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Edwards, Jimmy (1920-1988)


Main image of Edwards, Jimmy (1920-1988)

Whether it was his girth, handlebar moustache or personality, nothing came in small measures with the comedian Jimmy Edwards. A commanding, larger than life stage presence, his orders to the audience to "wake up at the back there" and "pin back your lugholes" were a concomitant part of his persona, particularly when in schoolmaster guise (as shifty and duplicitous as Will Hay but displaying greater belligerence), a character he originated on stage but was to perfect on television.

Born James Keith O'Neill Edwards in Barnes, London, on 23 March 1920, he acquired a taste for comedy and the stage while performing in the Footlights Revues at Cambridge University. His aptitude for the footlights was confirmed with the staging of concert parties during wartime RAF service.

His immediate post-war career followed the usual route of many other budding comedians of the period, gravitating from the Windmill Theatre to BBC radio, coming to prominence on the latter in 'The Glums', a regular sketch, written by Frank Muir and Denis Norden, within the series Take It From Here (1948-1960). This success led to his screen debut with the radio-themed Trouble in the Air (1948) co-starring Freddie Frinton.

While appearances on a number of television variety shows were helping to raise his visibility, it was not to be until 1956 that he was to establish himself as a television favourite, when the series for which he is best remembered, Whack-O! (BBC, 1956-1960), was launched. Again with help from the writing partnership of Muir and Norden, Edwards' boisterous portrayal of the cane-wielding, licentious headmaster helped to make the series one of the most popular sitcoms of its day. A big screen spin-off, Bottoms Up (d. Mario Zampi, 1960), is testament to its popularity. Fondly remembered, the series was briefly revived as Whacko (BBC, 1971-1972). He never enjoyed television success to that degree again, but the Muir-Norden scripted anthology comedy series, The Seven Faces of Jim (BBC, 1961), Six More Faces of Jim (BBC, 1962) and More Faces of Jim (BBC, 1963), came the closest to doing so.

While Mr John Jorrocks (BBC, 1966), with Edwards, sans moustache, as a Victorian country squire, and The Fossett Saga (ITV, 1969), another Victorian period sitcom, may have received mixed reviews, they were both superior to the atrocious medieval period sitcom Sir Yellow (ITV, 1973) and The Glums (ITV, 1979), an ill-advised attempt to revive and transfer the earlier radio success to television.

A great personal success for Edwards was his stage appearances with Eric Sykes, beginning in 1966, in the stage farce 'Big Bad Mouse', a television recording of one such performance providing a valuable record of Edwards at his ad-libbing best (ITV, tx. 26/12/1972). Having struck a rapport with Sykes, he also appeared in six of Sykes' virtually dialogue-free films, a run that commenced with The Plank (1967) and ended with Mr H is Late (ITV, tx. 15/2/1988), Edwards' final screen appearance.

Jimmy Edwards died from pneumonia in London on 7 July 1988.

John Oliver

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Thumbnail image of Alligator Named Daisy, An (1955)Alligator Named Daisy, An (1955)

All-star farce starring Donald Sinden, Diana Dors and an alligator

Thumbnail image of Whack-O! (1956-60, 1971-72)Whack-O! (1956-60, 1971-72)

Public-school comedy starring walrus-moustached Jimmy Edwards

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