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