Michael Edward Yarwood
14 June 1941
|Residence||Weybridge, Surrey, England|
|Occupation||Actor, comedian, impressionist|
|Height||(173cm) 5ft 8in|
|Children||Clare Yarwood-White, Charlotte Yarwood|
Yarwood was born and brought up in Bredbury, Cheshire. After leaving school, he worked as a messenger and then salesman at a garment warehouse. In his youth he was also a talented footballer, and almost pursued a professional career. Later he was a director of his local club, Stockport County.
Yarwood was one of the stars of British television in the 1960s and 1970s, with his own prominent shows. Before his various eponymous BBC Television series, he worked for the ITV contractor ATV, and after he left the BBC, for Thames Television. Yarwood owed his initial success to the Sunday Night at the London Palladium variety 'spectacular', on which he first appeared in 1964. His appearance coincided with the senior political career of his best known impression, that of Labour Party leader and Prime Minister Harold Wilson.
Topping the TV ratings
At their height, Yarwood's BBC TV shows, which were based on a variety mix of comic sketches, guest musicians and a closing song sung by Yarwood (introduced by the line, "and this is me", which became the title of his first autobiography), regularly attracted 18 million viewers.
Among the prominent British personalities he portrayed were:
- Eddie Waring - famous charismatic rugby league commentator
- Brian Clough - controversial football manager
- Robin Day - then top political interviewer on the BBC
- Magnus Pyke - eccentric TV science presenter
- Alf Garnett - Warren Mitchell's character from Till Death Us Do Part
- Columbo - Peter Falk's American detective in the series of the same name
- Frank Spencer - the comic creation of sitcom actor Michael Crawford
- Ted Heath - Wilson's Conservative Party rival
Using colour-separation overlay and video editing, Yarwood frequently staged set-pieces in which he appeared as several characters at the same time using pre-recorded segments. An example of this might be a panel game or discussion featuring his versions of Robin Day, Harold Wilson and Brian Clough.
It was Yarwood's performance as Harold Wilson that ultimately became his instantly recognisable trademark. He briefly caused some controversy by including Prince Charles as one of his regular impressions.
The Mike Yarwood Christmas Show in 1977 was watched by 21.4 million people, and remains one of the most-watched television programmes (excluding news and sport) in British history.
Yarwood's characterisations also created catchphrases which came to be identified with famous figures, even if they never actually used them. However, the two most famous were actually spoken by the people he caricatured. "Silly Billy", spoken by his caricature of British Labour Chancellor of the Exchequer Denis Healey, was actually used by Healey to describe strikers. It was rumoured that "I mean that most sincerely, folks", spoken by his caricature of Opportunity Knocks presenter Hughie Green, was made up by Yarwood but, in reality, it was first spoken by Green himself.
Part of the Cotton Crew in the BBC
Yarwood's career peaked during the 1970s when he was one of a stable of stars under the BBC Light Entertainment impresario Bill Cotton, alongside Bruce Forsyth, Dick Emery, Morecambe and Wise, Val Doonican and the Two Ronnies, all these performers having started their careers on ITV during the preceding decade. By the late 1970s some of them left the BBC and returned to independent television. Both Yarwood and Morecambe and Wise signed up with Thames TV, Morecambe and Wise went to Thames in 1978 with Yarwood signed by Thames in 1982, with mixed results; Morecambe and Wise fared better than Yarwood and their ratings remained relatively high. Forsyth signed to LWT and suffered a terrible start when his Big Night series was cancelled. However, unlike Yarwood, Forsyth bounced back and enjoyed success with Play Your Cards Right.
Yarwood saw his career go into decline from the early 1980s. Most of his most famous subjects, such as Heath and Wilson, retired from public life or died and he was unable to master new prominent figures, most significantly, the country's first female Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher (she was played on his show by Janet Brown). As late as 1985 he was still sending up Heath, Wilson and Callaghan, years after all three had left frontbench politics. Also with the emergence of alternative comedy in the 80s which took a far more mordant and satirical attitude towards politicians (Yarwood saw himself as an all round family entertainer rather than a satirist), his career never recovered and the loss of some of his most loved characters and its fragility was directly linked to the politicians he impersonated. In addition, his battle with alcoholism and stage fright further affected his career, making him unreliable and affecting the quality of his output. It also contributed to the break-up of his marriage in 1985.
His Thames TV show was cancelled at the end of 1987, and he concentrated on stage work. However, subsequent attempts to resurrect his television career failed, although he did make an appearance on the satirical show Have I Got News for You in November 1995.
In the mid-1990s, Yarwood had the chance to return to the stage as prime minister John Major, but failed to re-establish himself before Major's premiership ended. He claimed that one of the difficulties in impersonating John Major and Tony Blair was that they were "nice guys".
On 3 July 1990, Yarwood suffered a heart attack at his home. The following year, 1991, he gave up alcohol. He has been teetotal ever since.
- Three of a Kind (BBC) (1967)
- Will the Real Mike Yarwood Stand Up? (ATV) (1968–1969)
- Look: Mike Yarwood (BBC) (1971–1976)
- Mike Yarwood in Persons. (BBC) (1976–1981)
- The Mike Yarwood Show (Thames) (1982–1987)
- Yarwood's in Town (Thames) (1982) Live on stage show
- And This is Me (1974)
- Mike Yarwood Confession Album (1978)
- Impressions of My Life (1986)
- "Birthdays today". The Telegraph. 14 June 2013. Retrieved 10 June 2014.
Mr Mike Yarwood, entertainer, 72
- "'Television s Greatest Hits – 1966 – Game Shows'". Youtube.com. Retrieved 20 October 2014.
- Source for all of this? Speculation
- "How the pressure of performing to millions turned superstar impressionist Mike Yarwood to drink and destroyed his marriage".
- "Entertainment | Depressed comic Yarwood seeks help". BBC News. 26 October 1999. Retrieved 4 October 2015.
- "Relative Values: Mike Yarwood and his daughter, Clare". The Sunday Times. 8 April 2007. Retrieved 20 May 2016.
- Mike Yarwood discography at Discogs
- Mike Yarwood at the BFI's Screenonline
- Mike Yarwood in pantomime at the Coventry Theatre, Coventry, 1968–69
- Mike Yarwood appearing on This Is Your Life
- Mike Yarwood review mentioning British television comedy in the 1970s, in The Guardian