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Emery, Dick (1917-83)


Main image of Emery, Dick (1917-83)

Throughout the 1960s and 70s Dick Emery entertained the nation with a myriad of comic characters from the war veteran Lampwick to the man-starved spinster Hettie. Each character's catchphrase became a part of British parlance, especially his peroxide blonde Mandy with her "Ooh, you are awful - but I like you."

His parents were the comedy double act Callan and Emery, but young Dick (born in London, on 19 February 1915) tried a variety of jobs before taking to the stage: office boy, farm hand, and driving instructor. During World War II he was called up to the RAF, but joined the chorus line of The Merry Widow at the Majestic Theatre, London instead, for which he was imprisoned for desertion. Once released he joined the Gang Show ("I was better in drag than combat gear") and created Vera Thin ('the Forces' Sweetheart').

After the war he successfully auditioned for the Windmill Theatre, showcasing his vicar character. Radio and television beckoned and his small screen debut came in 1950 on The Centre Show (BBC). Throughout the 1950s he popped up on a variety of programmes including Round the Bend (BBC, 1955-56) and Educating Archie (ITV, 1958-59) before joining his close friend Tony Hancock in The Tony Hancock Show (ITV, 1956-57) and Hancock's Half Hour (BBC, 1956-60).

He enhanced his reputation when he worked on two series with former Goon Michael Bentine: After Hours (ITV, 1958-59) and It's a Square World (BBC, 1960-64). His role as Private Chubby Catchpole in the final series of The Army Game (ITV 1957-61) led to an exclusive BBC contract, and the long-running The Dick Emery Show (BBC, 1963-81) was born. It allowed Emery to showcase the huge pool of characters he had been developing, including the buck-toothed vicar, the ton-up boy and the flamboyantly camp Clarence. The series made him a household name, and he was the BBC's 1972 television personality. That same year saw the release of a surprisingly well-received spin-off film Ooh, You Are Awful! (d. Cliff Owen).

In a sporadic film career he made his debut in the Goons' The Case of the Mukkinese Battlehorn (d. Joseph Sterling, 1956). His finest film role was as bungling bank robber 'Booky' Binns in the comedy caper The Big Job (d. Gerald Thomas, 1965). He also gained cult status through his vocal talents as an array of characters including 'Nowhere Man' in the Beatles' Yellow Submarine (d. George Dunning, 1968).

In 1979, Emery and his characters moved over to ITV for three one hour specials. He returned to the BBC in 1980 and resumed The Dick Emery Show. Finding a new format and character, Jewish private detective Bernie Weinstock, Emery had a new outlet for his brand of comedy - two series of comedy thrillers Emery Presents (BBC, 1982-83), the second of which was completed with some difficulty thanks to his heart condition. Dick Emery died on January 2 1983.

Graham Rinaldi

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Selected credits

Thumbnail image of Dick Emery Show, The (1963-81)Dick Emery Show, The (1963-81)

'Ooh you are awful...'. Skits and sketches from the cross-dressing comic

Thumbnail image of Hancock's Half Hour (1956-60)Hancock's Half Hour (1956-60)

The original British sitcom - and still one of the best

Thumbnail image of Tony Hancock Show, The (1956-57)Tony Hancock Show, The (1956-57)

Hancock's first TV series, more sketch and variety-based than his later work

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