George Roper

Popular television stand-up comedian
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The Independent Online

George Francis Furnival (George Roper), comedian: born Liverpool 15 May 1934; married (two sons, one daughter); died Sandbach, Cheshire 1 July 2003.

His portly figure, infectious smile and jokes about "navvies in wellies" made George Roper one of the most popular stand-up acts during the entire 15-year run of The Comedians, the television quickfire-gags show.

Born George Francis Furnival into a Liverpool Catholic family at the height of the 1930s Depression, he was the great-nephew of two music-hall performers known as Cullen and Carthy. After travelling the world in the Merchant Navy, he became a drill instructor in the RAF, then worked in the building industry. By night, under the name George Roper, he established a singing act in pubs and clubs, which turned to comedy as the jokes between songs began to take over.

A regular venue for Roper was Bernard Manning's Embassy club in his adopted city of Manchester. Many of the acts were signed up by Johnny Hamp, head of light entertainment at Granada Television, when he launched The Comedians (1971-85). The death of variety theatres had consigned many stand-up acts to the working men's club circuit, but this ITV series brought some back in front of a wide audience. Others who were made famous by it included Manning himself, Frank Carson, Mike Reid, Charlie Williams, Duggie Brown, Jim Bowen and Stan Boardman.

The gags came thicker and faster than in any club. The performances were all recorded in front of an audience and then were edited to give a non-stop stream of jokes, cutting back and forth between the comedians.

Roper's new-found fame also led him to be invited by Sir Bernard Delfont to appear before the Queen in a command performance at the Empire Theatre, Liverpool, in 1971, to celebrate the opening of the Mersey Tunnel. Guest appearances in television entertainment series and game-shows followed. Roper made his final stage appearance in May, at the Empire Theatre.

Anthony Hayward