Sister of Norman Collier pays tribute to 'one-off' comedian
"HE was a one-off. No comedian like him will come again."
The words of Irene Sharlotte, paying tribute to her brother Norman Collier, the much-loved comedian who has died at the age of 87.
Speaking to the Grimsby Telegraph, Irene, 82, of Waltham, shared her memories of her older brother – from their laughter-filled childhood growing up in a cramped two-bedroomed house in Hull to his rise to TV stardom in the 1970s and 1980s.
After starting out as a comic on the club scene in Hull during the 1950s, Norman turned professional in 1962, rising to national prominence with his debut on the Royal Variety Show.
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He is best remembered for his act featuring an intermittently working microphone, and his chicken impression.
However, Irene says Norman was not the only comedian in the family.
"There were six lads and two lasses and we did nothing but laugh. There was nothing to do but laugh. It all came from my dad.
"Norman was quick-witted but we were all quick-witted. I often think that if the other lads had the same go as Norman they could have made it too. He did it the hard way, playing all the working men's clubs."
Irene went to see Norman perform "hundreds of times", including in Cleethorpes where he was a regular attraction.
But she insists he was even funnier off stage than on it.
Citing one example of his spontaneous humour, she recalls the time Norman was barred from the pub in Barnoldby-le-Beck after impersonating a dog so convincingly that the landlord thought he had brought his pet in with him.
"He said he couldn't work from a script because everything he did was ad lib."
Irene said a major part of her brother's appeal was the fact that unlike many contemporary comedians, he never resorted to bad language.
"I never heard Norman swear. Nobody has ever heard him swear on stage. He said you don't need to swear and blind to make people laugh."
Despite rubbing shoulders with some of the biggest names in comedy, and meeting celebrities such as Sean Connery, Irene says Norman always stayed true to his roots.
"He has been the mainstay of the family. He has always had time for us, and he always went home after a show. When he went out he was always with his family.
"He was very kind and thoughtful. He wasn't one of those famous people who would say 'don't you know who I am?'"
Irene has been touched by the many glowing tributes paid to Norman by fellow comedians.
She said: "I feel really proud of him. To hear people say how much they thought about him. Billy Pearce said there's nobody who can say a bad word about Norman, and that he was a gentleman in every respect. Bernie Clifton said there will never be another Norman Collier."
She described how despite battling with Parkinson's disease for the past seven years, her brother kept laughing right until the end.
"Even when he was in the infirmary he was cracking jokes with the nurses.
"He never stopped laughing.
"He has had a completely full life.
"He made millions of people laugh. He was just full of fun."
Memories of Norman
I would like to say it is a sad day with the loss of Norman Collier, such a very funny man.
I can remember back in 1976 when the Pier show was on with Norman Collier, Brother Lee’s etc. I worked for Cleethorpes Council back then, and there was a football match between the Pier show and a Grimsby Town XI. Well, being a goalkeeper, I was asked if I would like to play in goal for the Pier All Stars XI, which I gladly accepted. I remember before the game being introduced to the All Stars as their goalkeeper, it was so funny in the dressing room, with Norman Collier messing about.
Well we started the game and the team could hardly kick the ball for laughing at Norman, he was strutting along like the chicken on the pitch, and during the match I was taking a goal kick, and Norman waved for me to kick it to him, so I did, the problem was that my kick was so well targeted, it hit Norman on the back of the head while he was running down the right wing, and knocked him over, but to make more of it, Norman actually went down as though he had been shot, and laid there on the pitch until the medical staff at the side of the pitch came on and carried him away on a stretcher. We just could not stop laughing about it, and I still laugh about that experience today.
What a fantastic thing to be able to do (I don’t mean knocking Norman out), but to play football with stars we looked up to, and have so much fun, great guy.
Arthur Marshall, Scartho, working in the Oman.
BACK in the days when Blackpool's summer season attracted the biggest stars in British comedy, the Lord Mayor used to host a lavish launch party.
"They were very glamorous events," remembers Tommy Cannon, comic veteran and one half of enduring duo Cannon and Ball.
"Everybody who was everybody was there. That was when summer season was summer season.
"I can remember to this day the time we were there with Norman. He was such a funny guy, he could reduce a room to stitches without saying a word.
"On this occasion, they'd put a huge bowl of punch in the middle of the room and everyone was taking little dainty drinks from it. Norman walked up to it, took his socks off, washed them in the punch, wrung them out, put them back on and then carried on as if nothing had happened.
"The whole room had just stopped and there were people weeping with laughter.
"But that was Norman. He was a one-off, a brilliant comedian. But, more than that, he was a lovely, genuine man.
