Obituary: Willy Millowitsch

NO EUROPEAN city is so closely associated with an annual extravaganza of organised hilarity as Cologne with its carnival. Famous and notorious in equal measure, the event divides Germans into those who revel in the costumes, hearty humour, and beer on offer, and those who regard it as irredeemably vulgar and indicative of everything that is wrong with German popular culture. The one person who has been seen as an embodiment of this cocky cheeriness was the comic actor Willy Millowitsch.

Millowitsch was born in Cologne in 1909 and came from a long theatrical tradition: his great-grandfather sang popular ballads and his father acted in dialect plays. His mother came from Vienna, thus imparting to the boy the heritage of both cities and two of the most famous comic traditions in German-speaking Europe. He grew up in the theatre, and his first role was at the age of five, as a goblin.

A self-taught actor, Millowitsch led a Cologne theatre and spent the Second World War entertaining the German soldiers. His big break in the then nascent medium of television came in 1953, when his company had to substitute at short notice for a sports programme which could not be screened. He chose to appear in one of his staple roles, in the play Etappenhasen, which he went on to perform more than a thousand times in front of an adoring public.

A string of farces followed, usually written and directed by him, and starring him as well. They were hugely popular, though never masterpieces of refinement. Their titles ("Auntie Jutta from Calcutta", for example) said it all. Millowitsch led the theatre until 1996, when he passed it on to his son.

While he never abandoned the stage, his theatre would not have survived without the hugely popular broadcasts, which reached a peak viewing rate of 88 per cent in 1962 and remained one of the mainstays of the broadcasting station WDR long thereafter.

The secret of his success was in his open display of the famous joie de vivre of his Catholic home town, which he brought on to the stage quite naturally, and in the workaday nature of his characters. He himself said that he had never attempted to act, it just came quite naturally to him. "I always play the same," he admitted once, "I just have it in my blood." With these often tumultuous performances, Millowitsch formed the image of Cologne in the minds of many Germans, who still identify the city more with him than with its other famous son, Konrad Adenauer.

At the age of 80, Millowitsch, who had been honoured by his home city with a bronze statue, had a second lease of life on television as the protagonist in a detective series, Kommissar Klefisch. Cologne the modern media metropolis had outgrown his antics, however, and the actor saw himself betrayed when it was decided not to continue the series. He was far from forgotten, though. His 90th birthday, earlier this year, became a media spectacle. Demand for the 18,000 tickets for the arena in Cologne where the celebrations took place, were said to outstrip that for the ever-elusive tickets for the Bayreuth Festival.

A hero of popular entertainment to some, Millowitsch's ever-cheerful demeanour and indestructible folksy exuberance became a subject of great aversion to others, a symbol of the coarse orchestrated merriment of the Cologne Carnival. Millowitsch himself was indifferent towards his critics. He never changed his acting style or the nature of his performance. As far as he was concerned, those who did not like it could stay at home.

Willy Millowitsch, actor: born Cologne, Germany 8 January 1909; married (one son, one daughter); died Cologne 20 September 1999.

Arts and Entertainment
Stewart Lee (Gavin Evans)


Arts and Entertainment
No half measures: ‘The Secret Life of the Pub’

Grace Dent on TV The Secret Life of the Pub is sexist, ageist and a breath of fresh air

Arts and Entertainment
Art on their sleeves: before downloads and streaming, enthusiasts used to flick through racks of albums in their local record shops
musicFor Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Arts and Entertainment
Serial suspect: the property heir charged with first-degree murder, Robert Durst
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Igarashi in her

Art Megumi Igarashi criticises Japan's 'backwards' attitude to women's sexual expression

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
It's all in the genes: John Simm working in tandem with David Threlfall in 'Code of a Killer'

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Far Right and Proud: Reggies Yates' Extreme Russia

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West was mobbed in Armenia after jumping into a lake

Arts and Entertainment
The show suffers from its own appeal, being so good as to create an appetite in its viewers that is difficult to sate in a ten episode series

Game of Thrones reviewFirst look at season five contains some spoilers
Arts and Entertainment
Judi Dench and Kevin Spacey on the Red Carpet for 2015's Olivier Awards

Ray Davies' Sunny Afternoon scoops the most awards

Arts and Entertainment
Proving his metal: Ross Poldark (played by Aidan Turner in the BBC series) epitomises the risk-taking spirit of 18th-century mine owners

Poldark review
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne is reportedly favourite to play Newt Scamander in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Arts and Entertainment
Tom Hardy stars in dystopian action thriller Mad Max: Fury Road

Arts and Entertainment
Josh, 22, made his first million from the game MinoMonsters

Grace Dent

Channel 4 show proves there's no app for happiness
Disgraced Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson
Arts and Entertainment
Game face: Zoë Kravitz, Bruce Greenwood and Ethan Hawke in ‘Good Kill’

film review

Arts and Entertainment
Living like there’s no tomorrow: Jon Hamm as Don Draper in the final season of ‘Mad Men’

TV review

Arts and Entertainment
Yaphett Kotto with Julius W Harris and Jane Seymour in 1973 Bond movie Live and Let Die

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

    Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

    A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
    How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

    How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

    Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
    From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

    The wars that come back to haunt us

    David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
    Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
    Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

    UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

    Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
    John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

    ‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

    Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
    Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

    Let the propaganda wars begin - again

    'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

    Japan's incredible long-distance runners

    Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
    Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

    Tom Drury: The quiet American

    His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
    You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

    You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

    Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
    Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

    Beige to the future

    Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

    Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

    More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
    Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

    Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

    The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
    Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own