Roy Walker looks back on life of laughs ... and trials

Known to millions as the affable former host of Catchphrase, Belfast comedian and TV presenter Roy Walker has enjoyed a remarkable career spanning six decades.

By Helen McGurk
Tuesday, 17th December 2019, 7:00 am
Roy Walker
Roy Walker

Now approaching his 80th birthday and still performing, in a revealing film for BBC NI, Roy Walker – Beyond a Joke, he reflects on his childhood – including the stigma at the time of being born out of wedlock and spending his early years in foster care.

He said: ‘‘I was passed from one foster home to the next one ... four foster homes and then after that I went to a children’s home in Portrush and at the age of seven common sense prevailed and my grandfather demanded I be returned to Woodstock (Road).’’

The film follows his journey from Belfast’s comedy clubs to primetime Saturday night TV.

Roy said: “It means a lot for me to come back here [Belfast], it means it is not over.

‘‘I want to go on, Frank Carson worked till he was 87.”

From an early age, the stage beckoned for the talented Belfast boy who was the star of school plays and sang with the choir at St Anne’s Cathedral.

In the film, the comedian talks about a varied and eclectic career that included a short stint working in the shipyards, National Service with the Army, and at the age of 20 – somewhat accidentally – becoming a Northern Ireland hammer throwing champion.

During the 1960s, the Talk of the Town cabaret club opened in Belfast giving Roy his first break as a singer and then compere, and it was during this time that he met future wife, Jean Monaghan.

The couple, from different religious backgrounds, were forced out of their greengrocers in east Belfast during the Troubles and moved to the north east of England, and it was here that Roy began building his career on the British comedy circuit.

From working men’s clubs to opening for Dorothy Squires at the London Palladium, Roy looks back on his career highs and lows, how Jean saved his career, and his big TV break which came from an appearance on the New Faces talent show.

In the 1980s, presenting Catchphrase – the gameshow that attracted 15 million viewers at its peak – made Walker a household name with his own unique catchphrases ‘say what you see’ and ‘it’s good but it’s not right’.

‘‘I thought it was the easiest job I ever had and the viewing figures were astronomical. It was quite amazing how popular the show was,” said Roy.

But the 1980s was also the decade when wife Jean passed away after a short illness.

The night Jean died, Roy vowed never to go back on stage, before coming to the realisation that laughter really is the greatest medicine of all.

This film features archive footage showcasing some of Walker’s best gags and contributions from comedians Jimmy Cricket and John Linehan, radio DJ Chris Moyles and Happy Mondays front man Shaun Ryder who became friends with Roy while filming ‘100 Years Younger in 21 Days’.

l Roy Walker – Beyond a Joke is a DoubleBand Films production for BBC Northern Ireland. It will be broadcast on Monday, December 23 at 10.35pm on BBC One Northern Ireland.