Charlie Williams - (1927 - 2006) Footballer & Comedian
'There can never be another Charlie Williams but thanks to him we can look on some of the more difficult times in our past and smile knowing that we were not alone Charlie Williams was lighting our way with laughter.'
Charlie Williams was born in Royston, Yorkshire in 1927. His mother was British and his father from the Caribbean island of Barbados.
He left school at the age of 14 to work in the mines and did so for seven years. One day he was spotted playing football by Doncaster Rovers and encouraged to change his career to that of professional footballer. Charlie made 171 appearances for Doncaster Rovers and told Intermix how the crowd would always let out a huge gasp every time he walked onto the playing field, a sign of the huge shock it was to see a player of colour on the field. His worst reaction he said had come from a centre forward whose exact words were "I'll kill you, you Black B******d.' It wasn't the normal experience for Charlie who added that 'most of the time you would call each other names during the match but afterwards you would shake hands and be friends. Some fans would even come up and apologise, saying 'sorry they were a bit drunk".
In 1964 Charlie changed his career to that of a singer and began touring working men's clubs around the country. In between numbers Charlie would often tell jokes to keep the audience entertained and found they responded well. He also realised that the pay for a comedian was much more than that of a singer, changing his career once again, he used the extra income he made to buy books about comedy to improve his skills.
His act found national fame in the 1970s and he made regular appearances on the hit show The Comedians. Playing alongside such names as Frank Carson, Tom O'Connor, Jim Bowen, Lennie Bennett and Mike Reid and even the extremely racist Bernard Manning. Charlie said he found his talent for comedy at school, where he said he could either deal with racial prejudice by fighting or making people laugh. In his TV material he often poked fun at his colour and racial issues and this non-confrontational style helped the British public warm to him; conversely, his routines often concluded with him getting the better of those who maligned him.
In 1971 Charlie had a small acting part in Room At The Top, he said he enjoyed taking part in the film but realised just how much work was involved and had no desire to be a filmstar. Asked who he would like play him in a film about his life Charlie said 'Lenny Henry, despite the difference in our heights'.
Charlie also went on to host the Golden Shot, a game show that had originally been hosted by Bob Monkhouse, which brought him even more fame.
Charlie was honoured with The Big Red Book for This Is Your life of which he was immensly proud and In 1999, was made an MBE for his charity work. He was also voted Doncaster Rovers' all-time cult hero by viewers of the BBC's Football Focus programme. In 2000 he received a Lifetime Achievement award from the British Black Comedy Awards.
Charlie Williams opened the door for many other entertainers of colour and Lenny Henry and Gary Wilmot both cited him as an inspiration. He named Tommy Cooper as his own favourite funny man and said he was also impressed with Lenny Henry and Kenny Lynch. He said he disliked the use of bad language in contemporary comedy and didn't find it funny at all.
Funny men aside Charlie said his father was the man he'd most respected and who'd had the most influence on his life. He had arrived in the UK from Barbados during World War 1 and despite being unable to read and write was extremely articulate. He had encouraged Charlie to get the education he had been denied but sadly died when Charlie was only 16 and never got to see his son appear on stage.
Charlie Williams passed away on September 2, 2006. He had suffered with Parkinson's disease for over ten years. His funeral was attended by over a thousand mourners as well as the hundred's that lined the streets of Barnsley where he lived to say their goodbyes to the man who'd put their town firmly on the map.
His funeral reflected Charlie's upbeat style, with the Jubilee New Orleans Parade Band accompanying his mahogany coffin into the church playing When You're Smiling.
Ahead of his coffin went the famous This Is Your Life big red book, of which Mr Charlie was so proud. Simple white flowers spelling out 'Charlie' in his hearse were slashed with a banner saying one of his famous catchphrases – 'Ey up me owd flower.'
Charlie Williams said that Intermix.org.uk founder Sharron Hall 'Deserves a medal as big as a dustbin lid' and Sharron has fond memories of him.
I first saw Charlie Williams on television when I was about nine-years-old. Up until that point I had never seen another person who looked like me. Living in a predominately white area, there was no one who I could identify with. When Charlie appeared on the box I thought my prayers were answered. I must have been adopted and this man must be my father. Charlie laughed when I told him years later. He'd hidden the pain of growing up in a society that doesn't accept you, with laughter.
'The best medicine in life he called it'. It served him so well that most didn't even see his colour unless he referred to it. Some of his jokes make me cringe when I hear them now but back then it was all any of us knew and without them we could not have made the changes we have. I was deeply saddened to hear of Charlie's passing because with him goes another piece of our past. There can never be another Charlie Williams but thanks to him we can look on some of the more difficult times in our past and smile knowing that we were not alone Charlie Williams was lighting our way with laughter.