Obituary: Ben Warriss
Monday 18 January 1993
BEN WARRISS was one half of the popular double act Jewel and Warriss, and the man dubbed 'the best straight man in the business'.
Warriss was born in Sheffield in May 1909; six months later his cousin Jimmy Jewel was born in the same bed. They were destined to spend almost a lifetime of laughter together.
Children of popular entertainers (for many years Jimmy had to call himself Jimmy Jewel Junior), the boys were natural-born performers and made their debut as a double act at the age of four, to the enthusiastic applause of a family party. However, their parents' individual acts travelled separately around the halls, and the youngsters travelled with them. It was some years before they met again on the same bills.
Warriss was 10 years old when he made his professional debut at the Hippodrome, Stockport. It was in October 1919, and the following year he made his first London appearance at the Bedford, Camden Town. Graduating from boy soprano to juvenile, Ben went from variety act to revue, then pantomime, making his radio debut in the early 1930s in The Ridgeway Parade, a variety-cum- revue series produced and compered by Philip Ridgeway. Radio took Ben to the West End: he appeared as a black-faced minstrel in the Alexander and Mose show at the Piccadilly Theatre.
Jimmy Jewel and Ben Warriss came together again as professionals in 1934 at the Palace Theatre, Newcastle, Jimmy, still as 'junior', was a stand-up comic, and Ben was still blacked-up. One night one of the billed acts failed to show up, and Ben suggested that he and Jimmy might go on as a double. It was the beginning of a completely new career for the cousins and they starred in a series of revues produced by John D. Roberton, the father of Jack Douglas, the 'Twitchy' comedian from the Carry On films. Jewel and Warriss toured Australia for Roberton, and returned to star on the Moss Empire circuit. Feeling it was time for a rise, they suggested a joint wage of pounds 35 a week. Moss would have none of it, so they quit. Out on their own, they caused a sensation in variety in Glasgow. Moss soon hired them back at their own terms, which were now a hefty pounds 100 a week.
By the end of 1937 the three- year-old act was steadily climbing up the bill. Jewel and Warriss became family favourites for pantomime. Their favourite role was as the robbers in Babes in the Wood, parts they played year after year. While remaining Northern favourites for years, they made their first impact on the rest of Britain when they were cast as comedy relief in the Vera Lynn starring vehicle Rhythm Serenade (1943).
Jewel and Warriss were acknowledged kings of crosstalk when the BBC cast them as the stars of Up the Pole, which began its weekly half-hour series in October 1947. They played the proprietors of a trading post in the Arctic Circle, and were supported by the veteran comedian Claude Dampier as Horace Hotplate, Mayor of the North Pole. Up the Pole ran for five years, and Jewel and Warriss were signed up as cover stars for Radio Fun, the weekly children's comic.
Jewel and Warriss appeared in two films, What a Carry On (1949), and the comedy mystery Let's Have a Murder (1950). Television beckoned and they starred in their first special, Turn It Up, in September 1951. This 'Sixty Minutes of Express Entertainment' from the People's Palace included Benson Dulay, the conjuror, and Renee Strange, 'The Unusual Girl'. This short series led to Re-turn It Up (1953), and with the arrival of independent television they frequently topped the bill in such leading shows as Val Parnell's Saturday Spectacular, Sunday Night at the London Palladium, Startime, and many more. They achieved the ultimate accolade of the period by 'doing a turn' in four Royal Variety Performances.
As the venues for their type of traditional crosstalk dwindled and they found themselves booked into the club circuits, Jewel and Warriss decided the time had come for a change of direction. In 1966 they called off the double act and went their separate ways. Jewel became a comedy actor, and a television star in sitcoms. Warriss ran a restaurant for a while, but the lure of the boards was too much. He played the part of the Chairman in Barney Colehan's Blackpool production of the television series The Good Old Days, a 20-week summer season in 1972, and turned up on the occasional panel game, such as Looks Familiar, reminiscing with gusto.
Today the classic double act of dapper, dominating straight man exasperatedly endeavouring to keep his foolishly dressed, dimwitted partner on the straight and narrow of the script, has almost left us. Old-fashioned, perhaps, in an age of improvisation. Fortunately, archives have saved for reviewing the long-lost delights of such as Jewel and Warriss, the funny man and his 'wellmaboy'. As Ben Warriss liked to explain, 'I'm the chap who says, 'Well, ma' boy, and what have you been up to today?' '
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