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?' '

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 People

Compensation and Benefits Manager - Brentwood - Circa £60,000

£60000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Compensation and Benefits Manager - Compensat...

Finance Manager - Recruitment Business (Media & Entertainment)

£28000 - £35000 per annum + negotiable: Sauce Recruitment: We have an exciting...

HR Advisor - North London / North West London

£30000 - £35000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Advisor - North London...

Finance Manager - Recruitment Business (Media & Entertainment)

£28000 - £32000 per annum + negotiable: Sauce Recruitment: We have an exciting...

Day In a Page

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker