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Harry Secombe

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Harry Secombe
Harry Donald Secombe

(1921-09-08)8 September 1921
St. Thomas, Wales
Died11 April 2001(2001-04-11) (aged 79)
Guildford, Surrey, England
Resting placeChrist Church, Shamley Green, Surrey, England
EducationDynevor School, Swansea
  • Actor
  • comedian
  • singer
  • presenter
Years active1946–2001
TelevisionThe Goon Show (Radio)
The Harry Secombe Show, Secombe and Friends, Highway
Sunday Morning with Secombe
Myra Atherton
(m. 1948)
Children4; including Andy
RelativesFred Secombe (brother)

Sir Harry Donald Secombe CBE (8 September 1921 – 11 April 2001) was a Welsh actor, comedian, singer and television presenter. Secombe was a member of the British radio comedy programme The Goon Show (1951–1960), playing many characters, most notably Neddie Seagoon. An accomplished tenor, he also appeared in musicals and films – notably as Mr Bumble in Oliver! (1968) – and, in his later years, was a presenter of television shows incorporating hymns and other devotional songs.

Early life[edit]

Secombe was born in St Thomas, Swansea, the third of four children of Nellie Jane Gladys (née Davies), a shop manageress, and Frederick Ernest Secombe, a commercial traveller and office worker for a Swansea wholesale grocery business.[1][2][3] From the age of 11 he attended Dynevor School, a state grammar school in central Swansea.

His family were regular churchgoers, belonging to the congregation of St Thomas Church. A member of the choir, from the age of 12 Secombe would perform a sketch entitled The Welsh Courtship at church socials, acting as "feed" to his sister Carol. His elder brother, Fred Secombe,[4] became the author of several books about his experiences as an Anglican priest and rector.

Army service[edit]

After leaving school in 1937, Secombe became a pay clerk at Baldwin's store. With war looming, he decided in 1938 that he would join the Territorial Army. Very short sighted, he got a friend to tell him the sight test, and then learnt it by heart. He served as a Lance Bombardier in No.132 Field Regiment of the Royal Artillery.[5] He referred to the unit in which he served during the Second World War in the North African Campaign, Sicily, and Italy, as "The Five-Mile Snipers". While in North Africa Secombe met Spike Milligan for the first time.[6] In Sicily he joined a concert party and developed his own comedy routines to entertain the troops.

When Secombe visited the Falkland Islands to entertain the troops after the 1982 Falklands War, his old regiment promoted him to the rank of sergeant – 37 years after he had been demobbed.[7]

As an entertainer[edit]

He made his first radio broadcast in May 1944 on a variety show aimed at the military services. Following the end of fighting in the war but prior to demobilisation, Secombe joined a pool of entertainers in Naples and formed a comedy duo with Spike Milligan.[6]

Secombe joined the cast of the Windmill Theatre in 1946, using a routine he had developed in Italy about how people shaved.[5] An early review said that Secombe was "an original humorist of the infectious type and is very funny in a series showing how different men shave and in an impression of a vocalist."[8] Secombe always claimed that his ability to sing could always be counted on to save him when he bombed.

After a regional touring career, his first break came in radio in 1951 when he was chosen as resident comedian for the Welsh series Welsh Rarebit,[9] followed by appearances on Variety Bandbox and a regular role in Educating Archie.

Secombe met Michael Bentine at the Windmill Theatre, and he was introduced to Peter Sellers by his agent Jimmy Grafton. Together with Spike Milligan, the four wrote a comedy radio script, and Those Crazy People was commissioned[10] and first broadcast on 28 May 1951. Produced by Dennis Main Wilson, this soon became The Goon Show and the show remained on the air until 1960.[5][11] Secombe mainly played Neddie Seagoon, around whom the show's absurd plots developed.[7] In 1955, whilst appearing on The Goon Show, Secombe was approached by the BBC to step in at short notice to take the lead in the radio comedy Hancock's Half Hour.[12] The star of the show, Tony Hancock, had decided to take an unannounced break abroad, on the day before the live airing of the second season. Secombe appeared in the lead for the first three episodes and had a guest role in the fourth after Hancock's return. All four episodes are lost, but following the discovery of the original scripts, the episodes were rerecorded in 2017, with his son, Andrew Secombe performing the role held by his late father.[12][13]

