Jimmy Cricket is one of Ulster’s most famous comedy exports. He tells JOANNE SAVAGE how he hit the big-time ahead of a new string of Ulster tour dates
Come here. There’s more. Jimmy Cricket is coming to Belfast’s Grand Opera House for a one-off comedy show alongside fellow local funnymen John Linehan (better known in his guise as May McFettridge), William Caulfield and Gene Fitzpatrick.
The irrepressible 72-year-old comic, instantly recognisable in his dress suit with cut-off evening trousers, wrong-footed wellies, Kangol hat, red bow tie, carnation and ready smile, first came to fame in the 1980s with his Central TV series And There’s More. Back in the day he also had his own radio series for BBC Radio 2 called Jimmy’s Cricket Team, written by Eddie Braben. Jimmy appeared in numerous Royal Variety Shows and starred in comedy skits with a plethora of other artists including Rory Bremner, Brian Conley, Sherrie Hewson, Joan Sims, Nicholas Smith and Hugh Lloyd. He also appeared on comedy variety show The Good Old Days and The Krankies Klub alongside the Krankies and Bobby Davro.
Audiences loved Cricket’s overt silliness and clownish mein, his sheer ridiculousness, his funny mannerisms, those letters from his mammy full of dim-witted parochialism and relentless nonsense.
His studied idiocy, simple one-liners, easy slapstick and juggling impressions meant his comedy was massively inclusive and accessible, always silly and zany and replete with tomfoolery rather than whip-smart or cynical and therefore enjoyed by both young and old.
His suit might be slightly snugger now and his hair more sparse but Cricket continues to entertain.
“I think people like my comedy because it’s good, clean fun and it’s all very family-orientated,” says the funnyman, speaking from Alicante, Spain, where he has been performing on a working holiday.
“I think what I do is comforting like a snug pair of warm old slippers. There’s a sense of comfort with the whimsical character I play. People always expect the one-liners, the letter from my mammy and a wee bit of juggling. Then I always try to add a few new things to surprise them. I’m a physical comic, I think that’s what makes it a little bit different.”
I tell Jimmy he delivers his one-liners very expertly.
“There will be a crisp 10 pound note in the post for you,” he quips.
“People always love an idiot. It goes right back to Charlie Chaplin and Laurel and Hardy right through to Steve Martin and Jim Carrey. I’ve always enjoyed playing the stooge.”
The material seems timeless - many of the quirks and gags Cricket used in his heyday are still part of his stage show - so Jimmy remains a retro pleasure. His fans find his corny jokes unashamedly funny and it takes a particular knack to pull this off after so many years.
“Growing up I was always a bit of a court jester. My father was an undertaker and he owned a pub - he was Frank Mulgrew. I was born in Cookstown but he took us all to Belfast when I was about two. I had three older brothers and my sister. We moved from Ligoniel to Andersonstown.
“My mother would have been telling me to get on with things and get my homework done as I was always a buck eejit. I was a big underachiever at school. I think I did enjoy being the centre of attention.
“I had a friend called Fergus Woods who told me about an impersonation competition in the Plaza Ballroom and it was a fiver for the winner. They brought over an English judge. So I had a bit of a go at that. We were spurred on to success. We entered quite a few competitions.”
Cricket left school at 16 and spent time working in a betting shop before becoming a Red Coat in a Butlins holiday camp at Mosney, Co Meath. He spent the following two summers at Butlins in Clacton, Essex; he also worked at Pontins holiday camps in Southport and Morecambe. It was while working in such a role that he discovered his comedic talents and began playing men’s clubs in Manchester and Liverpool.
“I went from Mosney to Clacton-on-Sea and I had an entertainments manager, Bill Martin, who was a sort of mentor. So when it came to the end of the summer season in September he asked me what I was going to do. I told him I was going to go to London. He told me, no, the West End was for actors and the singing and dancing people. He said you’re a standup, get up to the northern clubs - Manchester, Liverpool. It was the late 1960s. It was incredible how many acts and cabarets there were in the north of England at this time. It was incredible. You could work every night.
“After seven or eight years of working non-stop in the clubs a guy called Bill Heathersley from London Weekend Television came in and told me they were doing a talent show called Search for a Star. I won the heat and came back to come second in the final. Then I did a Royal Gala Show for Princess Margaret. I was catapulted from the working men’s clubs to performing for royalty. The whole thing was quite breathtaking.
“Bill spoke to my agent and they decided to give me by own show with Central Television. TV was challenging because you needed to have new material every week. I was a father of four when I started to do the series. I had a very grounded family life. I was always a star in my own home, whatever the ratings on television.”
Jimmy is looking forward to performing tonight at the Grand Opera house ahead of a string of Ulster shows. Who does he think is the funniest in the line-up? “No way could I answer that one!” he laughs. “We all love performing together and there’s so much banter. Northern Ireland audiences are the best.” And the happy-go-lucky comic has no plans to retire anytime soon. “I want to bop til I drop,” he insists.