James Robinson Clitheroe
24 December 1921
Clitheroe, Lancashire, England
|Died||6 June 1973 (aged 51)|
Blackpool, Lancashire, England
|Cause of death||Accidental overdose of sleeping tablets|
|Resting place||Carleton Crematorium and Cemetery, Blackpool, Lancashire, England|
|Occupation||Comedian, actor, musician|
|Height||4 ft 2 in (1.27 m)|
|Parent(s)||James Robert Clitheroe. Emma (Pye) Clitheroe.|
Jimmy Clitheroe was born in Clitheroe, Lancashire, England on Christmas Eve 1921 at 58 Wilkin Street (now called Highfield Road), to weavers Emma Pye and James Robert Clitheroe, who had married in 1918. He was born at his maternal grandparents' home. His childhood was spent in the mill village of Blacko, near Nelson, living at 14 Spout Houses, a row of terrace houses below Blacko Tower. He attended the Council School up to the age of 12, when he transferred to Barrowford Board School for his final two years (in an era when education was compulsory only up to the age of 14).
According to newspapers in 1938, at the age of 16 he was 3 ft 6½ ins. His father was over 6 ft tall but Jimmy never grew any taller than 4 ft 2in — about average for an eight or nine year old boy. His small size was thought to be caused by his thyroid gland being damaged at birth during a forceps delivery and, until later life, he could easily pass for an 11-year-old, which was the character he played on stage, in his early films, and on radio and television.
Being unable to work in the weaving sheds with his parents, as he was too short to reach the looms, Clitheroe worked for a time in a bakery in Nelson, but was also touring the variety theatres in Yorkshire and Lancashire from 1937 as a boy accordionist, and also played the xylophone and saxophone. Later, he bought a caravan to live in whilst touring the various towns in whose theatres he appeared. He made his first pantomime appearance in 1938, alongside the bumptious "Two Ton" Tessie O'Shea. In pantomime he was usually cast as Buttons, Tom Thumb, or Wishee Washee. He moved into films from 1940 (thanks to a chance meeting with top of the bill stars Arthur Lucan and Kitty McShane) and radio from 1954 (initially on the BBC's regional Home Service North, and subsequently on the nationwide BBC Light Programme, then television (with ITV, produced by ABC Television in their Manchester studios) from 1963.
During the 1940s, Clitheroe appeared in pantomime and summer season dates, and in films, with stars of the day including Arthur Lucan (as Old Mother Riley), George Formby, Vera Lynn, and Frank Randle. In 1959, Clitheroe was invited to take part in the Royal Command variety show, in the presence of the Queen Mother.
His long-running radio programme on the BBC, The Clitheroe Kid, was broadcast from 1956 until August 1972. His catchphrase was "Don't some mothers 'ave 'em!" Two versions of the radio series were produced for television on the ITV network: That's My Boy! (which ran for seven episodes in 1963), and Just Jimmy (which ran for 5 years, between 1964–68). Mollie Sugden, who had worked with Clitheroe in his stage shows, played his mother in the latter series.
Clitheroe owned a bookmaker's shop on Springfield Road, Blackpool, and the Fernhill Hotel at Preesall. He appeared on the Blackpool stage for many years, from 1936 until 1971. In September 1972 The Clitheroe Kid was cancelled by the BBC after a 16-year run.
From 1960 onwards, Clitheroe lived with his mother, to whom he was devoted, in a bungalow, 118 Bispham Road in Blackpool. His father had died on 9 January 1951, from complications arising from injuries sustained in the First World War. Jimmy was godfather to co-star Diana Day's daughter. She named her son James after him. Clitheroe himself never married.
For many years he drove a Mercedes car, with blocks on the pedals, adapted by mechanic Michael Darbyshire so that his feet could reach them. Appearing to be an underage driver, he could seldom complete a journey without attracting the attention of the police.
Illness and death
On 30 March 1973, Clitheroe collapsed in his hotel room in Plymouth, while touring in a variety show, and spent four days in hospital.
Jimmy Clitheroe died on 6 June 1973 from an accidental overdose of sleeping pills, combined with seven brandies, on the day of his mother's funeral. He was found unconscious in bed by relatives, and died later that day in hospital in Blackpool. His mother had died five days before, aged 84. His funeral was held at Carleton Crematorium, Blackpool, on 11 June 1973, where for many years he was commemorated by a plaque attached to memorial tree Number 3. Over 300 people attended.
- Old Mother Riley in Society (1940) with Lucan and McShane – as Boots
- Much Too Shy (1942) with George Formby – as Jimmy
- Rhythm Serenade (1943) with Dame Vera Lynn – as Joey
- Somewhere in Politics (1948) with Frank Randle – as Sonny
- School for Randle (1949) with Frank Randle – as Jimmy
- Stars in Your Eyes (1956) with Nat Jackley – as Joey
- Jules Verne's Rocket to the Moon (1967) with Burl Ives – as General Tom Thumb
- JIMMY CLITHEROE Popular radio entertainer. The Times Thursday, 7 June 1973; pg. 21; Issue 58802
- Gill Johnson (17 May 2007). "Research reveals life of 'Clitheroe Kid'". Lancashire Telegraph. Newquest. Retrieved 24 September 2015.
- "Famous Blackpool Entertainers - Famous Blackpool Entertainers". Blackpoolpostcards.co.uk. Retrieved 4 September 2020.
- "Lancashire Lantern community history – East Lancashire Regiment". Lancs-local-resources.talis.com. 30 March 1917. Archived from the original on 23 July 2012. Retrieved 4 July 2012.
- Glynne-Jones, Tim (2014). Born in the 60s. Arcturus Publishing. ISBN 978-1-90940-978-1.
- "Research reveals life of 'Clitheroe Kid'". Lancashire Telegraph. Retrieved 4 September 2020.
- "Google Groups". Groups.google.com. Retrieved 4 September 2020.
- Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.
- "Lives and Times: Mollie Sugden". Teletronic.co.uk. 2004. Retrieved 30 June 2020.
- [dead link]
- "Tragic end of Blackpool comic genius". Blackpool Gazette. 2 May 2008. Retrieved 24 September 2015.
- Stevens, Christopher (2010). Born Brilliant: The Life Of Kenneth Williams. John Murray. pp. 412/3. ISBN 1-84854-195-3.
- Newcastle Journal - 12 June 1973
- Rhythm Serenade at the Internet Movie DataBase
- Jimmy Clitheroe at IMDb
- Jimmy Clitheroe in the BBC Genome
- 'The Clitheroe Kid' in the BBC Genome
- Stephen Poppitt's Jimmy Clitheroe website (founded in 2001), originally at JimmyClitheroe.co.uk
- Jimmy Clitheroe website (archived version) (2012)
- Jimmy Clitheroe's ITV television shows at Uncle Earl's Classic TV Channel