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Larry Grayson
Larry Grayson on Generation Game.jpg
Larry Grayson on The Generation Game
Birth name William White
Born 31 August 1923(1923-08-31)
Banbury, England, UK
Died 7 January 1995 (aged 71)
Nuneaton, Warwickshire, UK
Medium Comedian, TV Presenter
Nationality English
Years active 1937-1994
Notable works and roles The Generation Game

Larry Grayson (31 August 1923 – 7 January 1995), born William Sulley White[1], was an English stand-up comedian and television presenter of the 1970s and early 80s. He is best remembered for hosting the BBC's popular series The Generation Game and for his high camp and English music hall humour.[2]

Contents

Biography

Grayson was born in Banbury, Oxfordshire in 1923 to unmarried parents (he never met his father). Ten days after he was born, he was adopted by Alice and Jim Hammond, a working-class coal mining family in Nuneaton, Warwickshire. His foster mother died when he was six years old, and he was brought up by his eldest foster sister, Flo.[3] When he was eight, he discovered that his mysterious Aunt Ethel was in fact his natural mother, though he always considered Flo as his mother.[2]

He left school at the age of 14 and was soon working professionally under the name of Billy Breen as a supporting drag act on the comedy club circuit. Over the next thirty years, he toured the UK not only in male revues and drag shows, but also in variety shows. Grayson once toured with Harry Leslie and his Tomorrow Stars, hoping that his chance of fame would come too. He also added stand-up comedy to his act and appeared in London at the Metropolitan.

Television career

Grayson was one of the first television comedians to suggest an openly gay persona. He did not achieve stardom until he was in his fifties and had his own television show. An early TV appearance in the 1950s had led to many complaints about his act being too outrageous, and Grayson had resigned himself to a career off television. He was very popular in review and working men's clubs with a unique and very gentle anecdotal style of comedy. It was usually based around his various "friends" such as Everard, Apricot Lil, Slack Alice, and the postman Pop-It-In Pete. A lot of this was observational. Grayson's family owned the only telephone on the street when he was a child, and he used to listen to his neighbours using the phone.

Following a hit run of guest spots on ATV variety shows in the 1970s, he was rewarded by Lew Grade with his own award winning show, Shut That Door!, in 1975.

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The Generation Game

Grayson's popularity peaked when he moved over to the BBC to present The Generation Game in 1978.

Attracting audiences of over 18 million each week, the show became even more popular and ran until 1981. Grayson was aided and abetted by Isla St Clair, whom he always referred to as "my lovely Isla". Despite its popularity, The Generation Game was being beaten in the ratings by its ITV rival, Game for a Laugh, and the BBC took the decision to end the series in early 1982. Accepting this decision philosophically, Grayson went into semi-retirement, enjoying time on his own at his bungalow with his beloved dogs, although he did return to television to present the game show "Sweethearts" for ITV in 1987.

He also made two memorable cameo appearances in the Midlands-based soap opera Crossroads, as a flouncing, difficult customer at the Crossroads Motel and as the chauffeur at the wedding of Meg Richardson (played by his close friend Noele Gordon). Ironically, Grayson couldn't drive.

Grayson moved with Flo (his adoptive mother, who also happened to be his older sister) to Torquay, Devon as part of his semi-retirement, but moved back to Nuneaton after just a couple of years.

In 2009, Network DVD released a 3 disc set Shut That Door - Larry Grayson At ITV which features material from his ITV days, including the one existing episode of his series Shut That Door and both series of The Larry Grayson Show.

Memorial in Nuneaton

It was said that he had been incensed at an objection by one councillor at a Nuneaton town council meeting to the idea of a monument for Grayson in the town. Apparently, the comments made were unpleasantly homophobic. Grayson asked his family to ensure that no memorial to him was ever to be erected there.

However, a permanent tribute to Larry Grayson was opened in April 2009 at the Riversley Park museum, Nuneaton, with a display of personal memorabilia and items from his showbiz career. The exhibition, in the ground-floor Local History Room, includes his trademark gold bentwood chair, a plaque from the star dressing room at the London Palladium, trophies, gifts and souvenir programmes. [4]

Catchphrases

  • "Ooo shut that door!"
  • "What a gay day!"
  • "Isla, can we have the scores on the doors please?"
  • "Seems like a nice boy...!"
  • (After running his finger across the top of the back of a chair) "Oooo! Look at the muck in here!"
  • "Fancy!"

Characters

His characters were based on real people.[2]

  • Slack Alice
  • Apricot Lil, who works in the jam factory
  • Pop-It-In-Pete, the postman ("The things I've had through my letterbox!")
  • Self-Raising Fred, the baker
  • Everard Farquharson, Larry's "close friend"
  • Top-it-Up Ted, the petrol station attendant

Television Appearances

  • Saturday Variety — 1971 — television show appearances.
  • The Leslie Crowther Show — 1971 — television show appearances.
  • Shut That Door! — 1972–1973 — television show host.
  • Crossroads — 1973 — guest appearance on the Boxing Day episode as an irate customer.
  • The Larry Grayson Hour of Stars — 1974 — television show host.
  • Look Who's Talking — 1974–75 — television show host.
  • Crossroads — 1975 — guest appearance as the chauffeur of the wedding car in the episode when Meg married Hugh Mortimer.
  • Larry Grayson's Generation Game — 1978–1981 — television game show host.
  • At Home with Larry Grayson — 1983 — television show host.
  • Late Night Larry — 1983 — radio music show host.
  • Sweethearts — 1987 — television panel game host.[5]

Death

On New Year's Eve 1994, Grayson was rushed into hospital. The diagnosis was that he had suffered from a perforated appendix. After being allowed home from hospital, Grayson died on 7 January 1995 in Nuneaton, at the age of 71.[6] Grayson's final public appearance was on 3 December 1994 at the Royal Variety Performance. During this performance he referred to his hiatus from television, by commenting to the audience, "Yes, I am still alive!". His last words were his catchphrase "Shut that door!"[7] He is buried alongside other members of his family in his home town of Nuneaton.

Obituaries

Journalist Suzi Pritchard wrote in The Guardian:

"His camp, deliciously naughty humour was never crude or vulgar. The gentle ambivalence of his humour made him attractive to an extraordinarily diverse range of people. But his real appeal was that of a valued neighbour perceptively observing the details of every day life and commenting on it across the garden fence, creating an emotional intimacy in a society starting to fragment."

Ken Dodd, comedian, said of Larry Grayson's appeal and warmth:

"He loved everybody and he wanted them to love him in return and yes, they did, they all loved Larry".[8]

References

External links

Preceded by
Bruce Forsyth
Host of The Generation Game
1978-81
Succeeded by
Bruce Forsyth (in 1990)

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