Jimmy James (comedian)
20 May 1892
Portrack, Stockton-on-Tees, County Durham, England
|Died||4 August 1965
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) was a music hall, film, radio and television comedian and comedy actor. Jimmy 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".
Jimmy James was born James Casey on 20 May 1892, the eldest of four sons of Jeremiah Casey, an iron puddler or steelmaker, and Polly Gartland. Many sources state he was born in Portrack, Stockton-on-Tees, 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. 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. The police located him a few years later at the age of twelve by which time he had become a seasoned performer. His father, an amateur clog dancer himself, encouraged his son's show business talents.
At the Sunderland Empire Jimmy met Isabelle Darby, a music hall dancer and they married in 1921; they had one son. Although Jimmy appeared on stage as a convincing drunk, often with a cigar or cigarette in his mouth, he was teetotal and did not smoke off stage. His weaknesses were gambling and his famed generosity which may account for his declared bankruptcies in 1936, 1955 and 1963. Jimmy was last on stage in 1964, retiring that year. He died in Blackpool of pulmonary congestion on 4 August 1965 following a heart attack and is buried in Oxbridge Cemetery, Stockton-on-Tees. 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." 
Jimmy 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 and gained experience with a number of other juvenile troupes. In the First World War 1914 to 1918 Jimmy was a sergeant in the Northumberland Fusiliers but was invalided out after being gassed on the Western Front. Jimmy appeared in Stockton as a double act with his great uncle Jimmy Howells and they were known as the Two Jimmies.
Jimmy became a comedian by chance. In 1925 he took over for one night at Longton in Staffordshire standing in when the regular comedian walked out. His next big break came when he took over from a young Max Miller who had walked out of a show. In 1929 Jimmy was talent spotted at the Sunderland Empire by impresario George Black, taken to London and by 1930 he was appearing at the London Palladium, earning £100 a week and he also appeared at the London Coliseum. In the '40s Jimmy 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. Eli Woods's real name was Jack Casey and he was Jimmy James's nephew. 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. Jimmy 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.
In Jimmy'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. His second film was Those People Next Door where he and Eli reprise James’s drunk routine.
With his act Jimmy toured the musical halls, theatres and clubs around the country. Jimmy 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. While at Barnsley Catholic Club Jimmy found Bernard Manning an agent, who was able to find him a job as a singer with a band.
In 1956 Jimmy appeared on television in his own series, Home James, and Meet the Champ in 1960 as a boxing promoter, 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).
Jimmy's main sketches
- The shoebox or elephant-in-the-box routine
- The chipster sketch—a lecture on the occupational hazards of preparing chips.
- Midwinter, Eric. Oxford Biography Index. Oxford University Press.
- "Let there be lights ... eventually". The Northern Echo. 19 April 2001. Retrieved 24 January 2009.
- "Mancunian Film Studio - Biographies of the Stars". It's A Hot'un. Retrieved 24 January 2009.
- "Radio and TV Personalities I and J". swalwell.co.uk. Retrieved 24 January 2009.
- "James, Jimmy". British Film Institute Film & Television Database. Retrieved 24 January 2009.
- Woodcock, Roger (2 May 2004). "Star adored by legends". Sunday Sun. Retrieved 25 March 2009.
- "Biography for Jimmy James". IMDB. Retrieved 24 January 2009.
- "Jimmy James (I)". IMDB. Retrieved 24 January 2009.
- Eric Morcambe interview with Marty Feldman, excerpted in A History of British Comedy, narrated by David Mitchell, BBC2 , 2013)
- 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.
- North, John (22 July 2004). "One woman army of Alcatraz". Darlington & Stockton Times. Retrieved 24 January 2009.
- "Over the Garden Wall (1950)". IMDb. Retrieved 30 October 2010.
- Margolis, Jonathan (19 June 2007). "Obituaries: Bernard Manning". The Independent. Retrieved 24 January 2009.
- "Biography of Spike Milligan". telegoons.org. Retrieved 24 January 2009.
- Jarron, Matthew. "Jazzy's Spike Page". Dundee. Retrieved 24 January 2009.
- "Jimmy Clitheroe". The Jimmy Clitheroe Website. Retrieved 24 January 2009.
- "Manchester Celebrities, Television, Film, Media & Broadcasting". Manchester UK. Retrieved 24 January 2009.
- 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.
- "Lost UK TV Shows". Lost Shows.com. Retrieved 24 January 2009.
- Video on YouTube
- an early version is on Video on YouTube. Roy Castle also performed a version (Video on YouTube)
- Midwinter, Eric; Make 'em Laugh (1979); Allen & Unwin - essays on famous comedians of the time
- Web links