Jimmy James (comedian)

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Jimmy James
Comedian Jimmy James.jpg
Born James Casey
(1892-05-20)20 May 1892
England Portrack, Stockton-on-Tees, County Durham, England
Died 4 August 1965(1965-08-04) (aged 73)
Blackpool, Lancashire, England
Occupation Music hall, stage, film, radio and television comedian and comedy actor
Spouse(s) Isabelle Darby, son James Casey

Jimmy James (20 May 1892 – 4 August 1965)[1][2][3][4] was a music hall, film, radio and television comedian and comedy actor. James had limited use for jokes as such, preferring to say things in a humorous manner, sometimes in surreal situations and as such was seen by some as well ahead of his time. He was often hailed as a "comedians' comedian".[3][5]

Biographical details[edit]

Jimmy James was born James Casey on 20 May 1892, the eldest of four sons of Jeremiah Casey, an iron puddler or steelmaker,[2][6] and Polly Gartland.[1] Many sources state he was born in Portrack, Stockton-on-Tees,[1][4][5][7] although other sources consider that he was born in South Bank, Middlesbrough, and moved to Stockton-on-Tees at the age of seven in 1899.[2][6] At the age of ten he won a boy soprano contest at the Stockton Hippodrome and shortly afterwards ran away, hitching a ride to Darlington to join a travelling show.[6] The police located him a few years later at the age of twelve by which time he had become a seasoned performer.[6] His father, an amateur clog dancer himself, encouraged his son's show business talents.

At the Sunderland Empire James met Isabelle Darby, a music hall dancer and they married in 1921;[1][6] they had one son.

Although James appeared on stage as a convincing drunk, often with a cigar or cigarette in his mouth, he was teetotal[3][6][8] and did not smoke off stage.[2] His weaknesses were gambling and his famed generosity[2] which may account for his declared bankruptcies in 1936, 1955 and 1963.[6]

James was last on stage in 1964, retiring that year.[6] He died in Blackpool of pulmonary congestion on 4 August 1965[5][6] following a heart attack and is buried in Oxbridge Cemetery, Stockton-on-Tees.[1] Interviewed by Marty Feldman in the late 1960s, comedian Eric Morecambe spoke in glowing terms about James:

He had that thing that broke all barriers with an audience. He was loved by the pros – professionals – and loved by the audience. Now Jimmy had this fantastic gift, that he was liked and loved – this is an important word – was loved – by both. One of the few comedians that all the comics used to stand on the side and watch. One of the greats.[9]

Jimmy James's son James Casey (1922–2011)[10] was a light entertainment executive producer at the BBC producing shows such as The Clitheroe Kid for radio and television.


James began his stage career in 1904, joining Willy Netta's Singing Jockeys, a singing group, as "Terry, the blue-eyed Irish boy" with popular songs of the day[6] and gained experience with a number of other juvenile troupes.[1] In the First World War 1914 to 1918 James was a sergeant in the Northumberland Fusiliers but was invalided out after being gassed on the Western Front.[6]

James appeared in Stockton as a double act with his great uncle Jimmy Howells and they were known as The Two Jimmies.[11]

James became a comedian by chance. In 1925, he took over for one night at Longton, Staffordshire, standing in when the regular comedian walked out.[6] His next big break came when he took over from a young Max Miller who had walked out of a show.[6] In 1929, James was talent spotted at the Sunderland Empire by impresario George Black,[6] taken to London and by 1930 he was appearing at the London Palladium, earning £100 a week[2] and he also appeared at the London Coliseum.[6]

In the 1940s, James developed one of the funniest stage routines in variety history with his two stooges, Bretton Woods, later known as Eli Woods, "Our Eli", and Hutton Conyers, played by members of the Casey family and more famously from 1956 to 1959 by a young Roy Castle.[6] Eli Woods's real name was Jack Casey and he was James's nephew.[6] Bretton Woods was named after the ski resort near Mount Washington, New Hampshire, USA, that gave its name to a United Nations Monetary and Financial Conference resulting in the Bretton Woods Agreement during July 1944. James named the character of Hutton Conyers after seeing a signpost on the Great North Road to the small village of Hutton Conyers, north-east of Ripon in Yorkshire.[2][6]


In James's first film for Mancunian Films in 1950, he starred with Norman Evans in Over the Garden Wall with Evans playing the role of his wife.[12] His second film was Those People Next Door where he and Eli reprise James's drunk routine.