With the success of The Goon Show, Secombe developed a dual career as both a comedy actor and a singer. At the beginning of his career as an entertainer, his act would end with a joke version of the duet Sweethearts, in which he sang both the baritone and falsetto parts. Trained under Italian maestro Manlio di Veroli, he emerged as a bel canto tenor (characteristically, he insisted that in his case this meant "can belto") and had a long list of best-selling record albums to his credit.[7]

In 1958 he appeared in the film Jet Storm, which starred Dame Sybil Thorndike and Richard Attenborough and in the same year Secombe starred in the title role in Davy, one of Ealing Studios' last films.[7]

The power of his voice allowed Secombe to appear in many stage musicals. This included 1963's Pickwick, based on Charles Dickens's The Pickwick Papers, which gave him the no. 18 hit single "If I Ruled the World" – his later signature tune. In 1965 the show was produced on tour in the United States, where, on Broadway, he garnered a nomination for a Tony Award for Best Actor in a Musical.[7] Secombe scored his biggest hit single in 1967 with his version of "This Is My Song", which peaked at no. 2 on the charts in March 1967 while a recording by Petula Clark, which had hit no. 1 in February, was still in the top ten. He also appeared in the musical The Four Musketeers (1967) at Drury Lane,[5] as Mr. Bumble in Carol Reed's film of Oliver! (1968),[14] and in the Envy segment of The Magnificent Seven Deadly Sins (1971).

He went on to star in his own television show, The Harry Secombe Show, which debuted on Christmas Day 1968 on BBC1 and ran for 31 episodes until 1973. A sketch comedy show featuring Julian Orchard as Secombe's regular sidekick, the series also featured guest appearances by fellow Goon Spike Milligan as well as leading performers such as Ronnie Barker and Arthur Lowe. Secombe later starred in similar vehicles such as Sing a Song of Secombe and ITV's Secombe with Music during the 1970s.[15]

Later career[edit]

Later in life, Secombe (whose brother Fred Secombe was a priest in the Church in Wales, part of the Anglican Communion) attracted new audiences as a presenter of religious programmes, such as the BBC's Songs of Praise and ITV's Stars on Sunday and Highway. He was also a special programming consultant to Harlech Television[16] and hosted a Thames Television programme in 1979 entitled Cross on the Donkey's Back. In the latter half of the 1980s, Secombe personally sponsored a football team for boys aged 9–11 in the local West Sutton Little League, 'Secombes Knights'.

In 1990, he was one of a few to be honoured by a second appearance on This Is Your Life, when he was surprised by Michael Aspel at a book signing in a London branch of WH Smith. Secombe had been a subject of the show previously in March 1958 when Eamonn Andrews surprised him at the BBC Television Theatre.[17]


A blue plaque commemorating Secombe.

In 1963 he was appointed a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE).[6]

He was knighted in 1981,[18] and jokingly referred to himself as Sir Cumference (in recognition of his rotund figure). The motto he chose for his coat of arms was "GO ON", a reference to goon.[19]

Later life and death[edit]

Secombe had peritonitis in 1980. Within two years, taking advice from doctors, he had lost five stone in weight.[20] He had a stroke in 1997 and his colon burst, from which he made a slow recovery. He was then diagnosed with prostate cancer in September 1998. Following a second stroke in 1999, he was forced to abandon his television career, but made a documentary about his condition in the hope of giving encouragement to others with the condition.[21] Secombe had diabetes in the latter part of his life.[22]

Secombe died on 11 April 2001 at the age of 79, from prostate cancer, in hospital in Guildford, Surrey.[23] His ashes are interred at the parish church of Shamley Green, and a later memorial service to celebrate his life was held at Westminster Abbey on 26 October 2001. As well as family members and friends, the service was attended by Charles, Prince of Wales and representatives of Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, Anne, Princess Royal, Princess Margaret, Countess of Snowdon and Prince Edward, Duke of Kent. On his tombstone is the inscription: "To know him was to love him."

