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of one of the most loveable fools in showbusiness.
What separates him from the rest of his profession
is that he is beloved while the rest are merely beliked.
Ladies and gentlemen, Mr Harry Secombe!
# Take me to your heart again
# Let's make a start again
# Forgiving and forgetting... #
This is the story of a man I was lucky enough to call a friend
and mentor. As a comic, he was one of a small group of performers
who changed the face of British comedy.
As a singer, he captivated audiences worldwide,
but it was as a man Harry Secombe touched the hearts of millions.
Harry was born in Swansea in 1921,
the son of a travelling salesman.
His parents, Fred and Gladys Secombe,
lived with their three children in rented rooms in the St Thomas area.
Harry was a shy child but he still got up to his fair share of mischief
What I want to know is was he a bit of a handful?
Not really a handful. He was always larking about.
He certainly was a problem child,
but he was the best and loveliest problem I've ever had.
Thank you, Mr and Mrs Secombe.
When Harry was four, the Secombes moved to a brand new council house
here on St Ledger Crescent.
It seemed immense to the young Harry,
who couldn't believe that a whole house could possible by theirs.
The new house was just up the road from the parish church
that gave the area of St Thomas its name.
It was a solid working class neighbourhood.
The church was at the centre of community life.
Harry, who sang in the choir, used to go four times every Sunday.
When he was singing in church, Harry used to lean forward
so that he'd catch the sunbeams coming in through those windows.
He liked to think of them as his personal spotlight.
When it came to performing outside church, he was far shyer.
Sometimes after school, they'd have a bit of a little party.
Everybody did something.
When they wanted me to sing, I was too embarrassed
to sing in the room, in the house.
So I used to go to the outside toilet,
where I sat on the wooden throne
with the cut out squares of the News of the World on a nail
and I'd sit there and sing with the door open
and they'd listen inside.
Ridiculous really. I'd be... # Bless this house... #
All the dogs and cats would set off.
They'd applaud inside.
A lunatic with trousers around my ankles!
I didn't sit there with my trousers on. I thought I'd do it properly!
What a... What a twit!
Harry went to St Thomas Boys Elementary School.
There, he did well in English and Art,
if not in other subjects.
I wasn't very bright, you know!
LAUGHTER A bit of an idiot!
I remember when the results of the triculation, a filthy habit...
When the results of the board examination came out,
we were all sitting in class and Teddy Test Tube,
who was the Maths master, also the Chemistry master, hence the name...
He was reading out the results and he hadn't got to my name.
He picked up a piece of paper off the desk and said...
He waved it like this. "We are in the presence of history," he said.
"History. There is a paper here, no marks out of a hundred for geometry.
"Secombe, stand up." I stood up, took a call. "Thank you!"
Everybody clapped. "We've got a clown," he said.
Clowning was something Harry did take seriously.
He was a wireless fanatic
and a keen admirer of comics like Max Miller and Tommy Handley.
He and his sister Carol used to do a a double act
at local social nights, and when Harry left school
and started work as a junior pay clerk,
his impersonation of his boss almost cost him his job.
AIR RAID SIREN
But in 1939, life was about to get far more series
for him and everyone else in the country.
With war looming, Harry decided to join the Territorials in Swansea.
The only problem was that he was chronically short-sighted.
He got a friend to copy out the army eye chart for him
and Harry learned it all off by heart.
In the army, Harry continued to play the clown.
During his training as a gunner, he almost shot a postman
on Margam dunes, but he survived that incident
and was soon sailing for Africa with the Operation Torch invasion force.
Once they'd landed at the port of Algiers,
all that stood between them and their objective, Tunis,
was 500 miles of desert and the German 10th Panzer Division.
We went there in November 1942.
And we had quite a touch time. 132 Field Regiment.
Swansea Territorial regiment.
We had a lot of... Lost a lot of lads out there.
You can't share your experience with anybody else.
You can't tell people what war is like.
You can't tell them about what it is to see your pal dying,
that sort of thing, but those people who'd been through it with you
understand, even if they don't say anything.
You hold hands now and again and shake hands and share memories.
Harry wrote, "132 Field Regiment was home to me for four years
"and I could not have grown up with a better bunch of lads."
You realise that you just walk about with a sort of...
frail...covering of flesh and the rest is all pretty vulnerable.
And your mental attitude changes, I think.
I remember thinking - I'm not going to call anyone "sir" again after this
Harry was one of a generation of young men
whose attitude to authority was fundamentally changed by war.
In the deserts of North Africa,
he had a fateful meeting with the biggest anti-authoritarian
in the British army.
-Did you meet any of the generals, or...?
-I met a very famous person.
His name escapes me... Wait a minute. Milligan. Spike Milligan.
