Mike Yarwood turned impressions into Saturday night entertainment – Rory Bremner

Rory Bremner has paid tribute to fellow comedian Mike Yarwood as the person who “kicked the door down” for impressionists to become big names in the world of entertainment.

Yarwood, who became a household name in the 1960s and 1970s with his impressions of politicians and celebrities, died aged 82 in hospital on Friday.

Bremner, known for impressions of former prime ministers Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that he had been recording interviews for a Channel 5 tribute show alongside Alistair McGowan and Jon Culshaw when he found out the news.

The 62-year-old Scottish impressionist said: “I think it’s true to say that if it hadn’t been for him … I don’t think I would have become an impressionist.

“I think as he kicked the door down, he turned impressions from being a kind of speciality act, a trick as it were, into top of the bill entertainment, a Saturday night affair, he was the inspiration really to so many of our generation. All of us were inspired by him.”

Bremner also said Yarwood’s comedy was a “kinder” form of satire and cited the example of him having the former chancellor Denis Healey on the show while he played his sister in drag.

Yarwood was famous for his impressions of ex-prime ministers Harold Wilson and Edward Heath, as well as the then Prince of Wales.

He said he was just six when he did his first one, stuffing a cushion up his jumper and putting on a pair of glasses to impersonate Billy Bunter.

McGowan, a comedian known for the BBC’s The Big Impression show, said it was “very hard to match” the standard of Yarwood, who could replicate Strictly Come Dancing presenter Sir Bruce Forsyth, actor Frankie Howerd and The Generation Game host Larry Grayson.

The 58-year-old impressionist told the BBC: “I worked with him once, this is a very brief story… he was a wonderful man, very generous and … this was in the mid-90s, when I was starting out really and he was trying to make a comeback against his will, it was somebody else that wanted him to do it.

“He just said ‘You’re like, nowadays, you’re much more interested vocally than I was. I wasn’t that bothered about getting people exactly (right). I was interested in sort of getting the essence of them’ but it was the physicality that interested him most, he said.”

Writing on X, previously known as Twitter, impressionist Jon Culshaw said: “So full of sorrow and sadness to learn that dear Mike Yarwood has left us.. The Godfather of impressions on TV.

“First to have all the multi cameras & split screens which he used ingeniously to make all his characters burst into vivid life. An inspiration and a wonderful soul xx.”

Yarwood, born on June 14 1941 in Bredbury, Cheshire, spent his later years at the Royal Variety Charity’s Brinsworth House, in Twickenham, south-west London.

The charity, which announced his death, said it was deeply saddened, adding: “He leaves behind an immeasurable void in the entertainment industry.”

The statement also said: “Throughout his career, Mike graced television screens nationwide, becoming a household name in the 1960s and 1970s.

“His variety shows, including The Mike Yarwood Show and Mike Yarwood In Persons, captivated audiences and showcased his uncanny talent for mimicry on prime-time television for two decades.

“The Mike Yarwood Show (1977) holds the record for the largest single Christmas Day audience of 21.4 million viewers.”