At Peter Sellers's funeral in 1980, Secombe sang a hymn and Spike Milligan joked: "I hope you die before me because I don't want you singing at my funeral." After Milligan's death in 2002, a recording of Secombe singing Guide me, O Thou great Redeemer was played at Milligan's memorial service.[24]

The Secombe Theatre in Sutton, Greater London, was named after him. He is also fondly remembered at the London Welsh Centre, where he opened the bar on St Patrick's Day (17 March) 1971.[25]


Secombe met Myra Joan Atherton at the Mumbles Dance Hall in 1946. The couple were married from 1948 until his death, and had four children:

  • Jennifer Secombe (died 2019),[26] widow of actor Alex Giannini. She was her father's agent in his later years.
  • Andy Secombe, a voice actor, film actor and author
  • David Secombe, a writer and photographer
  • Katy Secombe, an actress[27]

Myra, Lady Secombe died on 7 February 2018, aged 93.[28][29]

Selected works[edit]



  • Sacred Songs (1962) UK #16
  • Pickwick (Original Cast Album) (1965)
  • Secombe's Personal Choice (1967) UK #6
  • If I Ruled the World (1971) UK #17
  • The Magnificent Voice of Harry Secombe (1972) AUS #14[31]
  • With a Song In My Heart (1977) AUS #24[31]
  • Captain Beaky and His Band (1977)[32]
  • Bless This House: 20 Songs of Joy (1978) UK #8, AUS #28[31]
  • This Is My Song (1983) AUS #9[31]
  • All Things Bring and Beautiful (1983) AUS #31[31]
  • Songs for Everyone (1986) AUS #43[31]
  • Highway of Life (1986) UK #45
  • Count Your Blessings (1988) AUS #93[31]
  • Your Sincerely (1991) UK #46[33][34]



  • Twice Brightly (1974) Robson Books ISBN 0903895234
  • Welsh Fargo (1981) Robson Books ISBN 0903895870



Partial filmography[edit]

Year Title Role Director Co-stars Notes
1949 Helter Skelter Alf Ralph Thomas Uncredited
1951 Penny Points to Paradise Harry Flakers Tony Young
1952 Down Among the Z Men Harry Jones Maclean Rogers
1953 Forces' Sweetheart Harry Llewellyn Maclean Rogers
1954 Svengali Barizel Noel Langley Hildegard Knef, Donald Wolfit, Terence Morgan
1957 Davy Davy Morgan Michael Relph Ron Randell, Susan Shaw, Alexander Knox
1959 Jet Storm Binky Meadows Cy Endfield Richard Attenborough, Stanley Baker
1968 Oliver! Mr. Bumble Carol Reed
1969 The Bed Sitting Room Shelter Man Richard Lester
1969 Pickwick Mr. Pickwick Terry Hughes Roy Castle, Hattie Jacques
1970 Doctor in Trouble Llewellyn Wendover Ralph Thomas
1970 Song of Norway Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson Andrew L. Stone
1971 The Magnificent Seven Deadly Sins Stanley Graham Stark (segment "Envy")
1972 Sunstruck Stanley Evans James Gilbert


