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Blackpool Gazette

D-Day landings: Many heroes included Paddy the pigeon 150 150 mhamer

D-Day landings: Many heroes included Paddy the pigeon

Next month (June) sees the celebrations for the D-Day landings.

Next month sees the 80th anniversary of the D-Day landings – and Jimmy Cricket marks the occasion in his latest newspaper column.

The Normandy landings were the land and associated airborne operations which took place on 6 June 1944.

Codenamed Operation Neptune and widely referred to as D-Day, it involved the Allied invasion of Normandy during World War II –  the largest seaborne invasion in history.

It commenced the liberation of France, and also the rest of Western Europe, and laid the foundations for the Allied victory on the Western Front.

Writing in the Blackpool Gazette and the Lancashire Evening Post, comedian Jimmy says: “As next month (June) sees the celebrations for the D-Day landings which took place 80 years ago, I always pause to think about the many entertainers who helped to boost the morale of our fighting troops.

Beautiful voice

My friend the late Frank Carson, who served in the forces himself, used to joke: ‘One day I saved the lives of 200 men – I shot the cook!’.

Then, of course, there was the Force’s Sweetheart the late great Vera Lynn.

[Vera Lynn’s songs helped raise morale duringWorld War Two. People knew her best for her wartime anthem We’ll Meet Again. She died aged 103 in 2020.

She was just a young girl vocalist back then and the only time she’d been out of the country was when she travelled to Holland to do a gig with a dance band.

However, she had a yearning to do her bit, and before she knew it, she was touring the swamps of the Borneo jungle in the sweltering heat, giving young soldiers a taste of home with her beautiful voice and melodic songs.

Feathered friend

A lot of the time she performed on the back of army trucks.

You know readers, this may sound funny but I always think of Vera’s pianist and accompanist Len Edwards, who always went with her and who risked life and limb to provide her musical backing.

He truly was an unsung hero.

Which leads me on to mention another hero from the Second World War, in this case a silent one.

His name was Paddy, and on the day of the D-day landings, he flew back all the way from Normandy in record time to provide valuable information that reassured everyone at home, that everything was going to plan and that our soldiers had made a successful landing.

The reason he did this without saying a word?

Paddy was a carrier pigeon and his coded message was tagged on to his foot.

Quiet thanks

But what made Paddy even more special was this…

… Of all the pigeon’s released from Normandy that day, he was the last one to make the journey and, guess what, he was the first one back to Hampshire.

But there’s more readers, come closer, what made his feat all the more remarkable was that not only did he have to contend with open-air fire, but the Nazis had placed specially trained hawks along the way to ambush him.

However, our feathered friend thwarted all their efforts and made it home safe and sound.

He did it in an astonishing four hours and 50 minutes, which became the fastest record by a message-carrier pigeon during the Normandy landings.

Paddy was honoured for his heroic achievements by being awarded the Dicken Medal on September the 1st, 1944.

The medal is given for gallantry or devotion to duty while serving in military conflict and is often known as the animal’s Victoria Cross.

He eventually returned to the place of his birth – Carnlough, County Antrim, in Northern Ireland, to be with his owner – Andrew Hughes.

He lived until 1954, dying at the age of 11.

In 2019 a plaque was unveiled in his honour in Car lough harbour.

So readers, if you ever cross the Irish Sea and take a trip along the Antrim coastline to drink in the beautiful scenery, make sure you stop off at Carnlough Harbour and pay a visit to Paddy’s plaque and give a quiet thanks for a silent hero.”

Also read: LEP column paid tribute to the ‘wonderful’ Vera Lynn

Raising a toast to ‘the godfather of theatrical agents’ 150 150 mhamer

Raising a toast to ‘the godfather of theatrical agents’

Former theatrical agent Johnny Martin was there when his acts needed him the most, says famous comedian Jimmy Cricket.

Former theatrical agent Johnny Martin was there when his acts needed him the most, says famous comedian Jimmy Cricket.