-Yes, indeed. That's where we met.
-When did you meet Spike?
-He was washing his white flag for surrender.
LAUGHTER AND APPLAUSE
There he is!
Can you enlighten us? Harry was telling us where you met. He said...
-We were alive when we met.
-He's got a point there!
-Did you threw a large gun at him?
Tell him the story.
We were on a cliff and this huge gun of 7.4,
and...we fired the gun and it rolled backwards over the cliff.
When we looked back, it was gone.
The captain said, "Somebody must go down and look for it."
"I'll go, sir. Anything to get out of the war!"
This regiment were parked out in tents.
I went round and opened the tents and said,
"Have you seen a gun?" This bloke said, "What colour?"
LAUGHTER AND APPLAUSE
After they'd taken Tunis, 132 Field Regiment were sent to Italy.
There, Harry joined the divisional concert party.
Performing sketches alongside female impersonators and comedy vicars,
he realised he'd found his calling.
In April 1946, Harry found himself back on Civvy Street
with a one way ticket to Swansea in his hand.
A few days after he'd been demobbed, Harry went for a night out
at Mumbles Pier Dancehall. He was going through a Canadian phase,
wearing a lumberjack shirt, putting an accent
and pretending to chew gum.
He must have been doing something right.
He asked a pretty girl called Myra for a dance and she said yes.
Do you remember the dancehall at the Mumbles near Swansea?
Of course. I met my wife.
Yes, that's where you met your wife to be. Come in, Mrs Myra Secombe.
Myra! You didn't tell me!
-Right there, beside your husband.
I was at the Mumbles with a few of my girlfriends
and I was just about to get my last bus home
when this fellow comes up to me and says, "Can I have this dance?"
It was Harry.
I made a date to meet her the following day outside the Plaza.
The following morning, I'd had a few more drinks than I should have had
and I couldn't remember what she looked like.
I thought, "I know what I'll do." LAUGHTER
I got there early and there were pillars outside the Plaza,
so I got behind one of the pillars
and said, "I'll wait now till 6.00pm
"and if I don't like her, I won't step out from behind the pillar."
-A bit of a gentleman!
-So I got there at five to six,
got behind the pillar, didn't see her.
When I stepped out from behind my pillar, she stepped out from hers.
LAUGHTER That's true!
While they were courting, Harry took Myra to Swansea Empire every week.
Watching the acts on stage, he found himself filled with a desire
to get up and show them what he could do.
He decided to take the plunge. He got in touch with a theatre critic
he'd met in the army who suggested he tried the Windmill Theatre.
The Windmill was famous as the only theatre in London
with a live nude revue.
The thing was I found I had more friends...
'Harry Secombe joined in 1946.'
..than I've had before or since.
People would come and say, "Hello, Harry. Remember me?"
You'd take them up the canteen for a cup of tea and a sandwich
and all the girls would come up there between shows
in very wispy negligees and things.
Anyone from outside would sit there and go, "Cor! Look at...!"
You couldn't have a conversation. They weren't listening.
My brother's a vicar
and four of his clerical friends came along to see me,
they came about four times a week!
With six shows a day and an audience that didn't come for the comedy,
the Windmill was a tough training ground for a young comic.
Harry got through it with a routine he'd dreamt up in Italy,
the shaving act.
First of all, a young boy shaving for the first time.
And then he finds there's no blade!
Those early years as a variety turn weren't glamorous.
Harry often found himself kipping on friends' floors.
But appearances on radio shows like Variety Band Box
began to win him more live bookings.
Harry learned his trade working in musichalls up and down the country.
It was a tough apprenticeship for any young performer,
as Harry found out one night in Bolton.
I was in the bar having a drink, a large rum.
The bar had cleared except for one fella with his back to me
and a group of people around him, a big fat guy.
He said, "I've seen 'owt like it in me life. By 'eavens!"
I tapped him on the shoulder, emboldened by the rum.
I said, "Excuse me," in a polite manner, cos I was drunk...
I said, "Excuse me, but I'm the fella you're talking about."
He said, "That's him! You should ashamed of yourself!"
I said, "I haven't adjusted myself. I've been playing in the West End.
"I haven't had time to adjust."
He said, "You couldn't adjust your braces!"
"Who do you think you're talking to?"
He said, "Who do you think you're talking to? I own this theatre."
I said, "Oh, do you...?"
I said, "It's very draughty backstage."
He took out his wallet and he said, "'Ere you are. 'Ere's your money.
"Get 'train in 'morning. You're not shaving in my bloody time."
In 1948, Harry and Myra got married.
Their first child a year later.
When he wasn't being a family man,
Harry liked to hang out in Graftons, a pub owned by ex-serviceman
and comedy writer Jimmy Grafton.