  1. ^ "Sir Harry Secombe". Archived from the original on 29 July 2012. Retrieved 2 March 2009.
  2. ^ Secombe, Harry (1989). Arias & raspberries: the autobiography of Harry Secombe. 'The raspberry years'., Volume 1. Robson. p. 14. ISBN 0-86051-624-5.
  3. ^ Gale, Steven H. (1995). Encyclopedia of British humorists. Taylor & Francis. p. 926. ISBN 0-8240-5990-5.
  4. ^ Alleyne, Richard (21 April 2001). "Flowers and fond farewells for Sir Harry".
  5. ^ a b c d "Sir Harry Secombe". www.telegraph.co.uk. 12 April 2001.
  6. ^ a b c "Celebrity Biographies - Harry Secombe". Archived from the original on 10 November 2013. Retrieved 10 November 2013.
  7. ^ a b c d e "Sir Harry Secombe". Archived from the original on 29 July 2012. Retrieved 2 March 2009.
  8. ^ "The Stage". The Stage: 3. 10 October 1946.
  9. ^ "Nottingham Evening Post". Nottingham Evening Post: 2. 5 April 1951.
  10. ^ "Comedy The Goon Show", BBC website
  11. ^ Foster, Andy; Furst, Steve (1996). Radio Comedy 1938-1968. Virgin. p. 147. ISBN 0-86369-960-X.
  12. ^ a b "Andrew Secombe cast in his father's role in new episodes of BBC Radio 4's The Missing Hancocks". BBC Media Centre. Retrieved 29 March 2017.
  13. ^ Armstrong, Stephen (14 March 2017). "How Radio 4 is bringing Tony Hancock back to life". Radio Times. Retrieved 29 March 2017.
  14. ^ "Obituary: Harry Secombe". the Guardian. 12 April 2001. Retrieved 6 December 2022.
  15. ^ Jack Kibble-White & Steve Williams, The Encyclopedia of Classic Saturday Night Telly, London: 2007, pp 158–9
  16. ^ "Sir Harry Secombe dies". The Guardian. 11 April 2001. Retrieved 4 June 2006.
  17. ^ "Welsh Icons News | Harry Secombe". welshicons.org. Retrieved 22 June 2023.
  18. ^ Staff and agencies (11 April 2001). "Sir Harry Secombe dies". TheGuardian.com.
  19. ^ "The Order of the British Empire". College of Arms. Retrieved 7 March 2024.
  20. ^ The Unforgettable
  21. ^ "Television Heaven: Harry Secombe". Archived from the original on 18 November 2005. Retrieved 12 February 2006.
  22. ^ "BBC News | Entertainment | Secombe bows out of limelight". news.bbc.co.uk. Retrieved 6 December 2022.
  23. ^ Thomas Penny (12 April 2001). "Goon star Sir Harry Secombe dies aged 79". The Daily Telegraph.
  24. ^ Jeffery, Simon (24 June 2002). "Sir Harry gets last laugh at Milligan memorial". The Guardian. Retrieved 29 January 2023.
  25. ^ "History: London Welsh Centre". London Welsh Centre website. London Welsh Centre. 2009. Archived from the original on 18 February 2015. Retrieved 4 February 2011.
  26. ^ Stock, Sam Secombe (2 September 2019). "Jennifer Secombe obituary". the Guardian.
  27. ^ "'Dad would have loved this show' West End star Katy Secombe is starring in Harry Hill's new X Factor spoof in theWest End. Karen Price quizzes her about the reality TV series, performing for Simon Cowell and following in her famous father's footsteps. - Free Online Library". www.thefreelibrary.com. Retrieved 6 December 2022.
  28. ^ Perkins, Liz (21 February 2018). "Comedy legend Sir Harry Secombe's widow has died". WalesOnline.
  29. ^ https://www.pressreader.com/uk/western-mail/20180222/281749859835836 – via PressReader. {{cite web}}: Missing or empty |title= (help)
  30. ^ Guinness Book of British Hit Singles, 7th ed., 1989
  31. ^ a b c d e f g Kent, David (1993). Australian Chart Book 1970–1992 (illustrated ed.). St Ives, N.S.W.: Australian Chart Book. p. 267. ISBN 0-646-11917-6.
  32. ^ "Captain Beaky - Beaky Happenings!". Archived from the original on 8 June 2007. Retrieved 15 May 2007.
  33. ^ "Harry Secombe". Official Charts. Retrieved 19 June 2020.
  34. ^ Guinness Book of British Hit Albums 1st ed., 1983 ISBN 0-85112-246-9

External links[edit]