‘An inspiration’: fellow impressionists pay tribute to Mike Yarwood

<span>Photograph: PA</span>
Photograph: PA

The Mike Yarwood “kicked the door down” for others in the comedy trade, Rory Bremner has said, after the death of the impressionist and satirist.

Yarwood, who died on Friday aged 82, was a household name in the 1960s and 1970s. His 1977 Christmas special pipped Morecambe and Wise’s festive offering to break, and still hold, the record for the highest-ever single Christmas Day audience.

He was known for his impressions of politicians, celebrities and royals, including Harold Wilson, the then-Prince Charles and Brian Clough.

Tributes were paid to the comedian, including by those to whom he had been a comic forebear. Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on Saturday, Rory Bremner, who has gone on to become one of Britain’s best known impressionists on Bremner, Bird and Fortune, said he had been an inspiration.

He and Alistair McGowan had coincidentally been recording tributes to Yarwood for a documentary before the news broke on Friday.

Bremner said: “If it hadn’t been for him and Stanley Baxter, I don’t think I’d have become an impressionist.

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“He kicked the door down, and he turned impressions from being a kind of specialist act, a trick as it were, into top of the bill entertainment, Saturday night affair.

“He was the inspiration for so many of our generation, Alistair, John Culshaw, Phil Cool, we were inspired by him.”

McGowan said his favourite impression of Yarwood’s was Brian Clough, the then-Nottingham Forest manager. They worked together once in the mid-1990s, when McGowan was starting out and Yarwood was attempting a comeback.

“He was a wonderful man, very generous,” he told the Today programme. “He just said that ‘your lot nowadays are much more interested vocally than I was, I wasn’t that bothered about getting them exact, but I was interested in getting the essence of them’, but it was the physicality that interested him the most,” he said.

“You look back to his Frankie Howerd, his Larry Grayson and Bruce Forsyth. He would just stick his tongue in the corner of his mouth as Frankie Howerd or Larry Grayson, or the way he walked as Bruce Forsyth, it was exemplary and it has been very hard to match that standard.”

Yarwood got 21.4 million viewers for his 1977 Christmas special, but McGowan believed he suffered from impressionists’ TV shows often not being rebroadcast, unlike other shows, because of their topical nature.

“With impressionists we get sort of forgotten a bit because our material is thought of topical and of course the people we’re doing move on all the time,” he said.

“So you don’t get repeated in the same way and Mike didn’t get repeated in the way the Two Ronnies or Morecambe and Wise have always been repeated. Their stuff is seen as timeless, but theirs is of an era, and Mike’s was of an era, but we don’t get the same recognition. Mike has been forgotten in that respect, and it’s is a shame because he brought so much joy to young and old alike.”