Norman Collier: Comedian famed for his 'broken microphone'

His most famous routine was born when a bingo caller was having problems with his microphone

Norman Collier was one of the best-known faces in comedy throughout the 1970s and '80s, appearing regularly at theatres and on television. He was appreciated especially for his "broken microphone" routine and his chicken impressions.

He was born in 1925 in Hull into a working-class family. "It was hard work," he recalled in a 2009 interview. "I was the eldest of eight children and it was hard going. It fell to me to go on errands and I even had to wash the kids." He saw active service during the Second World War as an aircraft-carrier gunner. "We saw plenty of action but no danger," he recalled, "although the thought of doing it now would terrify me." On demob he took a variety of labouring jobs, where he delighted in trying out his jokey routines on workmates.

He got his first stand-up gig in 1948 at the Perth Street West club in his home town, stepping up at the last minute when one of the booked acts hadn't appeared. "The next thing I knew, I was being announced. That was the first time in my life and it was as if I had been doing it all my life." But it was not until the early '60s, with the advent of nightclubs and the increasing demand for comedians on the circuit, that he took the decision to go professional. His career would last more than 50 years.

Of all his routines, the best known was the "broken microphone", inspired by an incident at a local Working Men's Club where he was performing. He loved to recount the story of the bingo caller before him who was having electrical problems with his microphone, resulting in intermittent announcements.

"I was ready to go on and the plug was loose in the socket on the wall. I was standing there watching all this, tears running down my face. When I got home I thought about it and it went down very well, so I decided to keep it in the act. I'm pleased I was there that night when he was doing his bingo because I would never have thought of it." The sketch became a staple of his performances.

The duo of Little and Large were often on the same bill as Collier, who played in pantomime with them as Widow Twanky. Syd Little recalled their first meeting in 1968 in his autobiography Little by Little. "Norman Collier was top of the bill and Wally Harper – Bobby Ball's uncle – was a comic support act. Wally just couldn't resist heckling Norman all the way through his noon performance, but Norman, being the gentleman that he is, just carried on and gave as good as he got."

Influenced by Al Read, Collier's patter was most often in the style of long monologues, playing on the ridiculousness of everyday situations. In 1970 the ITV Series Ace of Clubs allowed him to present a full set as part of a competition. He won with a unanimous vote from the judges.

Collier's big break came when he was invited to perform at the Royal Variety Command Performance in 1971, to acclaim from audience and critics alike. A review the following day read: "Unknown comedian Norman Collier won a standing ovation for his act in the Royal Variety Show."

However, despite several offers, he declined the opportunity to move to London, preferring to remain in his home town and concentrated on the northern club circuit, with regular television appearances. His autobiography, Just a Job: The Recollections of Comedian Norman Collier, was published in 2009, after much prompting from his son-in-law John Ainsley, who said he wanted their children and grandchildren to realise Collier's achievements.

He continued in cabaret and charity work, with TV and radio appearances until six years ago, when he was diagnosed with Parkinson's Disease. Towards the end of his life he lived at a care home in Hull.

The impressionist Jon Culshaw paid tribute to him online, saying: "Rest in peace Norman Collier. Funny, funny, wonderfully funny man. People would be permanently laughing whenever they were around him." Danny Baker added: "Expect lots of 'broken up' tweets but that really was some act."

On learning of his passing, Syd Little told The Independent: "To me and Eddy Large he was the funniest man. He was so inventive and a real comic's comic. He made so many people very happy and we never ever saw him unhappy. He will be very sadly missed."

Norman Collier, comedian: born Hull 25 December 1925; married 1948 Lucy (one son, two daughters); died Hull 14 March 2013.

Suggested Topics
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Alan Bennett criticised the lack of fairness in British society encapsulated by the private school system
peopleBut he does like Stewart Lee
John Terry, Frank Lampard
footballChelsea captain sends signed shirt to fan whose mum had died
Life and Style
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
Rita Ora will replace Kylie Minogue as a judge on The Voice 2015
Life and Style
Life and Style
Alan Turing, who was convicted of gross indecency in 1952, was granted a royal pardon last year
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black and Ed Stoppard as her manager Brian Epstein
tvCilla Episode 2 review: Grit under the glamour in part two of biopic series starring Sheridan Smith
Life and Style
Arts and Entertainment
Tennis player Andy Murray's mum Judy has been paired with Anton du Beke for Strictly Come Dancing. 'I'm absolutely delighted,' she said.
tvJudy Murray 'struggling' to let Anton Du Beke take control on Strictly
Life and Style
Vote with your wallet: the app can help shoppers feel more informed about items on sale
lifeNew app reveals political leanings of food companies
David Moyes and Louis van Gaal
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Teaching Assistant in secondary school Manchester

£11280 - £14400 per annum: Randstad Education Manchester Secondary: Teaching a...

Primary teaching roles in Ipswich

£21552 - £31588 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Randstad Education re...

Science teachers needed in Norwich

£21000 - £35000 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Science teachers requ...

Semi Senior Accountant - Music

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Sauce Recruitment: A successful, Central London bas...

Day In a Page

Secret politics of the weekly shop

The politics of the weekly shop

New app reveals political leanings of food companies
Beam me up, Scottie!

Beam me up, Scottie!

Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

Beware Wet Paint

The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
Sanctuary for the suicidal

Sanctuary for the suicidal

One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits