The accent may have the familiar Northern Irish lilt, but for Jimmy Cricket there’s a part of him that will always be linked to Lichfield.
The comedian will be at the Garrick Theatre in April for a charity performance alongside the Lichfield Gospel Choir.
The show will raise money for Lichfield Foodbank and St Giles Hospice.
As well as performing for a good cause, the evening will also mark a long-awaited return to the city for the popular comic.
“The history of the Lichfield Garrick is in my DNA,” he said. “We performed the very first panto there after it had opened.
“I always remember a local critic having to retract his review because he initially said he was disappointed. But he put the piece out there and then we had the Brownies and other local groups writing letters saying how much they liked the show.
“So he got back in touch and told us he was wrong and in the run up to Christmas he agreed to let me put a custard pie in his face – it all worked out well becaue the publicity meant we played to packed houses for the rest of the run.
“I went on to do a few years of panto at the Garrick, including Aladdin where my son also appeared and we got to do the wallpaper slosh scene which involves getting paste everywhere. Not many shows do that now because of the mess it makes, but it was originally done by Laurel and Hardy so it was great to do it.
“I’ve been back for a one nighter since then, but I’m starting to get withdrawal symptoms now so I need to get back to Lichfield.”
Whether it’s the “and there’s more” catchphrase, the hat or the wellies, Jimmy’s trademark performing style is one which has served him well in a career spanning the decades.
And his desire to keep bringing his character to life is showing no signs of subsiding.
“It’s still exciting to get on stage and perform today,” he said. “And you disappoint people if you don’t show up and give them what they came to see.
“On occasions, I’ll turn up in ordinary clothes to an opening or a charity function and the first thing people want to know is where the wellingtons are.
“I always make sure I have the hat whatever I’m wearing now just in case.
“A lot of people remember it from the eighties and I’m happy to keep on doing it. What I love about the theatre is that you can get into other things as well as the thing you’re known for, so it keeps it exciting and interesting for you as a performer too.
“I suppose it’s a bit like Elton John when he does all the hits and then throws in some new stuff to get it off his chest. But he knows he’s keeping people happy doing Crocodile Rock too.”
After working as a redcoat at two Butlin’s holiday camps in the 1960s, Jimmy landed his big break after winning TV talent contest Search for a Star:
He has since gone on to appear on TV and in venues across the globe. There’s even a movie appearance in the film Womble on his CV.
But for Jimmy, the experience of developing and honing his act in the early days is crucial to everything that followed.
He said: “We were blessed to have clubs all over the country to work in – they allowed me to learn my craft and develop a character.
“That’s how the look came about really. In the music hall days everyone was different. There was a famous performer called Billy Bennett and he did surreal monologues while dressed immaculately apart from brown boots which never went with his outfit.
“At the time I started to break through, The Comedians was popular on the TV. But they would all come out looking the same with their suits on. So I decided to harp back to the music hall days when everyone was different. I started off with a white jacket and wellingtons and that became a black tailcoat and a hat after I appeared on a show called the Good Old Days.
“My agent at the time thought the dress suit they asked me to wear on the show worked and so we asked the BBC if we could buy it. They told me where it was hired from and we managed to get it for £60. I’ve bought a few more since then and they’ve been a bit more expensive than that!
“But being a visual comedian, those clubs really allowed me to develop.”
The irony of the decline of variety acts in an era of TV talent contests isn’t lost on a man who got his big break through impressing judges on the small screen.
But Jimmy believes a career appearing in clubs prepared him for that big break – and warned today’s hopefuls that the quick route to stardom isn’t always the best path to follow.
“My heart goes out to performers now,” he said. “I did a charity show in Halifax recently and the lady in the foyer was lamenting how hard it was now for acts. Never a truer word has been spoken and it’s the saddest thing in the world.
“It’s hard to get refined acts who have experience and that’s something you really need for comedy.
“The modern comedy club now is a very different thing to what it was. If you set your stall out to do that circuit – as my daughter does – that’s fine, because you’re looking to develop an act for Edinburgh and then hoping you get a slot on Live at the Apollo, before selling out stadiums or arenas.
“It’s a completely separate industry to the comedy circuit as it was.
“Singers have The Voice, X Factor and things, but even then they don’t always have the polish you get from working in front of an audience and finding out what they like and what they don’t like, or putting things in and changing them round. That’s refining your act and is so important. But it’s sadly missing too often now.
“In the clubs you were always learning. If you went on late then you knew people would have had a drink or two and that can be challenging so you needed to adapt.
“I tell a story about not doing well in a club in Middlesbrough. I came off and the secretary asked what the matter was. I told him I felt funny, so he told me to get back on the stage quick!”
Jimmy’s Lichfield Garrick show will be sandwiched between appearances in Spain, where he has been entertaining expats.
He’ll be back out in the sunshine later this year to perform more shows on the Costas.
“I got a bit lucky in Spain really,” Jimmy said. “I did a charity show at The Palace in Benidorm, which is like the Palladium over there.
“All the expats turned up and I was a little uneasy as I was going on late. It’s a late culture there, but when you’re used to an earlier start in can be awkward. But the audience were incredible and I was taken aback.
“On the strength of it being packed out that night and going well I got a lot of work through it. I went over in January for some shows and I’m going back in June.
“It just shows that if you’re on the right bill and the right people see you then no matter how long you’ve been in the business – even at my age of 70 – you can still be rediscovered.
“You’ve just got to make sure you keep working away and enjoying it to keep your enthusiasm.”
The return to the Garrick will see Jimmy team up with the Lichfield Gospel Choir.
“They have a staggering 90 local voices in that group,” he said. “They’re really going to raise the rafters.
“It’s for two great causes. There’s the Lichfield Foodbank, which really is a product of our times, and St Giles Hospice, which is something which touches so many lives.
“I’ll do my hat and wellies opener but then I’ll do some things people don’t always expect. There’ll be some juggling and I’ll play a bit of saxophone too.
“When people come to a live show you’ve got to give them what they expect and then throw in a little bit of a surprise too.”
Tickets for the charity concert on April 24 are £10. To book visit the Lichfield Garrick website or call 01543 412121.