Jimmy and two fellow famous entertainers met up a few months ago to celebrate Johnny’s career.

In his latest newspaper column, which appears in both the Lancashire Evening Post and the Blackpool Gazette, Jimmy recalls the meeting.

He says: “On a sunny Sunday afternoon in late October last year, three entertainers – Syd Little (of Little and Large fame), Phil Cool (comedian, impressionist and musician) and Jimmy Cricket (that’s me folks), gathered at the Bukhara Indian Restaurant near Preston, to celebrate the career of former theatrical agent Johnny Martin.

“This was quite an unusual event in the entertainment world.

“Normally, agents stay in the background while their artistes get all the plaudits… in other words they get the commission while their turns get the glory.

Excited tones

“So, what made Johnny – who now resides in Chorley – so special? Well, he was there when his acts needed them most.

“Let’s let Syd tell his story first: “My partner Eddie Large had to retire because of heart problems, so one minute I was one half of one of the most successful comedy double acts in Britian and the next I was on my own.

“Johnny believed I could  go solo and got me a booking entertaining passengers on the QE2.

“He also encouraged me to write a book about my time as part of Little and Large… he helped me promote it well as getting me live work around the country… and he was there for me when I needed somebody to help build my confidence.

“You could say he’s the godfather of theatrical agents.

Short-lived

“My personal anecdote about Johnny was the time he fixed pantomime for me in my hometown.

“I remember the telephone conversation vividly when he told me in excited tones that he’d booked me to do Jack and The Beanstalk at the Grand Opera House in Belfast at the end of that year.

“Unfortunately, my euphoria was short-lived, for a few weeks later he rang again and this time in more sombre tones he told me that a bomb had gone off next door to the theatre and the pantomime may now not go ahead.

“He said he’d keep me posted.

“I can’t tell you how deflated I was readers, when I put the phone down after that conversation.

“However, like all good pantomimes this story does have a happy ending, because within a few weeks, Johnny rang to say that with the help of a few very talented architects and engineers the theatre could be saved, repaired and brought back to its former glory.

Emotional moment

“It wouldn’t be completely ready for that Christmas, so we would have to change in portable cabins, but that was a minor inconvenience.

“The important thing was Jack and The Beanstalk opened and played to record attendances that year.

“And it had a lot to do with the people of Belfast voting with their feet and showing they wouldn’t be beaten by violence.

“Closer to home now for Phil‘s heart-warming story of how when he had developed his unique style of impressions that entailed bringing his characters to life with his descriptive facial expressions.

“It was Johnny who kept bringing producers and promoters into see his live act that eventually led to him having his own television series.

Yes, it was an emotional moment in that restaurant for Johnny and his lovely wife Chris, as we all raised a toast to the man who helped our career when we needed it most.

“In fact, we all enjoyed our lunchtime get-together so much, that we even thought of forming our own showbiz fraternity to meet in the future.

“Syd suggested calling ourselves ‘The Chorley Chaplin’s’, but Johnny himself had the last word.

“He said: ‘Instead of ‘The Four Musketeers’, how about ‘The Four Must Have a Beers!'”.

Buy Jimmy’s autobiography!Jimmy Cricket with his autobiography

Don’t forget that Jimmy’s official autobiography is on sale.

Memoirs Of An Irish Comedian tells the heart-warming story of Jimmy’s illustrious life and 50-year career.

The paperback costs £11.99 and can be bought at online retailer Amazon here. It is also available via eBook and audio.

Signed copies (£15.99 including postage and packing) can be purchased on this website here.

It is also available at Jimmy’s live gigs for £10 where Jimmy will also sign it.

One pound from the sale of every book goes to Mary’s Meals.

The charity supports feeding projects in some of the world’s poorest communities.

Also read: Jimmy Cricket’s signed autobiographies now available by post!

The day I saved a Christmas TV show by playing an unexpected role 150 150 mhamer

The day I saved a Christmas TV show by playing an unexpected role

Jimmy Cricket tells in his latest newspaper column how he once saved the day on a Christmas TV show - by stepping in as the Fairy Godmother at short notice.

