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
Cold case: Aaron McCusker and Christopher Eccleston in ‘Fortitude’
tv Review: Sky Atlantic's ambitious new series began tonight with a feature-length special
Arts and Entertainment
'The Archers' has an audience of about five million
radioA growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried
Arts and Entertainment
Ready to open the Baftas, rockers Kasabian are also ‘great film fans’
musicExclusive: Rockers promise an explosive opening to the evening
Arts and Entertainment
Henry VIII played by Damien Lewis
tvReview: Scheming queens-in-waiting, tangled lines of succession and men of lowly birth rising to power – sound familiar?
Arts and Entertainment
tv
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift is heading to Norwich for Radio 1's Big Weekend

music
Arts and Entertainment
Beer as folk: Vincent Franklin and Cyril Nri (centre) in ‘Cucumber’
tvReview: This slice of gay life in Manchester has universal appeal
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
‘A Day at the Races’ still stands up well today
film
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tvAnd its producers have already announced a second season...
Arts and Entertainment
Kraftwerk performing at the Neue Nationalgalerie (New National Gallery) museum in Berlin earlier this month
musicWhy a bunch of academics consider German electropoppers Kraftwerk worthy of their own symposium
Arts and Entertainment
Icelandic singer Bjork has been forced to release her album early after an online leak

music
Arts and Entertainment
Colin Firth as Harry Hart in Kingsman: The Secret Service

film
Arts and Entertainment
Brian Blessed as King Lear in the Guildford Shakespeare Company's performance of the play

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
In the picture: Anthony LaPaglia and Martin Freeman in 'The Eichmann Show'

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Kirkbride and Bill Roache as Deirdre and Ken Barlow in Coronation Street

tvThe actress has died aged 60
Arts and Entertainment
Marianne Jean-Baptiste defends Joe Miller in Broadchurch series two

tv
Arts and Entertainment
The frill of it all: Hattie Morahan in 'The Changeling'

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny may reunite for The X Files

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson, left, and Richard Hammond upset the locals in South America
TV
News
A young woman punched a police officer after attending a gig by US rapper Snoop Dogg
people
Arts and Entertainment
Reese Witherspoon starring in 'Wild'

It's hard not to warm to Reese Witherspoon's heroismfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Word up: Robbie Coltrane as dictionary guru Doctor Johnson in the classic sitcom Blackadder the Third
books

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Hacked off: Maisie Williams in ‘Cyberbully’

Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challenge

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything and Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game are both nominated at the Bafta Film Awards
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

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

    Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

    Isis hostage crisis

    The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
    Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

    The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

    Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
    Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

    Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

    Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
    Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

    Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

    This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
    Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

    Cabbage is king again

    Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
    11 best winter skin treats

    Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

    Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
    Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

    Paul Scholes column

    The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
    Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

    Frank Warren's Ringside

    No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
    Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

    Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
    Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
    Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

    Comedians share stories of depression

    The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
    Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

    Has The Archers lost the plot?

    A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
    English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

    14 office buildings added to protected lists

    Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee