Web campaign plans to put Forties comedian back on top

Modern comics urge voters to support Tommy Trinder in Channel 4 poll

It helped deprive Simon Cowell of a seasonal number one by foisting Rage Against the Machine to the top of the Christmas charts. Now a band of British comedians hope to use social networking to hijack Channel 4’s latest attempt to find the world’s greatest ever comedian.

Led by long haired Geordie funnyman Ross Noble, an online campaign has been launched to encourage people to vote for Tommy Trinder, a now little-known comic who kept Britain smiling throughout the war years and who – at the height of his television fame – brought in an audience of 14 million to his weekly show Sunday Night at the London Palladium.

Channel 4 is making a new programme listing the world’s top 100 comedians – a remake of a similar poll they conducted in 2006. The names of 106 comedians have been put up on the broadcaster’s website and the public have been encouraged to vote for their favourite comics.

Using the social networking site Twitter, Noble has called on his fans to hijack the poll and push for Trinder

– one of just a handful of names on the list that hark back more than 50 years.

“Tommy Trinder was a top act and [it] would be funny to have an act from [the] 50s top [the] list,” he wrote, adding, “last time I was ahead [of] Lenny Bruce so it’s bollocks anyway.”

His request has been “retweeted” by thousands of comedy fans who have also been encouraging their favourite comedians to join the campaign.

Fellow comics Tim Minchin, Alan Davies, Jason Manford and Simon Donald have publicly backed the campaign, which is effectively a protest at how the great comics of Britain’s past are too readily ignored at the expense of present-day crowd pleasers.

Bloggers and writers on internet forums have been keen to point out that the vast majority of those on Channel 4’s list are well-known stand-ups with a current television presence. They are also overwhelmingly male; only five female comedians are included. A number of readers of Channel 4’s blog, for instance, are incensed that Lucy Porter and Josie Long, two of the most popular and cutting-edge female comedians of recent years, have been missed out entirely.

Simon Donald, the creator of Viz, has meanwhile turned to Facebook, setting up a page encouraging people to vote for Trinder.

Channel 4 will only use the public’s votes as a guide to where the comedians should be placed. The final order of the top 100 comedians will in fact be decided by a panel of judges who have been told not to be “swayed” by block votes.

Executive producer Sean Doherty told online comedy news website Chortle: “The panel is there to safeguard against the block voting which goes on. Last time we did it, after a few weeks voting and thousands of votes cast, some comedians went from being 120 to top 5 over a weekend because of the block voting involved, so we’re monitoring really carefully”.

He added: “We have the old votes to hand so we can compare changes in taste and include new comedians, but not be swayed by block votes.”

Last time the poll was conducted, Trinder came in at 83rd.

* Born in South London in 1909 to the son of a tram driver, Tommy Trinder left home at the age of 12 and headed straight for the stage with touring musical revues.

* By 1937 he had become a household name and enjoyed regular appearances on radio programmes.

* During the war he was signed to Ealing studios and took on a number of comedies as well as the occasional straight part.

* In 1955 he began hosting Sunday Night at the London Palladium, ITV’s flagship entertainment show which at the time drew audiences of up to 18 million. He left three years later, passing the mantle on to a little-known comedian called Bruce Forsyth.

* A lifelong football fan, he later became chairman of Fulham FC.

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