Jimmy Cricket once saved the day on a Christmas TV show – by stepping in as the Fairy Godmother at short notice!

In his last newspaper column of 2023, the famous funnyman recalls how he ended up “complete in fairy frock, full make-up, blonde wig, not to mention my wellies”.

Here is the full article, which appeared in both the Blackpool Gazette and the Lancashire Evening Post newspapers:

The London Weekend Television studio was filled with Christmas decorations capturing the yuletide spirit. All around were fairy lights, tinsel and holly…

Cornucopia of celebrities

However, this show was different – it was being made in the middle of August and it was sizzling outside.

It was the early 80s and I was a guest on the Krankies Christmas show. I did a stand-up spot as a postman and, naturally, I had my own letter from my mammy.

It had lines like “I’m not sending out any Christmas cards this year, son, because of the price of postage… and I’ve sent letters to all my friends telling them that”.

Also on the TV show was a mini-pantomime with a cornucopia of celebrities playing different roles. One of them was Bernie Winters.

Big sad eyes

Older readers will remember that Bernie and his brother Mike were a well-known comedy double act that were very popular on television in the 60s and 70s.

They were called, naturally enough, Mike and Bernie Winters. When the double act disbanded, Bernie got himself another partner – Snorbitz the dog.

Snorbitz was a large St Bernard dog with a lugubrious face and big sad eyes who endeared himself to the audience every time he came on stage with Bernie.

Indeed, I remember being in the line-up after a Royal Variety show once, standing beside Bernie and when Princess Diane came along the queue to shake hands with us; she was disappointed not to see Snorbitz by Bernie’s side.

Back to the Krankies Christmas show.

Hard to believe

Another well-known TV personality was playing the Fairy Godmother in that mini-pantomime, namely impressionist and singer Faith Brown.

Unfortunately, Faith collapsed just a couple of hours before the programme was recorded and was told by a medical examiner that she had to rest and take no more part in the show.

Looking back now, what happened next readers is something I find hard to believe even as I write it, but it’s absolutely true…

Come closer… Ian (Krankie) and Bernie both took me to the side and almost in unison asked me would I step up and play the part of the Fairy Godmother.

Of course, it was a preposterous suggestion and my immediate inclination was to politely decline.

But then I thought about all the actors rehearsing all their lines in the week, leading up to show and how depleted they’d feel.

Whisked into make-up

So, I threw caution to the wind and, in my best “The show must go on” voice, I agreed.

Time was now of the essence.

Jimmy Cricket as the Fairy Godmother in the Krankies Christmas special.

I was whisked into make-up, then wardrobe and that night I stepped out in front of the studio audience waving my wand, complete in fairy frock, full make-up, blonde wig, not to mention my wellies.

I looked like a cross between Harpo Marx and Dolly Parton… but surely you wouldn’t have had time to rehearse your lines, I hear you silently say to yourself.

Well, that hurdle was surmounted by the production team holding cue cards with the words of the couplets written on them.

I rattled them off as if I was looking straight to camera.

Well, we got through and the fairy saved the day.

I got a healthy response from the audience and as I glanced across at Snorbitz I could have sworn he clapped his paws together!

Oh, and like all good pantomimes it has a happy ending because Faith Brown recovered and went on to play (superbly) the lead role of Norma Desmond in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s touring version of Sunset Boulevard.

Happy Christmas readers.

Don’t forget that Jimmy’s official autobiography is on sale!

Memoirs Of An Irish Comedian tells the heart-warming story of Jimmy’s illustrious life and 50-year career.

The paperback costs £11.99 and can be bought at online retailer Amazon here. It is also available via eBook and audio.

Signed copies (£15.99 including postage and packing) can be purchased on this website here.

One pound from the sale of every book goes to Mary’s Meals.

The charity supports feeding projects in some of the world’s poorest communities.

