If I knew the secret to longevity I’d bottle it and sell it, says Bury St Edmunds bound Jimmy Tarbuck
- Credit: Archant
After more than half a century in the biz, Jimmy Tarbuck OBE continues to entertain. The evergreen performer, known to millions simply as Tarby, talks to entertainment writer Wayne Savage.
Variety is a subject near and dear to Tarbuck’s heart. It’s a shame there’s not more of it on TV these days, says the veteran entertainer, who appears at The Theatre Royal, Bury St Edmunds, tonight.
“Of course there should be (more shows like Sunday Night at the Palladium on TV). The chance to introduce a young comic, young singer and not being judged by a panel. Let them walk on stage, do six or seven minutes and (let) people say ‘I liked him’ or ‘she was funny’.”
The only view that matters is that of the audience?
“Of course it is, I don’t mind the people if you want to have a bit of judgement, but have people judging you who have done it (not) people who couldn’t write goodbye on a shutter. You think ‘what do you know about it, have you ever been up there and know how lonely it is’.”
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Some comedy clubs these days, says Tarbuck - who cut his teeth as a Red Coat at Butlins, including Pwllheli alongside Ringo Starr - are bear pits.
“You have to go on and I think ‘oh blimey O’Reilly. You get a gang of fellas who are p****d. You’ve got to have a lot of balls to stand there and say ‘no they’re not going to win, I’m going to have a go at you and see if I can do it’.
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“Whereas if you go into a lovely theatre like the Theatre Royal, the people have come to be entertained and not to bait. It’s a lovely feeling; you sit there, talk to them and I love the question and answers - that’s the funniest part of the show for me.”
I bet he gets some strange things shouted at him?
“Oh some very strange... Some naughty ones if they’re in a giggly mood. It just has me crying with laughter.”
The entertainment landscape, particularly on TV, is totally different since he first started more than 50 years ago. Not many acts last that long these days. As for his secret...
“To longevity? If I knew that young man I’d bottle it and we’d sell it and just sit back and let it all come on in. I don’t know... You’ve got to have a bit of luck, (be in) the right place at the right time, but you’ve also got to be able to work hard and make it work for you.”
Money has led to the demise of variety on TV, believes Tarbuck.
“It’s run by accountants now, not showmen. Val Parnell was a showman, Billy Cotton Jnr was a showman. Now they’re all accountants who have to bring shows in under figure. They’ll spend untold millions on Downton Abbey and things like that, which are very popular and I understand that; but they won’t pay too much for performers to get up there and perform. It’s a great shame.”
There are still people on TV though, he adds, who have that undefinable ‘it’.
“Like that girl who played Cilla Black (Sheridan Smith); she’s just shaved all her hair off to do a programme (The C Word, on BBC1 tomorrow) - by God she’s got it, that star quality. (Shirley) Bassey walks on stage, star quality; (Bruce) Forsyth walks on, the star quality sticks out a mile. You just go ‘ooh aye aye this is good’.”
The entertainer, known to millions as Tarby, tours regularly. The travelling is, in his words, a bit of a b****r if he’s honest, but the work is glorious.
“It’s nice to get back on the road again. After all these years it’s (still) a pleasure to get up there. From Shirley Bassey to all the kids today, Michael McIntyre, Peter Kay... It gives us a chance to show off and we all love it.
“Comedy’s a funny thing, nobody can appeal to everybody. When you’re a comic - and I speak for every one of them from the young generation to the old-timers, right across the board, whoever you want to name - the first laugh relaxes you. Dear God, the greatest example I can give you is Ken Dodd. How old is he, 80? He still loves it, he stays on there for three days at a time. I joke with him about that, he says ‘young man I don’t know where the time goes’...” says Tarbuck, mimicking Dodd’s voice rather well.
Tonight’s show is a trip down memory lane. Using photos and video, he’ll regale the audience with a wealth of stories and anecdotes ranging from being in the same class at school as John Lennon to playing golf with Bing Crosby and Bob Hope.
“Crosby was very good, he was a slight man, meticulously neat. Hope would have you laughing on every tee, it was like being on stage with him and he’d have his nights out and tell you tales that would have you crying with laughter.
“I show the audience this dark-haired young man of 50 years ago and we laugh about it. I mean, the hair is bouncing all over my head. Then I go through the people I’ve worked with and show some clips of my mistakes - of which there are many. People say to me ‘what’s the funniest thing’... One of them is introducing the wrong person on Sunday Night at the Palladium. I got confused, I thought someone had been on and made an utter balls of it. I made out when I went back on that it was a joke,” laughs Tarbuck.
He knows how lucky he’s been, working with Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley...
“Working with people like Rudolf Nureyev, I know very little about ballet, to Judy Garland... Wonderful memories. I went to school with John Lennon, the aura of the Beatles didn’t hang over them - they were just four lads I knew from Liverpool, especially John and Ringo... Sporting memories about Bobby Moore, people like that, heroes of my own. It’s a nice way of going to work and I like the theatre in Bury St Edmunds, I’m looking forward to coming back.”