On this day in history : 11th April 2001 – The death of much loved Welsh-English actor, comedian, writer and singer Sir Harry Secombe….
Harry Donald Secombe was born in St. Thomas, Swansea on the 8th of September 1921; he was the son of a shop manageress and a grocer…. He went to a state grammar school from the age of 11…. Being a religious family (his brother, Fred, was to become a clergyman) Harry attended Church regularly and sang in the church choir…. On leaving school he considered a career as an opera singer….however, in 1937 he became a pay clerk in a shop….
He was to join the Territorial Army – and then during world War 2 he served in the North African Campaign, Sicily and Italy, as a Lance Bombardier with No.132 Field Regiment…. It was whilst in North Africa that he was first to meet Spike Milligan….
Harry joined the concert party in Sicily, performing comedy routines to entertain the troops….and after the War he was to team up with Spike as a comedy duo…. In 1946 he became one of the comics at London’s Windmill Theatre…. His radio break came when he was made resident comedian on the BBC Welsh programme ‘Welsh Rarebit’ – and he went on to make regular contributions to the popular show ‘Educating Archie’….
He was to meet fellow comedian Michael Bentine and along with Spike they were introduced to Peter Sellers…. This was to lead to a collaboration for a radio comedy programme entitled ’Crazy People’….which changed its name after the first series to become ‘The Goon Show’…. A hugely successful series which ran for a total of 238 half hour episodes and 12 specials between 1951 to 1960….
The Goon Show team made several films to accompany the radio show, including ‘Down Among the Z Men’ in 1952…. Harry, now enjoying success as a comedian, began a tandem career as a singer and had a number of best selling albums…. He appeared in various stage musicals, including ‘Pickwick’ (based on Charles Dickens’ The Pickwick Papers) in 1963, from which came his single ‘If I Ruled the World’, which reached No.18 in the UK charts – and was later to become his signature tune…. His most successful chart topping song was ‘This is My Song’, which reached No.2….
His film work included numerous films, such as ‘Jet Storm’ and ‘Davy’ (about a music hall performer) in 1958, ‘Oliver’ (in which he played Mr. Bumble) in 1968, ‘The Magnificent Seven Deadly Sins’ in 1971 and ‘Starstruck’ in 1972….
In 1968 he was given his own TV show – ‘The Harry Secombe Show’ – which was first aired on BBC1 on Christmas Day 1968 and ran until 1973….
In 1963 he was awarded a CBE and knighted in 1981….
His later career saw a more serious Harry Secombe…. His rotund appearance having disappeared, after losing 5 stone in weight following a severe attack of peritonitis in 1980…. In 1983 he became the host of the religious TV programme ‘Highway’….
Ill health began to mar his life…. He suffered a stroke in 1997 and was diagnosed with prostate cancer in September 1998…. A second stroke in 1999 forced Harry to give up his TV career…. He also suffered from diabetes….
Harry died in hospital in Guildford of prostate cancer on the 11th of April 2001…. His ashes were interred in the churchyard of Shamley Green Parish Church… His tombstone reads “To know him was to love him”….
He left behind his wife Myra, whom he had married in 1948 and their four children….