Mike Yarwood, OBE (born 14 March 1941) is a British impressionist and comedian. He was Britain's top rated impressionist on television from the mid 1960s to the early 1980s.
London Palladium & Tony Hancock
Yarwood was one of the stars of British television in the 1960s and 1970s, with his own prominent shows, which changed between BBC and ITV (ATV and Thames Television) based on high profile financial deals. Yarwood belonged to the same television comedy generation as Morecambe and Wise, Dick Emery, Frankie Howerd, Stanley Baxter, The Goodies, Tommy Cooper, Benny Hill, Eric Sykes, Bruce Forsyth and magician David Nixon. Though he had made a short appearance with Tony Hancock in Hancock's Half Hour in 1961, Yarwood owed his initial success to the Sunday Night at the London Palladium variety 'spectacular', on which he first appeared in 1964. His appearance co-incided with the senior political career of his most famous 'character', Labour Party leader and sometime Prime Minister Harold Wilson.
Topping the TV ratings
At its height, Yarwood's TV shows, which were based on a variety mix of comic sketches, guest musicians, and a swing song sung by Yarwood (introduced by the line, "and this is me", which became the title of the first of his three autobographies), regularly attracted more than 10 million viewers (beating the James Bond film You Only Live Twice in a 'head to head' battle in 1977). He never matched the 28 million achieved by Morecambe and Wise (over half of all viewers), which famously in 1977 led Queen Elizabeth II to postpone the Royal Family's Christmas dinner so that she too could join her subjects in watching the comedy duo.
Yarwood's show attracted high profile guests such as ex-Beatle Paul McCartney (1977) and chart-topping Eurovision winners ABBA (1978). Among the prominent British personalities he portrayed were Eddie Waring, the famously impossible to understand Rugby League commentator, Brian Clough, the controversial soccer manager, Robin Day, the then top political interviewer on the BBC, Alf Garnett, the 'bigot' from Till Death Us Do Part and Wilson's Conservative Party rival Ted Heath (Yarwood's impression of Liberal leader Jeremy Thorpe was unconvincing, and he knew it). It was Yarwood's willingness to tackle politicians as well as entertainers that made his act stand out. His performance as Harold Wilson became a legend and his instantly recognisable trademark. He briefly caused some controversy by including the Prince of Wales as one of his regular impressions. Yarwood's Christmas Special, along with the Morecambe and Wise TV special and the Queen's Christmas Speech, became the highlight of Christmas Day television viewing. Yarwood was the subject of a This is Your Life special, presented by Eamonn Andrews on 31 May 1978.
Yarwood's characterisations also created catchphrases which came to be identified with famous figures, even though they never actually used them. The two most famous were "silly Billy", as spoken by his caricature of British Labour Chancellor of the Exchequer Denis Healey, and "I mean that most sincerely, folks", which his caricature of Opportunity Knocks presenter Hughie Greene used so often people believed that the real Hughie Greene actually said it. (He never did.)
Part of the Cotton Crew in the BBC
Yarwood's career hit its heights in the 1970s when he was one of a stable of stars under the BBC Light Entertainment maestro Bill Cotton, including Forsyth and Morecambe and Wise largely assembled from talent developed in the 1960s at ITV (Benny Hill was one of the few left on the then ailing ITV network). Their defections in the late 1970s back to ITV (where all bombed, with badly designed ITV shows created for them, and in particular the fact that their best scriptwriters were still under contract at the BBC and so could not work for them on ITV) marked an end to the heyday of the 1960s/70s era of television comedy.
While Forsyth and Morecambe and Wise gradually rebuilt their careers (the latter jumping twice between BBC and ITV and prematurely ended by Eric Morecambe's death in 1984), Yarwood, a later defector to Thames Television, saw his career go into terminal decline in the early 1980s, as most of his most famous 'subjects', including Heath and Wilson retired from public life or died, the premiership being held by Margaret Thatcher, whom he proved unable to master (she was played on his show by Janet Brown). Yarwood's career never recovered from the loss of some of his most loved characters. In addition, his battle with alcoholism badly affected his career, making him unreliable and temperamental and affecting the quality of his output. It also broke up his marriage.
His Thames TV show was cancelled and he disappeared from broadcasting. Subsequent attempts to resurrect his television career failed, as a new generation of sharper political satirists, like Rory Bremner, and programmes like Spitting Image made Yarwood's lightweight 'look who I can do' style of comedy seem dated and weak, though he did make an appearance on the satirical show Have I Got News for You
In the late 1990s Yarwood underwent treatment for depression.
Yarwood's most famous shows
Will the Real Mike Yarwood Stand Up? (ATV) (1968-1969)
Look - Mike Yarwood (BBC)
Mike Yarwood in Persons. (BBC) (1977-1981)
The Mike Yarwood Show (Thames) (1981-1986)
And This is Me (1974)
Mike Yarwood Confession Album (1978)
Impressions of My Life (1986)