Frank Carson: Much-loved comedian whose quickfirestyle endeared him to millions

 

Frank Carson, who has died at the age of 85, was an old-fashioned Irish comic, a purveyor of mirth whose jolly music-hall style made him a staple of British television comedy for several decades. He did not retire until he was in his 80s, when ill-health finally got the better of him, for he was almost compulsive in seeking audiences to listen to a repertoire which included untold thousands of gags.

A close relative once said fondly of him: "If you left him home alone, he'd break into the house next door to have someone to perform to." His son Tony said yesterday: "He was non-stop." A fellow performer once described him as "the only comedian I know who's on-stage 24 hours a day."

He came from a different age to today's generation of stand-ups, disapproving of their sometimes adult language. His material sometimes contained a strain of the absurd, as in his quip about a man in the bar of the Titanic who complained: "I know I asked for ice, but this is ridiculous." His technique was to rattle off as many jokes as possible in rapid-fire routines. On chat shows he was virtually unstoppable: according to Spike Milligan the difference between Frank Carson and the M1 was that you could turn off the M1. He would pause in his flow only to deliver his catchphrases, "That's a cracker," and "It's the way I tell 'em."

He built his health problems into his material. "My iron tablets are bloody awful," he would say. "Every morning I wake up facing north." Having a pacemaker put in was no trouble "except that every time I break wind the garage door opens." He worried about his wife because once, when he had a heart attack, she wrote for an ambulance. His comic heroes were from his own generation – Jimmy Tarbuck, Jasper Carrott, Bruce Forsyth and, funniest of all in his opinion, Ken Dodd.

Carson's life took him from a poor Belfast background to considerable wealth in England via some years in the British military followed by a steady ascent in show business. He was born in the city's tough docks area in 1926, leaving school aged 14 to work as an apprentice electrician. "One day I nearly killed myself digging a hole and hitting a cable," he would relate. "The explosion tossed me six feet in the air."

Decades later he returned to the streets of his childhood for a television documentary, his memories bringing tears to his eyes. "Oh dear, all my old friends," he remembered. "Donkey McCrudden, Cash Register McCabe, Overcoat O'Hanlon, Winky McCrudden, Duck Alec – all dead."

He joined the army on a whim, he said, walking into a recruiting office on impulse. He was in the Parachute Regiment for three years – "I was like Bilko" – being shot at in Palestine "every day of the week." His brother John was killed when his merchant ship, on Atlantic convoy duty, was torpedoed in 1940. Carson said decades later, "I miss him every day, think about him every day."

After the war he initially worked in a clerical job but he made better money in pubs and clubs in the evenings. He bought his own pub on Belfast's Falls Road – "A Yank called in one afternoon and said he was delighted to find a pub with sawdust on the floor. I told him it was last night's furniture and he left in a hurry."

His career really took off in themid-'60s when he moved to England, setting up home in Blackpool and graduating from the club circuit to become one of the most televised comedians in Britain. He appeared on the big entertainment programmes of the day such as The Comedians, Hughie Green's Opportunity Knocks and the classic variety show, The Good Old Days. He was also a subject of This is your Life.

Back in Ireland, however, not everyone appreciated his stage-Irish persona and his penchant for Irish jokes. Examples: an Irishman's wife gave birth to twins – her husband demanded to know who the other man was. Irishman's wife said that for Christmas she wanted something with lots of diamonds: he bought her a pack of playing cards.

To Carson's mind this was simply harmless fun, which he defended in a possibly ghost-written response: "The politically correct brigade seem toregard all Irish jokes as a form of xenophobia, reflecting a vicious prejudice against us lot from over the water.But this is just patronising nonsense. The idea that the Irish are so oppressed, so suffering in their victimhoodthat they need the protection of self-appointed puritans, is an insult. Only fanatics and the insecure demand submissive respect."

Not everyone in Ireland took offence for, moving to the Irish Republic for a few years, he was twice elected mayor of the County Dublin town of Balbriggan. But he later developed his own sensitivities, particularly about the language to be heard in modern comedy. "There are so many great new comics," he said, "but too many keep using the F-word, which I think is despicable. I wish them the very best with their careers, but I hate the way that some seem to think you need to use bad language to be funny." Ken Dodd yesterday said of Carson, "His humour was always mainstream – he didn't do dirty or obscene comedy."

Financially comfortable in later life, Carson did a great deal of charity work with the Variety Club of Great Britain and other organisations. In particular he supported the cause of religiously integrated education in Northern Ireland. Pope John Paul II appointed him a Papal Knight of St Gregory for his charitable efforts.

Until recently he worked an estimated 240 days a year. A few years ago he said: "I have had the most wonderful life, full of all sorts of laughs and giggles. Laughing is a therapy. People are forgetting their problems, they're sitting there laughing. They're laughing at Frank. That's my great joy in life." He is survived by his wife Ruth and their three children.

David McKittrick

Frank Carson, comedian: born Belfast 26 November 1926; married Ruth (one daughter, two sons); died Blackpool 22 February 2012.

News
Jennifer Lawrence was among the stars allegedly hacked
peopleActress and 100 others on 'master list' after massive hack
Sport
Radamel Falcao
footballManchester United agree loan deal for Monaco striker Falcao
Sport
Louis van Gaal, Radamel Falcao, Arturo Vidal, Mats Hummels and Javier Hernandez
footballFalcao, Hernandez, Welbeck and every deal live as it happens
Sport
footballFeaturing Bart Simpson
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
people'It can last and it's terrifying'
Voices
A man shoots at targets depicting a portrait of Russian President Vladimir Putin, in a shooting range in the center of the western Ukrainian city of Lviv
voicesIt's cowardice to pretend this is anything other than an invasion
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Alex Kapranos of Franz Ferdinand performs live
music Pro-independence show to take place four days before vote
Arts and Entertainment
booksNovelist takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Arts and Entertainment
The eyes have it: Kate Bush
music
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

PPC Co-Ordinator – Permanent - West Sussex – £24-£30k

£24000 - £30000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Are you a Marketin...

Cover Supervisors - WE NEED YOU!

£70 - £90 per day: Randstad Education Hull: Randstad Education have cover supe...

Senior Asset Manager

£70000 - £75000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: Katie Robinson +44 (...

SEN British Sign Language Teacher

Negotiable: Randstad Education Birmingham: BSL teachers required to teach in a...

Day In a Page

Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
Al Pacino wows Venice

Al Pacino wows Venice

Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

Neil Lawson Baker interview

‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

As the collections start, fashion editor Alexander Fury finds video and the internet are proving more attractive
Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy

Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall...

... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy
Weekend at the Asylum: Europe's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln

Europe's biggest steampunk convention

Jake Wallis Simons discovers how Victorian ray guns and the martial art of biscuit dunking are precisely what the 21st century needs
Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Lying is dangerous and unnecessary. A new book explains the strategies needed to avoid it. John Rentoul on the art of 'uncommunication'
Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough? Was the beloved thespian the last of the cross-generation stars?

Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough?

The atomisation of culture means that few of those we regard as stars are universally loved any more, says DJ Taylor