There he'd meet up with his old mate Spike
and a comic he knew from the Windmill called Michael Bentine.
But it was when Harry met a comedian called Peter Sellers
that the final piece of the puzzle fell into place.
Together, these four men would revolutionise British comedy.
We did a trial recording for Pat Dixon. It was pretty incoherent,
but he thought there was something in it.
The BBC, God bless 'em, gave us a trial - six or thirteen or something
shows to start with and that's how it began.
We did these first six and we began to get a bit clearer, you know.
It was all... (VARIOUS SILLY NOISES) ..and all this terrible...
But eventually, they settled to a sort of storyline.
And it was discovered fairly early on the voices I did sounded like me.
So I was told rather quietly that I should stick to one voice.
They got me to do Neddie and everything happened round Neddie.
Bloodnok and the other characters.
-Who are you?
-Me? I'm Lance Private Eccles.
-Most people call me by nickname.
That's a joke. I made a joke about...
I inspected the man closely.
He was the nearest thing I'd seen to a human being
without actually being one. LAUGHTER
I say, Seagoon, surely you don't suspect this man?
Why, we were together in the same company during that disaster.
-What company was that?
-Desert Song 1933.
-Were you both in the doily cart?
-Right in the doily cart!
For an audience that had grown up on traditional musichall humour,
this was mind-blowing stuff.
The show was a smash hit.
Every Sunday, no matter where he was performing,
Harry would rush back to London for the Goon Show.
In fact, for all the Goons, Sunday was the highlight of the week.
After rehearsal, they'd nip into the pub nextdoor
for a bottle of brandy and a pint of milk,
then back on the stage, they'd let rip.
Hello, folks of the world. I am speaking to you
using the new aluminium voice cone projector.
I will start my comeback with a new trick
taught to me by a one-legged sailor
who did toffee-apple impressions for Noel Coward.
LAUGHTER Did you hear that?
The show ran for nine years and made Harry a household name.
During that time, he also continued his successful solo career
as both a comedian and a gifted singer.
For many years, he hadn't dared take his singing seriously,
using it mainly for comic effect.
# ..Everywhere, everywhere, everywhere, everywhere
# Where e'er you walk
# Cool gale shall fan the glen
# Trees where you sit
# In an English country garden
-# Hear my song
-# I've got a handful of songs to sing
-# Your letter
-# Sit right down and write myself a letter
-# Hear my song
-# I feel a song coming on
# Give me the moonlight, give me the girl
# In an English country garden. #
It was singing teacher Manlio di Veroli
who turned Harry into a serious singer.
Harry said that Di Veroli took his voice apart
the way a skilled mechanic dismantles an engine.
When he put it back together, it was a thing of beauty.
HARRY SINGS OPERA STYLE
Harry's talent as a singer was to take him to the top of the charts.
It was while he was holidaying in Barbados with Wolf Mankowitz
that Harry mentioned an idea he had for a musical
based on the Dickens novel The Pickwick Papers.
Mankowitz liked it.
He set about writing Pickwick and in the process,
created a star role for Harry.
Pickwick was a big challenge for Harry.
For the first time, he had to step out of his musichall persona
and really act.
When the first night of the show's American tour
was met with rapturous applause, Harry cried more than ever before.
# If I ruled the world
# Every day would be the first day of spring
# Every heart would have a new song to sing
# And we'd sing of the joy every morning would bring
# If I ruled the world
# Every man would be as free as a bird
# Every voice would be a voice to be heard
# Take my word, we would treasure each day that occurred... #
If I Ruled The World was a number one hit for Harry.
During the 1970s, he enjoyed one success after another,
blending music and comedy in TV shows that attracted millions.
MIMED SINGING DROWNED OUT BY LAUGHTER
MIMES TO A WOMAN SINGING
MIMES TO A DEEP MAN'S VOICE
MIMES TO A DEEP MAN'S VOICE BY MISTAKE
MIMES TO A HIGH WOMAN'S VOICE
While his solo career went from strength to strength,
Harry still found time for the odd reunion with old friends.
..And in the year of 1883 that the monster whale
came to Dundee,
for a few days to sport and play.
And devour the small wee fishes in the silvery Tay!
-So the monster... Thank you!
So the monster whale did sport and play...
-Amongst the decent...
-Go on, keep going.
..innocent little fishes in the beautiful Tay
until he was seen by some men one day
and they resolved to catch him without delay. Oooooohhhhhh!
Aye, you're next!
Then the water did descend on the men in the boats...
Hard night tonight. LAUGHTER
In 1981, having entertained the nation for four decades,
Harry was awarded a knighthood.
I was practising yesterday and I split my trousers!
So I thought...
If it happens today... I had my trousers reinforced.