 

Vince Hill was ‘one of the nation’s finest vocalists’ 150 150 mhamer

Vince Hill was ‘one of the nation’s finest vocalists’

Jimmy Cricket used a recent newspaper column to pay tribute to the late, great Vince Hill

A light went out in the entertainment industry when Vince Hill passed away earlier this year, says Jimmy Cricket.

Entertainer Jimmy pays tribute in a recent newspaper column to singer/songwriter Vince, best known for his cover of the hit Edelweiss.

His version reached number two in the UK pop charts in 1967. It stayed in the charts for 17 weeks.

The song was originally from the 1965 Rodgers and Hammerstein musical The Sound of Music.

In a recent Blackpool Gazette column (which also appears in the Lancashire Evening Post newspaper), Jimmy recalls Vince’s amazing life and career.

He describes him as “one of the nation’s finest vocalists”.

“Most readers will remember Vince for his big hits during the 60s like Edelweiss from the musical, The Sound of Music, and Roses of Picardy – a ballad about a wartime romance.”

Jimmy recalls doing several UK tours with Vince, including of Scotland.

“Vince enthralled the Scottish audiences, especially when he did this amazing arrangement of Sir Andrew Lloyd-Webber’s most popular tunes.”

He concludes: “When he left us, we lost one of our greatest ever singers and a light went out in the UK entertainment industry.”

Successful TV shows

Vince first sang in public as a teenager and joined vocal group The Raindrops, but went solo in the early sixties.

He rose to fame with his debut single The River’s Run Dry and went on to produce a number of hits.

His other songs included Take Me To Your Heart Again and Love Letters In The Sand.

While known mainly for his singing, he was also a songwriter.

Additionally, he hosted several successful TV shows during the seventies and eighties, including the BBC’s The Musical Time Machine.

Before finding fame as a singer, he worked as baker, truck driver and coal miner.

Vince died peacefully at his home in Oxfordshire on 22 July.

Read: The life of British singer Vince Hill

From this website: Vince Hill: Cherished memories of touring Scotland with him

Autobiography – Buy Jimmy Cricket’s autobiography now

 

An Englishman, Irishman and Italian climb into a car… 150 150 mhamer

An Englishman, Irishman and Italian climb into a car…

Jimmy Cricket has been a newspaper columnist for almost a decade - but he appeared in a fellow funnyman's column about a car share earlier this week!

Jimmy Cricket has been a newspaper columnist for almost a decade – but he featured in a fellow funnyman’s column earlier this week!

The Northern Irish entertainer appeared in Steve Royle’s latest Blackpool Gazette column.

It centred on how they and another comedian, Tony Vino, did a car share to a gig in Essex.

Steve is an actor, writer, comedian, juggler and presenter.

He was a finalist on ITV’s Britain’s Got Talent in 2020.

Tony has been a professional comedian for more than 10 years, touring both nationally and internationally.

Steve’s column begins: “An Englishman, Irishman and an Italian climb into a car.

Autobiography

“Sounds like the start to a bad joke but in actual fact it was the beginning of a marvellous journey.

“Having the company of two great comics on such an epic journey was more entertaining than the gig itself, with plenty of amazing anecdotes, especially from my fellow Lancashire Evening Post columnist, Jimmy.

“He has an autobiography out at the moment and even though I bought a copy, I think he told us virtually every story in it during the 14-hour round trip.”

Jimmy’s autobiography, Memoirs Of An Irish Comedian, costs £11.99 as a paperback.

It tells the heart-warming story of his 50 golden years in showbusiness – told in his own words.

Recognisable for wearing a funny hat and green wellies marked L and R on the wrong feet, Jimmy has been making people laugh for half a century.

And he proudly keeps his comedy clean – increasingly rare these days –  making him the perfect family entertainer.

Poorest communities

The book is available from online retailer Amazon here.

One pound from the sale of every book goes to Mary’s Meals.

The charity supports feeding projects in some of the world’s poorest communities where hunger and poverty prevent children from gaining an education.

