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Davidson, Jim (1953-)

Actor, Presenter

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A true-blue Cockney comic of the old school, Jim Davidson is living proof that alternative comedy's takeover of British television was never as complete as some like to believe. Even during alt-comedy's high-water mark in the early 1980s, Davidson defied fashionable distaste to maintain a successful career with a shtick incorporating racial humour, sexist ribaldry and mother-in-law gags.

Born James Cameron Davidson on 13 December 1953 in Kidbrooke, South London, he made an early entry into showbusiness aged 12 as part of Ralph Reader's Gang Show, and later became a fixture on London's comedy circuit in the early 1970s. His television breakthrough came on ATV's talent contest New Faces (tx. 27/3/1976), where his 'cheeky' act won over both the judges' panel and the audience. Admittance to the TV mainstream followed quickly. He joined the cast of Thames sketch show What's On Next (ITV, 1976-78), alongside the likes of Barry Cryer, Bob Todd and Pam Ayres, and was rewarded with his own sketch and stand-up vehicle, The Jim Davidson Show (ITV, 1979-82). His routines, particularly his black 'friend' Chalky White, were considered offensive by many, but the criticism went largely unnoticed by his audiences.

His appearances on the TV light entertainment circuit - Des O'Connor Tonight (BBC, 1977-82), Blankety Blank (BBC, 1979-89), Summertime Special (BBC, 1981-88), Wednesday at Eight (as host; ITV, 1988) - were punctuated by a surprise casting in Peter Greenaway's A Zed and Two Noughts (1985) and, more conventionally, the sitcom Up the Elephant and Round the Castle (ITV, 1983-85) and its sequel Home, James (ITV, 1987-90), in which he played the predictably chirpy, cheeky Cockney chauffeur, Jim London.

A tempestuous domestic life - four marriages, admissions of wife-beating and a long battle with alcoholism - kept him in the tabloids, but during the '90s his career was mostly healthy. He was clearly at home as host of snooker quiz Big Break (BBC, 1991-2002) and, though a surprise choice to succeed the more family-oriented Bruce Forsyth and Larry Grayson on what became Jim Davidson's Generation Game (BBC, 1995-2002), he toned down his bluer material and held the job for over six years.

An ardent and active supporter of right-wing causes - he has donated funds to the Conservative Party and performed at Tory events, as well as doing tours for UK troops on active service (which may help to explain his OBE in 2001) - he is never likely to appease his liberal critics, and there was a certain schadenfreude in much of the reporting of his bankruptcy in 2006.

Mark Duguid

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