Obituary: Ben Warriss

Ben Warriss, actor, born Sheffield 29 May 1909, died Twickenham 14 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?' '

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

SharePoint Administrator/Developer (C#, VB.NET, VISUAL STUDIO 2

£35000 - £50000 per annum + benefits+bonus+package: Harrington Starr: SharePoi...

European HR Director, London

£80000 - £95000 per annum: Charter Selection: A leading Global organisation Ja...

Day In a Page

How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe: Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC

How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe

Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC
Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy attacked as 'sinful'

British Muslims's Happy video attacked as 'sinful'

The four-minute clip by Honesty Policy has had more than 300,000 hits on YouTube
Church of England-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith

Michael Williams: Do as I do, not as I pray

Church of England-raised Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith
A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife

A History of the First World War in 100 moments

A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife
Comedian Jenny Collier: 'Sexism I experienced on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

Jenny Collier: 'Sexism on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

The comedian's appearance at a show on the eve of International Women's Day was cancelled because they had "too many women" on the bill
Cannes Film Festival: Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or

Cannes Film Festival

Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
The concept album makes surprise top ten return with neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson

The concept album makes surprise top ten return

Neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson is unexpected success
Lichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines

Lichen is surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus

Emily Jupp discovers how it can give a unique, smoky flavour to our cooking
10 best baking books

10 best baking books

Planning a spot of baking this bank holiday weekend? From old favourites to new releases, here’s ten cookbooks for you
Jury still out on Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini

Jury still out on Pellegrini

Draw with Sunderland raises questions over Manchester City manager's ability to motivate and unify his players
Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

The all-rounder has been hailed as future star after Ashes debut but incident in Caribbean added to doubts about discipline. Jon Culley meets a man looking to control his emotions
Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

The most prize money ever at an All-Weather race day is up for grabs at Lingfield on Friday, and the record-breaking trainer tells Jon Freeman how times have changed
Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
Mad Men series 7, TV review: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge

Mad Men returns for a final fling

The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit