The Forget-Me-Not Society

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Freddy Starr

When the comedian Freddie Starr, who has died aged 76, was a little boy, his father, a bricklayer and part-time bare-knuckle fighter, asked him to jump from a table. “I’ll catch you,” he said. Freddie jumped; his father took his arms away, and the boy fell to the floor. “He picked me up and stroked my hair and said, ‘Never trust anybody in your life. Not even your own father.’”

Starr related this story in his 2001 autobiography, Unwrapped. He had, he claimed, a “strict but fair” upbringing in wartime Liverpool. He later changed his account: in 2007 he told a reporter that his father had broken his legs when he was six, the culmination of physical abuse that led him to be taken into care for two years. “My father wasn’t a very nice man. I don’t like to speak about it at all. You put things like this in the past and try to make something of yourself.”

Freddy did so and was, for a time, a hugely popular entertainer. In the 1960s he won the talent show Opportunity Knocks six times, then achieved even greater fame at the Royal Variety Performance in 1970. “Within 30 seconds I had the audience helpless with laughter,” he recalled of that night, adding that he got the first encore in 47 years of the show with his impersonations of Adam Faith, Billy Fury and Mick Jagger.

His later routines begged many questions. Did Hitler (whom he regularly impersonated) really wear shorts with swastikas on each knee? With wellies? During Starr’s sung homage to Elvis (another favourite turn), why did he keep breaking off to impersonate a frog?

In the decade and a half that followed that Royal Variety Performance, little Starr became a big star. From 1972 he featured in TV series such as Who Do You Do? and Jokers Wild, later hosting his own show. He had a hit single, It’s You, in 1974 and later released an album, After the Laughter (1989). In the 1980s he became one of Britain’s highest-paid entertainers, earning £1m a year. He owned Rolls-Royces and racehorses, one of which, Miinnehoma, won the 1994 Grand National.

Starr, like Benny Hill, Jim Davidson and Bernard Manning, achieved success with a pre-cerebral, unrepentantly sexist, often racist comedy that was rendered overwhelmingly obsolete by the late 1980s, thanks to comedians like Ben Elton and shows such as Not the Nine O’Clock News.

Source: The Guardian - Stuart Jeffries