Fortunately, it was a high stool and no bother.
-You didn't need the...?
-No. Thank Heavens, no.
-Can you give us a...?
-Show you? Yes, there we are.
Harry and his friends had always joked about his weight.
I'm sorry, sir, you cannot park that huge Welsh body there.
-Watch it, rozzer!
-I have been watching it, sir.
And it gives me no pleasure.
But by the 1980s, it was no longer a laughing matter.
Now weighing in around the 20 stone mark,
Harry was experiencing problems with his health.
Even after a near fatal bout of peritonitis,
he didn't heed doctors' advice to change his behaviour.
A couple of years later, the consequences caught up with him.
In 1982, Harry was performing at Sydney Opera House
when he almost passed out on stage.
The doctor that examined him the next day
told him if he didn't change his lifestyle,
he'd be dead within two years.
-I went on a diet and I haven't had a drink since that day.
-Do you miss it?
I'm thirsty! LAUGHTER
No. I don't miss it. I missed it at the beginning.
-Do you miss the drink?
-No, I don't! LAUGHTER
No, I don't miss it. APPLAUSE
We do have, thanks to your permission,
-your current passport photograph.
-Have you seen it?
Have a look at this. Harry Secombe's current passport photo.
How did you get back into the country?
Honestly, they take a second look.
It took a chorus of If I Ruled The World to get in!
Then they kept me out!
At the age of 62, when others might have been winding down their careers
Harry was about to embark on a new one.
In 1983, he was invited to present a new Sunday night show
featuring hymns and real life stories from believers
all over Britain. Though Harry claimed he wasn't heavily religious,
his natural warmth made him the perfect presenter for Highway.
When I was a teenager, I was lucky enough to sing with Harry in Rome
for a special edition of Highway.
It would have been very easy for him to treat me like a "little kid",
but he actually took me under his wing.
I have very fond memories of tasting my first glass of red wine
sat next to Harry Secombe at the piano.
As he used to say - it's nice to be big,
you don't have to be big to be nice.
Highway ran for ten years
and when it ended, Harry was quickly headhunted
by the producers of Songs of Praise.
But in 1999, Harry suffered a double blow.
Just weeks after he'd been diagnosed with prostate cancer,
he had a serious stroke.
In order to improve public awareness of the challenges
faced by stroke sufferers, Harry and Myra allowed documentary makers
to follow them through the long, slow process of recovery.
'Myra has been at Harry's side throughout,
'giving her encouragement and support
'as she's done through the 52 years of their marriage.'
They are wonderful, these two. They're really wonderful.
Every flicker of a finger excites us, you know.
But that is wonderful. That takes some determination
cos he'd got to sort of... set himself up to do it.
Yeah. It's sad on times.
Good. Well done. Into a rhythm. Lovely. That's it. There we are.
That's the first time.
Yes, it is. Yes. It's a better...feeling, yes.
It's worth the hard work, innit?
-But you've worked really hard.
It's tissue time in the gym!
Yes, Myra. You and I together.
By the time Harry appeared as a guest on Songs of Praise in 2000,
he was once again back on form.
I've got...prostate cancer, diabetes and a stroke.
The one thing to do...to forget about prostate cancer
is to have a stroke!
-It concentrates the mind!
-I'm sure it does!
There are things that are never going to be the same again.
No. Once, I think, you get a stroke you say, "Well, that's it.
"For now. That's the end of the Harry Secombe that was."
-There's a new life opening up.
-Do you grieve for what you've lost?
Not really. If you wallow in self-pity, then...
you don't get anywhere.
You've got to accept what's happened and get on with life.
Harry's positive attitude, his sense of humour
and the love of family and friends all helped pull him through.
-There's no such thing as a horse called Doris!
-One ran away.
They were great days, Harry.
-We actually saw the last days of...
-The best of variety.
-You must be one of my oldest friends.
and I don't seem to be anywhere nearer death than if I was 100.
I was actually wondering what my deathbed seemed to be like.
I'd like to be there and all my children round me.
I think you... When you've passed on, whatever,
there's something in a poem...
"And think this heart all evil shed away,
"A pulse in the eternal mind,
"No less gives somewhere back those thoughts by England given."
The pulse in the eternal mind, to me, represents what happens to us
after we die.
Oh, I'll have to wait for that then!
Harry passed away on the eleventh of April 2001.
Harry's death didn't really sink in for me
until his memorial service at Westminster Abbey.
Sat there with friends and family, royalty,
and some of the best broadcasters and comedians in the world,
you got a real sense of the man's character.
Yes, he rubbed shoulders with princes,
but he was just as happy passing the time of day with people in Swansea.
That's what made him great.
Harry Secombe, This Is Your Life.
Oh, thank you. APPLAUSE
Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd