I just heard the sad news that Freddie Starr passed away today. Although I haven’t been in touch with Freddie since he left to live in Spain many years ago, he was instrumental in my achieving the success I was able to achieve. Freddie gave me my first real start on the road to success. This is a shortened extract from my forthcoming autobiography relating to my time with Freddie in which I share some of the stories I remember…
My manager had called to say he had a show for me in Eastbourne, supporting Freddie Starr. Freddie was already the stuff of legend by then; he was a unique, formidable act whether on TV or live as an impressionist and physical comedian. When he had that glint in his eye you knew that mayhem was not far behind. Audiences loved his unpredictability, and he constantly tried his hardest to shock them with his antics, both on- and offstage. I’d heard so many stories about Freddie that the prospect of working with him made me nervous and I had severe misgivings about doing the gig. Thank goodness I didn’t pay any heed!
A week later I was on the stage performing my act; it got to about halfway through my act and everything was fine, I almost believed I was going to get away with it when I heard someone laughing at the side of the stage. Panicked, I looked into the wings and there was Freddie Starr laughing so loudly I may as well have given him the mic because no one could hear me. I looked over imploringly at him hoping he might take pity but instead he gave me the thumbs-up and carried on laughing.
Freddie wasn’t laughing like a loon to put me off… he was laughing because he, king of comedy, thought I was funny! With that realisation my performance seemed to step up a gear and after I came off the stage I was invited to see Freddie in his dressing room. I felt extremely nervous, as he was at that time a major star, but straight away Freddie congratulated me on my performance and immediately offered me to support him on his forthcoming tour. I could not believe what I was hearing: I am being offered a 50-date tour. Not only did I tour with him, but I did all his summer seasons and any TV work where he required a guest over the next three years.
Yes, he did interrupt my act and yes, there were many funny stories that you’d never believe if I told you, but I must say that working with him was a fantastic experience, in which I learnt so much about comedy and performing. Working with Freddie was one of the biggest learning points in my professional life; my act, my character, my on-stage persona and my timing all improved a million per cent.
Some of the stories involving me are painfully true: some are apocryphal. My favourite that’s done the rounds is the time Freddie nailed my shoes to the floor, so that I couldn’t move and had to perform ‘The Fire Table Illusion’ in my stocking feet!
There was the time - and this is true - he introduced me as his guest act, then stood stock still next to me as I opened my act. I had to perform the whole of my ‘5 Card Repeat’ routine with him stood there, staring at me. It was intended to put me off but the audience certainly found it hilarious.
With all his comic gifts, it was a shame to see how the latter part of his life ended, and yes, he undoubtedly made some unfortunate choices in his eventful life. But I can only speak as I find. They say there are comics and there are comedians; a comedian tells funny stories and a comic tells stories funny. Freddie had funny bones - he had virtually no lines or gags at all, just pure, unadulterated fun and mayhem in his blood, and he would hold an audience for a full evening’s show with just him onstage. He could be annoying, spiteful, generous, sweet, thoughtful and nasty. In other words, he was human. But the funniest human I ever had the pleasure of working with.
© Wayne Dobson, May 2019