Although I was born in Cookstown Northern Ireland, my family moved to Belfast when I was two years of age. So, not wanting to be left behind I grabbed my rattle put my dummy in my mouth and headed off with them.
My folks had bought a Corner Shop there and one of my earliest memories is off my Mammy putting a bar of chocolate in my hand, giving me a hug and waving me off on the tram to school. Every time I watch the movie, “Meet me in St Louis”, and they come to the, “Trolley Song”, it reminds me of my childhood.
We’re talking 1947 here and Radio was King. We would all sit round and listen to shows like, “Educating Archie”. Archie was the sidekick of ventriloquist Peter Brough and he came over the air waves as a real little boy especially to a four year old. So when Peter and Archie came to our local theatre –“The Grand Opera House”, my Dad and older brother John and I toddled off to see him. The whole show complete with supporting acts and orchestra, lights and sound, had a mesmerizing effect on me that’s lasted to this day.
At School the only thing I was good at was making the other kids laugh but unfortunately you don’t get an A level for that, so I left when I was 15 and did menial jobs while trying my hand in talent shows at night.
A big turning point came when I was twenty and landed a job as a Redcoat in Butlins Holiday Camp in Mosney not far from Dublin. The next three or four years were spent in Butlins Holiday Camps, Then I switched my jacket and became a Bluecoat for Pontins at their Holiday Camp in Morecambe and it was there that I met my wife to be May. We moved to Manchester and for the next eight years she helped me to develop a style and a character in the rough and tumble of Northern Clubland, all the while bringing four children into the world. Now that’s what I call multi-tasking.
A lady called Bridie Reid then booked me to do a tour of all the Pontins Camps in the South of England. This time doing my act. I was spotted in one of the Camps by a Casting Director from London Weekend Television called Bill Hettersley who booked me for a tv talent show called, “Search for a Star” . I then signed up with a lady called Phyllis Rounce who got me guest spots on Television Variety Shows which led me to getting my own Television Series with Central Television-“And There’s More”. It ran for four series and for the third and fourth, I teamed up with comedy writer Eddie Braben. We got on like a house on fire and a few years after that Eddie wrote a BBC Radio 2 Series for me called, “Jimmy’s Cricket Team”, which ran for five series.
By this time the live entertainment landscape was changing dramatically. Summer Seasons were down to one nighters and the Cabaret and Social Clubs were steadily disappearing. While this was happening a phenomenon called Comedy Clubs which originated in America took root over here and popped up all over the country supplying television with new cutting edge Comedians that were appealing to younger viewers. At the same time traditional Variety Shows were giving way to reality/fly on the wall type shows. It was then my son Dale came on board and we both worked out a plan for surviving in showbiz. We booked our family show into Theatres on a percentage basis with us supplying the publicity. I then hired a local Theatre and brought in a film crew. I charged all my friends £10 for a ticket, and told them once I’d paid for the cameras, a Charity would get the rest. The next day, “The Springhill Hospice”, in Rochdale got £2,000 and I got a new DVD which I still sell at my live shows and online. Also for the last five years, I’ve had a semi residency at a hotel in Blackpool called the, “The Lyndene”, where I do two shows a month which means I’ve got some steady brass coming in.
As I write this dreadful virus has brought untold heartache misery and many people have lost their loved ones. Thank God we’ve now got a vaccine. Perhaps we could put up monuments in Town Hall Squares to remember them like we have Cenotaphs to Commemorate the Soldiers who never made it back.
At least thankfully through modern technology we’ve been able to chat to our family and friends on Zoom and artistes can inspire and cheer people up through putting messages out on Social Media.
When people ask if I’m retired or semi-retired I tell them that Sophia Loren is in her 80’s and she’s up for an Oscar this year for a new Movie she’s just done. I then politely refer them to my Website which seems a good way to finish this article Jimmy Cricket!
Stay safe and healthy folks, and keep an eye out for that sunshine on the horizon.