HEY up me old flower! Showbiz legends were in full bloom to honour Charlie Williams with a special tribute in South Yorkshire, writes Graham Walker.
A Blue plaque - engraved with his catchphrase - was unveiled outside Barnsley Civic Theatre in memory of the town’s comedy great and ex-Doncaster Rovers footballer.
Veteran showbusiness pals who paid their own personal tributes included Norman Collier, Duggie Brown, Billy Pearce, Jean Fergusson, Jimmy Cricket, Bernie Clifton and Robin Colvill.
VIDEO: Press the play button to see our video report, including chats with all the big names who attended the ceremony and more.
Norman Collier, best known for his ‘faulty microphone’ routine and his chicken impressions, has been in poor health and was making a very rare public appearance.
But he got one of the biggest laughs of the day when he joked: “When I first met Charlie - I thought he was Nelson Mandela.”
Barnsley Council and the Civic Theatre said the plaque, where he often performed, answered calls for a lasting tribute in the home town to Britain’s first well-known black stand-up comedian who died five years ago, aged 78.
Famed for his broad Yorkshire accent, Charlie, born in Royston, got the MBE for his tireless charity work and was recognised for breaking down racial barriers in entertainment and sport - he was also one of the first black players in British football after the Second World War.
But he is best remembered for his 1970s TV appearances as host of The Golden Shot and as one of The Comedians.
Duggie Brown revealed how the marvel of modern technology will see them back on stage together at the Grand Theatre in Blackpool this summer - on a show marking the 40th anniversary of The Comedians.
“There’s not many of us left. So the idea is to project footage from the show of comedians who have gone to the golden garter in the sky - so Charlie will be there, still making people laugh,” said Duggie, now living in Tickhill, Doncaster.
“I remember taking him to his first comedy job and he said he was planning to do it for three years. Thirty years on he was still entertaining people. And he was a perfect gentleman.”
Irish comedian Jimmy Cricket quipped: “Come closer. They’re unveiling my plaque later. I’m off to see my dentist.
“But seriously, Charlie was very special. He was the first black comedian who brought people together. He had two careers, as a footballer and then a stand-up comedian. And he did it with style.”
Comedian Billy Pearce said: “ I never saw Charlie being rude. He was a gent. A wonderful human being and people loved his personality. It’s wonderful.”
Last Of The Summer Wine and Coronation Street actress Jean Fergusson said: “I knew Charlie well. He was an inspiration. A comedy genius.”
Robin Colvill, of The Grumbleweeds, said: “He was a legend, alongside the likes of Tommy Cooper and Morecambe and Wise.”
Bernie Clifton, comedian and broadcaster, said: “Charlie was unique. He could go back on stage at the end of the night and do another hour. That was his nature.”
Musical director Mike Ryal added: “I once needed somebody to replace an act on a cruise and he came straight off the golf course to go do it. An amazing man. And his charity work inspired us all.”
Neil Crossland, of Stagewear Unlimited, invited all the stars and said: “Everyone who could make it turned up today. Entertainers in the business thought the world of him.”
The plaque - on an outside wall near the entrance to the Civic Theatre, in Eldon Street - was unveiled by Barnsley Mayor Coun Karen Dyson and Charlie’s widow Janice.
With his catchphrase below, it simply reads: “Charlie Williams MBE 1927-2006 performed here. A footballer, comedian and entertainer who never forgot his Barnsley roots. Hey up me old flower, in’t it a lovely day?”
Janice, accompanied by their son, Malford, said: “He was a genuine, happy man and he never changed, even at the height of his illness. This plaque is a great honour and he would have probably laughed as he said he deserved it.”