Charlie Williams (comedian)

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This article is about the British comedian. For other people called Charles or Charlie Williams, see Charles Williams.
Charlie Williams appearing on The Comedians in the 1970s.

Charles Adolphus Williams MBE (23 December 1927—2 September 2006) was a mixed-race English professional footballer (one of the first black players in British football after the Second World War[1]), and later became Britain's first well-known black stand-up comedian.[2]

He became famous from his appearances on Granada Television's The Comedians and ATV's The Golden Shot, delivering his catchphrase, "me old flower" in his broad Yorkshire accent.

Early life and football career[edit]

Charlie Williams
Personal information
Full name Charles Adolphus Williams
Date of birth (1927-12-23)23 December 1927
Place of birth Royston, near Barnsley, Yorkshire, England
Date of death 2 September 2006(2006-09-02) (aged 78)
Playing position Centre half
Youth career
Upton Colliery
Senior career*
Years Team Apps (Gls)
1948–1959 Doncaster Rovers 151 (1)
1959–196? Skegness Town
* Senior club appearances and goals counted for the domestic league only.
† Appearances (Goals).

Williams was born in Royston, a small mining village near Barnsley, West Riding of Yorkshire. His father, also Charles, had come to England in 1914 from Barbados,[1][2][3] and enlisted in the Royal Engineers.[2][3]

After the First World War, his father settled in Royston, where he sold groceries from a horse and cart, and married a local girl, Frances Cook. His father had been forced to give up his job as a greengrocer as a result of trench foot acquired in France, and depended on National Assistance.[3]

After leaving school aged 14, Williams worked at Upton Colliery during the Second World War, a reserved occupation. He played football for the colliery team, before turning professional, and signing for Doncaster Rovers in 1948, aged 19. A centre-half, he played for the first team in 1950, but then remained in the reserves until 1955, when he became an established first team player for four years.

He played 171 times for Rovers in total, but scored only one goal, in a Second Division game away to Barnsley on 24 March 1956.[2][3] In his own words, "I was never a fancy player, but I could stop them buggers that were."[2][3] He ended his career with Skegness Town[4] in the Midland League.

He married twice. He was first married to Audrey Crump on April Fool's Day, 1 April 1957. They had two children. He later married a second time, to Janice, who survived him.

Showbusiness career[edit]

You have to understand that was perfect for the time that he appeared. It was a brilliant thing, this black Yorkshireman who played football with Doncaster Rovers, who'd had the wartime experience of white Yorkshire people, who talked like them, who thought like them, but who just happened to be black. And when he came along it was astounding to hear this bloke talking like "Eh up, flower, eh. Hey, have you ever been to supermarket where they have the broken biscuits?". I think it was a huge culture shock for people. And Charlie exploited this to the full.

Lenny Henry in Windrush - The Irresistible Rise of Multiracial Britain[5]

Following his retirement from the game in 1959, Williams tried his hand as a singer in local working men's clubs, but it was his comic chat between the songs that was best received, so he decided to move into comedy full-time. He eventually became Britain's first well-known black television comedian.[1][3] He came to prominence from 1971, when he began appearing regularly on The Comedians. The show broadcast stand-up routines from relatively unknown but often very experienced club comedians, including Frank Carson, Mike Reid and Bernard Manning. The novel combination of a black man with a Yorkshire accent and his first-hand experience of life in the British working class made him unmistakable.

Williams' comedy was often at his own expense, and particularly his colour. He used to respond to heckling by saying: "If you don't shut up, I'll come and move in next door to you".[1][2][3][6] Like other popular comedians of his era, his comedy included jokes about "Pakis" and "coons".[3] His reinforcement of his audience's prejudices and negative race stereotypes was perhaps a necessary product of the environment and time in which his career began, typified by a resurgent National Front, a minstrelsy variety show in the form of The Black and White Minstrel Show on the BBC, and the sitcom Love Thy Neighbour, in which he appeared as himself in one of the episodes, which were made by Thames Television for the National ITV network. Nevertheless, he was a role model for a new generation of British black comedians, such as Lenny Henry and Gary Wilmot,[7] growing up in the 1970s, when almost all others were white. Broadcaster Dotun Adebayo wrote a 2012 play Skinteeth on the theme of Williams' comedy perpetuating 1970s stereotypes of black people.[8]

He reached the pinnacle of his comedy career in the early 1970s. In 1972, he spent a six-month season at the London Palladium; presented his own show, It's Charlie Williams, on Granada Television; appeared on This Is Your Life when he was surprised by Eamonn Andrews at the Batley Variety Club; and appeared at the Royal Variety Performance. In 1973, he presented a one-off special Charlie Williams Show on BBC2,[9] and published an autobiography, Ee-I've Had Some Laughs. He was popular enough at this time to be featured as the star of his own one page comic strip in IPC's Shiver and Shake comic at this time. He was also the host of ATV's popular game show The Golden Shot for a six-month period from late 1973 to early 1974, although he often struggled to hold together this fast moving live show, and it ultimately had a detrimental effect on his career.

In 1976, Williams toured Rhodesia, and appeared before audiences at packed nightclubs in Salisbury. At that time the white minority rule government of Rhodesia had unilaterally declared independence from Britain, which had severed all ties with the Rhodesian government.[10]

By the late 1970s and early 1980s, his brand of humour was becoming old-fashioned, and his career declined. He caused offence to some, and praised by others, for defending the Robertson's Golliwog trade mark, and for saying that immigrants to the United Kingdom should conform to the British way of life.[2][3]

He retired after a final tour in 1995.

Later life[edit]

Williams became a Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) in 1999 for his charity work. He was given a lifetime achievement award at the Black Comedy Awards in 2000, where it was recognised that he had "broken down barriers".[2] In 2004, he was voted Doncaster Rovers' "all-time cult hero" by viewers of the BBC's Football Focus programme.[11]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d Obituary, The Guardian, 4 September 2006.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h Obituary, The Times, 4 September 2006.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i Obituary, The Daily Telegraph, 4 September 2006.
  4. ^ Brown, Neil. "Doncaster Rovers player details". Retrieved 21 October 2010. 
  5. ^ Mike Phillips; Trevor Phillips (1998). Windrush - The Irresistible Rise of Multiracial Britain. Harper-Collins. ISBN 0-00-653039-7. 
  6. ^ Obituary, The Independent, 4 September 2006.
  7. ^ "Comic Charlie Williams dies at 78". BBC News. 3 September 2006. 
  8. ^ 'Skinteeth' a new play starring Dotun Adebayo
  9. ^ The Charlie Williams Show from the BBC Guide to Comedy.
  10. ^ "Rhodesia 1976". October 31, 2011. 
  11. ^ "Doncaster's cult heroes". BBC Sport. 16 September 2004. 

External links[edit]