Dave Ismay obituary: Entertainer who was wrongly told he had three months to live

In the 1970s he worked as Bob Monkhouse's warm-up man on ITV's 'The Golden Shot'

Dave Ismay made national headlines in 2010, although not, as the versatile Brummie entertainer, agent and author might once have hoped, for bringing the house down at the London Palladium with a stand-up comedy routine or scoring the winning goal at Wembley for Aston Villa. At the age of 63 Ismay had paid £150 to have a full health test, including a body scan, and as one who considered himself no more than a moderate drinker he was shocked to be informed that he had cirrhosis of the liver.

Given three months to live – and remembering Rob Reiner's film The Bucket List in which Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman pursued their dreams before they "kicked the bucket" – he drew up his personal wish list of unfulfilled ambitions. These ranged from paying £26,000 for a new Mercedes ("if I was going to go, I was going to do it in comfort") and completing a book about his great friend Bob Monkhouse to appearing in pantomime (he landed the role of Mother Goose in Redditch) and taking his three-year-old grandson to his first game at Villa Park.

Two months later Ismay learned, with a mixture of incredulity and delight, that there had been a mistake; what he actually had was hereditary haemochromatosis (an overload of iron in the blood). While serious in its own right, it is not commonly a terminal condition, and as the tabloid interest petered out he responded well to treatment.

The episode might have been condensed into a bleakly comic half-hour for another of his heroes and fellow son of Birmingham, Tony Hancock, in whose former home in Hall Green he reuptedly once lived. However, Ismay was suddenly taken ill in April and after an emergency stomach operation he died in hospital.

The previous weekend he had driven his friend, Doug Ellis, to watch Villa's victory at Stoke in the former club chairman's Rolls-Royce. Ellis had employed the ex-policeman as Head of Special Projects at Villa for 13 years, with Ismay (who described himself as the club's "Minister Without Portfolio") applying the stagecraft he had learned treading the boards to build the atmosphere as kick-off time approached in his role as on-pitch announcer.

Such skills were honed when he was engaged to warm up the audience during Monkhouse's years as host of the ITV game show The Golden Shot in the 1970s. Ismay had met Monkhouse when both appeared at a Birmingham nightclub, later contrasting his own "stuttering, stumbling ineptitude" with the star's "immaculate style, polish, erudition and wit". Despite the disparity the pair remained close. Ismay, having been at Monkhouse's bedside when he died in 2003, co-authored Bob Monkhouse: Unpublished! following his own, flawed diagnosis.

Stand-up took Ismay to Las Vegas and to Belfast (where he played to British troops during the Troubles), as well as appearances on Celebrity Squares, Live at Her Majesty's, Chas & Dave's Knees-Up and Seaside Special. He hosted An Evening of Stars before the Prince of Wales on two occasions. When a major breakthrough in comedy eluded him he diversified into working as an agent for other performers, among them the Midlands-based comedian Don Maclean.

Ismay also represented Andy Gray, working with the TV presenter and producer Gary Newbon to turn the fearless Scottish striker from a Villa terrace hero into a television personality. Gray's breakthrough as a team captain on the quiz show Sporting Triangles would be the prelude to a career as a Sky pundit. Ismay also collaborated with Newbon in the Telford Tigers ice hockey club, becoming chairman on its launch in 1985.

In another characteristic change of direction he had written and sung a pop song titled "A.S.T.O.N. V.I.L.L.A.", with "We're the Holte End" on the b-side of a 7in single pressed on blue vinyl with a claret middle. The 1979 track resurfaced on the 1996 compilation Come On You Villa!

In recent years he had fronted Velrag Arts, an agency organising corporate events, conferences and receptions, also working as an after-dinner speaker and master of ceremonies. In another string to his bow, he wrote for the sports pages of the Birmingham Mail. His final column ridiculed the recently appointed Sunderland manager Paolo Di Canio – "the most unlikely, panic-induced wildcard ever to manage in the Premier League" – and mocked Harry Redknapp as "the textbook definition of diminishing returns".

But then Ismay's humour was invariably acerbic and sarcastic, and several of the tributes after his death reflected the sense that it was not to everyone's taste. Ellis spoke of "a bugger, but a lovable one" whom he had to "push out" of the directors' box because "he wouldn't keep his mouth shut". Maclean remembered a friend who was "hysterically funny" and "a great bloke" but also a "Meldrewesque curmudgeon".

David Robert Ismay, comedian, agent, author and journalist: born Birmingham 1 May 1946; married firstly Sheila (marriage dissolved, deceased; one son, one daughter), secondly Dodie; died Leicester 17 April 2013.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Sport
Kim Sears is reported to have directed abuse at Berdych
tennis
Arts and Entertainment
Cold case: Aaron McCusker and Christopher Eccleston in ‘Fortitude’
tvReview: Sky Atlantic's ambitious new series Fortitude has begun with a feature-length special
Voices
Three people wearing masks depicting Ed Miliband, David Cameron and Nick Clegg
voicesPolitics is in the gutter – but there is an alternative, says Nigel Farage
Voices
The veterans Mark Hayward, Hugh Thompson and Sean Staines (back) with Grayson Perry (front left) and Evgeny Lebedev
charity appealMaverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
News
i100
News
people
Sport
Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho
footballThe more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Life and Style
Vote green: Benoit Berenger at The Duke of Cambridge in London's Islington
food + drinkBanishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turn over a new leaf
News
Joel Grey (left) poses next to a poster featuring his character in the film
peopleActor Joel Grey comes out at 82
News
i100
News
business
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Marketing & Sales Manager

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A reputable organisation within the leisure i...

Tradewind Recruitment: Science Teacher

£90 - £140 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: I am currently working in partnersh...

Recruitment Genius: Doctors - Dubai - High "Tax Free" Earnings

£96000 - £200000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Looking for a better earning p...

Recruitment Genius: PHP Developer

£32000 - £36000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A rapidly expanding company in ...

Day In a Page

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