With his act James toured the musical halls, theatres and clubs around the country. He appeared at the Royal Variety Performance in 1953 and stole the show with his routine The Chipster—a lecture on the occupational hazards of preparing chips.[1]

While at Barnsley Catholic Club James found Bernard Manning an agent, who was able to find him a job as a singer with a band.[13]


In 1952, James starred on radio in Don't Spare the Horses[6][14][15] and later The Mayor's Parlour,[16][17] written by himself and Frank Roscoe.[16]


In 1956, James appeared on television in his own series, Home James,[4][6] and Meet the Champ in 1960 as a boxing promoter,[4][18] as well as making appearances in many TV programmes including the Billy Cotton Band Show, Northern Showground (1956), Showtime (1959–61), Comedy Bandbox (1962–63) and Saturday Bandbox (1962).[19]

James's main sketches[edit]

  • The drunk sketch—a variant of this appeared in the film Over the Garden Wall.
  • The shoebox or Elephant-in-the-box routine.[20]
  • The chipster sketch—a lecture on the occupational hazards of preparing chips.[6][20]



  1. ^ a b c d e f g Midwinter, Eric. Oxford Biography Index. Oxford University Press. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g "Let there be lights ... eventually". The Northern Echo. 19 April 2001. Retrieved 24 January 2009. [dead link]
  3. ^ a b c "Mancunian Film Studio - Biographies of the Stars". It's A Hot'un. Archived from the original on 18 January 2009. Retrieved 24 January 2009. 
  4. ^ a b c d "Radio and TV Personalities I and J". swalwell.co.uk. Retrieved 24 January 2009. 
  5. ^ a b c "James, Jimmy". British Film Institute Film & Television Database. Retrieved 24 January 2009. 
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u Woodcock, Roger (2 May 2004). "Star adored by legends". Sunday Sun. Archived from the original on 7 August 2011. Retrieved 25 March 2009. 
  7. ^ "Biography for Jimmy James". IMDB. Retrieved 24 January 2009. 
  8. ^ a b "Jimmy James (I)". IMDB. Retrieved 24 January 2009. 
  9. ^ Eric Morecambe interview with Marty Feldman, excerpted in A History of British Comedy, narrated by David Mitchell, BBC2 , 2013)
  10. ^ Young, Cy (26 May 2011). "James Casey: Comedian, writer and producer who created 'The Clitheroe Kid' and discovered Ken Dodd". The Independent. Retrieved 28 May 2011. 
  11. ^ North, John (22 July 2004). "One woman army of Alcatraz". Darlington & Stockton Times. Archived from the original on 27 September 2007. Retrieved 24 January 2009. 
  12. ^ "Over the Garden Wall (1950)". IMDb. Retrieved 30 October 2010. 
  13. ^ Margolis, Jonathan (19 June 2007). "Obituaries: Bernard Manning". The Independent. Archived from the original on 13 February 2009. Retrieved 24 January 2009. 
  14. ^ "Biography of Spike Milligan". telegoons.org. Archived from the original on 22 December 2009. Retrieved 24 January 2009. 
  15. ^ Jarron, Matthew. "Jazzy's Spike Page". Dundee. Archived from the original on 23 September 2008. Retrieved 24 January 2009. 
  16. ^ a b "Jimmy Clitheroe". The Jimmy Clitheroe Website. Retrieved 24 January 2009. 
  17. ^ "Manchester Celebrities, Television, Film, Media & Broadcasting". Manchester UK. Retrieved 24 January 2009. 
  18. ^ George, Gerry. "1950's British TV Memories". Whirligig TV. Retrieved 24 January 2009. ; "Meet the Champ". British TV Resources. Retrieved 24 January 2009. ; "Meet the Champ (TV Series 1960)". IMDb. Retrieved 30 October 2010. 
  19. ^ "Lost UK TV Shows". Lost Shows.com. Retrieved 24 January 2009. 
  20. ^ a b "The Box Sketch... Jimmy James". Monologues. Retrieved 25 May 2009. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Midwinter, Eric; Make 'em Laugh (1979); Allen & Unwin - essays on famous comedians of the time.
Web links