"I'm absolutely devastated," says Tommy, visibly choked. "I only visited him about three weeks ago and I knew he wasn't in the best of health. But I'm so sorry for his family. He was a giant of British comedy and he'll be sorely missed."
Tommy Cannon is just one of many friends, colleagues and fans paying tribute to Norman Collier after the Hull funnyman passed away at the age of 87.
All of the comics who worked the clubs alongside Norman, many of whom rose alongside him to national TV stardom, have fond memories of the man who created the original broken mic routine and was famed for his dancing chicken act.
"He was the funniest of all of us," says former Bullseye host Jim Bowen.
"I've known Norman for 30 years, maybe more, and he was one of the nicest men in showbusiness.
"There was one thing for certain, you never wanted to go on after Norman. He was so funny that he'd blow you away. He was an absolute master. I think people maybe forget today but he was an absolutely massive star. He didn't do The Comedians, but he worked his way up through the clubs.
"He worked really hard to get where he did, and no one deserved it more. I remember us doing the Royal Command Performance and him even making the Queen laugh."
Born on Christmas Day, 1925, Norman grew up in New George Street, Hull, at the back of the New Theatre, where he and his seven brothers and sister lived in a cramped two-bedroom house with no hot water and an outside toilet.
Speaking to The Journal in 2009, the comic remembered a hard childhood, visiting the markets at night bargaining for leftover meat and stale pastry.
"It was hard work," he said. "I was the eldest of eight children and it was hard going. It fell to me to go on errands and I even had to wash the kids. I used to heat up the water, stand the children on the table, wash them one at a time and put them to bed.
"We were like rats in a box, arguing over silly things. We would be sitting at the table and saying, 'Mum, his elbow's near mine'. We were looking for a fight."
The Colliers later moved to Lockwood Street and it was here Norman met Lucy, his devoted wife of more than 60 years, who lived at the end of the road.
"We met in 1947," he said. "It was terrible weather, I was 21 and Lucy was 19. We married in 1948 and had a reception with a bit of boiled ham at St Saviours in Stoneferry."
More on Norman Collier
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Showbiz stars pay tribute to Norman Collier
After being demobbed from the Army in 1945, Norman turned his hand to labouring but would later find his comic vocation by accident, after being volunteered to do a turn at the Perth Street Club, when the booked act failed to appear.
From there, his star slowly rose, first on the Hull club scene and then further afield.
Fellow comedian and friend Johnnie Casson later travelled the world with Norman, visiting places such as Belize and Oman on tour and entertaining the forces.
"Norman was one of the funniest men I ever met. Seriously, he could make a cat laugh," says Johnnie.
"A lot of the places we visited, it didn't matter if they could speak English or not, he could make you laugh just by looking at him.
"He was a lovely, generous, man and, for me, he had conquered the art of living – he got older but he never grew up.
"It's a hackneyed old phrase 'the comedian's comedian' but I think in Norman's case, it was true. He was an inspiration to me and to many others too."
Barry Chuckle remembers a joker with an infectious sense of fun.
"We did a summer season in Great Yarmouth with Norman," says Rotherham- based Barry.
"We were in different theatres but we used to see Norman around. My brother played a lot of golf with him and he said Norman would always do his chicken walk around the green to put him off his putting. He was just a lovely chap and a genuinely funny man."
Norman's friend and biographer Mike Ulyatt invited him to a lunch with Eric Sykes, knowing the pair had not seen each other in years, and said he wished he had recorded the moment.
Mike, 73, of Willerby, said: "They were telling some brilliant showbiz tales at the dinner table and Eric said to him, 'We are the last of the Vaudevillians in this country'.
"He stepped up to the microphone and everyone expected him to do his routine, but he simply said '1, 2, 3, all good to go Eric', who told him to get off the stage.
"It took me two years to write his autobiography because he would go off on such a tangent but he had many stories to tell.
"I last saw him at Christmas in the care home and although he wasn't the Norman I once knew, he was still witty."
It is not just the veteran comedians who were paying tribute to Norman today but a new generation of comics who grew up watching his carefully-crafted routines.
With a tweet Norman would no doubt have appreciated, Office star Ricky Gervais used the Hull comedian's broken mic-style to tweet: "R P orman ollier".
Impressionist Jon Culshaw tweeted: "Rest in peace Norman Collier. Funny, funny, wonderfully funny man. People would be permanently laughing whenever they were around him."
A concert to celebrate his legacy had already been organised at Hull New Theatre for Monday, September 16, and his family have confirmed it will still go ahead.