunts
for his local Boy Scout troop (dressed as a wolf cub), by living with his mother
after his father's death, and by seemingly never having a girlfriend.
It all helped to maintain his show business career,
which was dependent on that illusion, as he almost
always played a schoolboy - in the Variety theatres,
in his films, on the wireless, on television,
He maintained the illusion successfully until his death. To the
newspapers he always remained ‘the Peter Pan of Showbusiness’ - the
little boy who never grew up.
Only in Pantomime,
and his 1967 film, did he step out of the cheeky
schoolboy role. Even then it was only to play Tom
Thumb - another part for which he was eminently suited.
But his most frequent Panto role was in “Aladdin”,
where he reverted to the cheeky boy, playing
Widow Twankey’s son Wishee Washee.
As a celebrity, he was much in demand at public events.
He opened the model village Miniland at Belle Vue in
Manchester, opened local fetes, appeared
at charity events, and crowned local beauty queens.
He had many business interests outside show business. He owned
a racehorse, betting shops, and a hotel. The latter was managed
for him initially by his boyhood friend from Blacko, Tommy Trafford,
who was also in show business.
Jimmy had a reputation for being “careful” with his money -
a trait he got from the hard background which he endured
growing up in the Great Depression. He maintained a very private
private-life, away from all his other interests, living quietly at
Blackpool in a semi-detached bungalow with his mother.
He died in June 1973, following her death. He was found
unconscious on the morning of her funeral and died later
the same day. An inquest found that his death was due to
an accidental overdose of sleeping pills.