Also read: Mary’s Meals: 20 years serving global communities

From bingo caller to 50 Golden Years in showbiz!

 

 

Frank Carson: Memories of a cracking comedian 150 150 mhamer

Frank Carson: Memories of a cracking comedian

Jimmy Cricket's tribute to the late Frank Carson

The late, great Frank Carson is the subject of Jimmy Cricket’s latest newspaper column.

Like fellow comedian and great friend Jimmy, Frank was born in Belfast, Northern Ireland, died aged 85 in 2012.

Comedian Frank Carson

He had battled ill health for some time.

Frank was a regular face on television for many years from the 1970s onwards.

Having risen to prominence in the 60s after winning Opportunity Knocks, he appeared in popular TV series such as The Comedians and Tiswas.

One of his trademark lines was “It’s the way I tell them!”.

Another one was “It’s a Cracker!”.

Jimmy’s column relives Frank’s famous career and their great friendship.

He posted a grab of the newspaper piece on social media.

And he told his friends and followers: “Hi Folks! My tribute via @leponline and @The_Gazette to a much-loved comedian and friend whom we all sadly miss! #keepvarietyalive.”

Also read: Memorial concert to Frank Carson

 

Who was Jimmy’s hero while growing up in Belfast? 150 150 mhamer

Who was Jimmy’s hero while growing up in Belfast?

Hi folks! Here is my July @leponline & @The_Gazette article, where I share my story of while growing up in Belfast, I had dreams of a life on the stage! #keepvarietyalive

Jimmy Cricket has revealed who his hero was while he dreamed as a child of a career on stage.

The popular Irish comedian gives the answer in his latest newspaper column.

He says: When I was growing up in Belfast in the fifties, there were lots of heroes to which you could hitch your wagon.

Elvis was turning pop music on its head, John Wayne was giving the baddies their comeuppance on the big silver screen and Lucile Ball was taking physical comedy to new heights with her television sitcom, I Love Lucy.

However, I didn’t have to go far to find my hero.

He was right there in the school I went to – St Patrick’s Secondary School on the Antrim Road.

His name was Tommy Kelly – or Tucker to his friends.

And why was I so besotted with him?

Because, Tommy Tucker Kelly, at the ripe old age of 12, was appearing in pantomime in the Grand Opera Theatre, Belfast.

The panto ran for six weeks.

It boasted lavish sets, dazzling costumers, a seven-piece orchestra in the pit and families came from all over Northern Ireland to see it.

This particular production of Cinderella, in 1957, starred Des O’Connor as Buttons.

Running gag

I saw it three times.

Tommy played the shorter of the two Brokers Men and every time they’d both come on stage, he’d say: I want to sing.”

And his tall, gangly partner would shout: “No!”

This became a running gag, with the audience becoming more and more vocal in their support for Tommy to be allowed to exercise his vocal chords.

Finally, in the second half, the big guy relents and Tommy regales the crowd with a wonderful animated version of He’s Got The Whole World, which brings the house down.

I couldn’t believe he was just another pupil just like me.

Because he wasn’t in my class, I was much too shy to approach him.

I’d gaze forlornly out of the classroom window as he’s be excused lessons and head out of the school gates on his way to do a matinee performance.

Tommy finished up appearing on the famous television pop show of the day – The Six Five Special.

Enormous talent

In 1998, when I went over to play Button in Cinderella at the Grand Opera House, I was curious to find out how Tommy was, and to invite him to the panto.

It turns out he’s become an astute businessman who was now the proud owner of three fish and chip shops.

We became friends and three years later I went back to play in Jack and The Beanstalk. at the same theatre.

I got his eight-year-old daughter Rachel up to sing one night in the finale – the reaction of the audience proved she’d inherited her dad’s enormous talent.

Like all good pantomimes, this has a happy ending because that little girl, Rachel Tucker, is now a star in West End musicals.

You could say she’s a chip off the old block.

Also read: Second visit of 2022 to Blackpool’s Lyndene nears!