A bite like a tiger, a sparkle of mischief… and an audience of 21.4million! JON CULSHAW pays tribute to his friend and inspiration Mike Yarwood after the man of a thousand voices died at the age of 82
Mike Yarwood was a pioneer. Thanks to his lead, the errant pomposity of politicians is now habitually dismantled, showing the public how they are often rather absurd and ridiculous.
By day, they may have once felt above parody. But on Saturday nights, when Mike enjoyed his golden era of comedy, they were most certainly not.
The joy was that the characters available for him to choose from were all so eccentric – a wonderfully rich palate to draw from as a comedian.
He took a leaf blower to the idea that certain people – from Royals to politicians – could not be impersonated. Everyone was fair game. Mike’s great skill and imagination was knowing who to parody and which parts of their character to exaggerate.
That instinct, plus the fact that he was the first impressionist on telly to have the benefit of all technology such as split screens and multi-camera angles – meant he could play them like a one-man orchestra, replete with such beautiful comic timing.
Mike could bite like a tiger when necessary – and if the individual deserved it. But there was huge warmth to his impressions, which is why his shows were so popular, writes JON CULSHAW
He could bite like a tiger when necessary – and if the individual deserved it. But there was huge warmth to his impressions, which is why his shows were so popular.
Which programmes today could draw an audience of 21.4 million, as his Christmas Day show in 1977, did? None. It’s a festive record which, in 46 years, has been beaten only once, by a 1996 special of Only Fools And Horses.
Today’s satirists may seem to have far slimmer pickings. True, there are characters – Michael Gove, Jacob Rees-Mogg, Nigel Farage, Donald Trump and Joe Biden – but there’s rather more blandness surrounding them.
Over the last ten years, Mike and I became good pals. We’d often go for a lunchtime curry in Sunningdale in Berkshire, near where he lived. Occasionally, fellow comics Barry Cryer, Bobby Davro and Danny Posthill joined us.
Over the last ten years, Mike and I became good pals. We’d often go for a lunchtime curry in Sunningdale in Berkshire, near where he lived
Mike always adored talking about his ‘TV days’. It brought an energised enthusiasm to him. That twinkling spark of mischief behind his eyes clicked into place as he channelled his characters. It was stunning and eerie to watch him transform into a beautifully vivid Ken Dodd, Larry Grayson, Frank Sinatra or Jimmy Carter.
But he was contented and happy that he had retired when he did, leaving the door open for others to follow, like a benevolent godfather of impressionism.
He showed everyone the way it should be done. It will always be a great privilege to pay tribute and remember his brilliance.
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