Stanley Baxter

Stanley Baxter

Date of birth: 24-05-1926
Talented character comedian Stanley Baxter began his performing career as a child impersonating stars of the day in a vaudeville act with his mother. He went on to appear regularly in the Scottish edition of the BBC's Children's Hour, but it was during his national service he honed his skills, as part of the Combined Services Entertainment unit.

On demob, he joined the Citizens Theatre in his native Glasgow before moving to London. He made his television debut on the BBC's Shop Window in 1952, but his break came with the satirical sketch show On the Bright Side in 1959, which he co-hosted with Round The Horne’s Betty Marsden.

His self-titled TV sketch show ran on the BBC from 1963 to 1971 (with a break for the six-part Baxter On... co-starring June Whitfield) which became known for its extravagant production values. He moved to London Weekend Television for the Stanley Baxter Picture Show, which ran from 1972 to 1975, followed by a number of specials, plus another series in 1981.

However, the cost of the lavish show proved prohibitive, and LWT dropped him, even though the shows attracted audiences of up to 20million. Baxter also courted controversy, becoming the first person on television to impersonate the Pope and the Queen.

He returned to the BBC with Stanley Baxter's Christmas Hamper in 1985 and Stanley Baxter's Picture Annual for the following festive season, but again budget constraints meant there would be no more specials.

With his own shows drying up, he took a role in the ITV children's series Mr Majeika, which ran from1988 to 1990.

In 1996, Channel 4 ran two specials combining old highlights and new material.

On stage, he performed in the original production of Joe Orton's controversial farce What The Butler Saw in the West End in 1969, and was a perennial favourite on the Scottish pantomime circuit until his retirement in 1991.

He appeared in a series of three half-hour radio sitcoms for BBC Radio 4 in 2004, entitled Stanley Baxter and Friends, and another radio trio aired in 2008, called The Stanley Baxter Playhouse.

In 1997, he was honoured with a lifetime achievement award at the British Comedy Awards.

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The forgotten man of comedy?

Stanley Baxter

Stanley Baxter is the neglected icon of British comedy, say the makers of a new tribute programme.

As he turns 75, BBC1 is to pay its dues in a 50-minute special This Is Stanley Baxter, on July 12.

And the corporation's own press release describes him as "a ghostly presence on the fringes of memory".

To a large extent it is his own fault. The man who had commanded TV audiences of millions with lavishly funded extravaganzas, retired from our screens in his early 60s. It could have been a prime time in his career.

Others continued to roll out for special appearances gaining cult credibility or camp notoriety. Stanley didn't. The man who once ranked at the pinnacle of light entertainment with the likes of Morecambe and Wise, Dick Emery and Les Dawson effectively hit the off switch on his telly career. He had wanted to retire from the gruelling schedule his shows and pantomime runs imposed particularly as he had come to rely on prescription drugs to get him through and help him sleep.

There is no regret in his voice as he says: "I felt I was quite a big star in Scotland, and a reasonably big star south of the border but this is it, this is the time to get off that particular carousel."

Why didn't he continue to appear on the chat show circuit, which was part and parcel of those times and a performing lifeline for so many of his contemporaries?

"I hate being on camera. I hate talking as myself and whenever I see it back, either on sound or vision or both, I absolutely loathe it. I don't mind myself when I am in character but I just hate the sound of my own voice and the look of me too."

Stanley chose to break his silence with his most extensive television interview ever to BBC Scotland, to mark his 7Sth birthday.

It was with BBC Scotland that Stanley forged the early part of his career and Scotland is still very much in his heart - even though he has lived in London for almost 50 years.

The programme takes him on a nostalgic tour of Glasgow, from his old family home to the cinema where he learned to dream of performing, and to the stages where he wowed what many have acknowledged as the toughest audiences in the UK.

The programme also says that Baxter's career was a pivotal part of the development of British comedy.

His early career included the first split-screen line-up of impersonations, with Baxter appearing simultaneously as four people; a televisual trick which was to become the hallmark of his amazing sketch productions taking off everything from Gone With The Wind to Upstairs, Downstairs.

His famous lavish productions in drag included the first television impersonation of the Queen, which could quite feasibly have been regarded as a treasonable offence, and his material was risque for the time, inciting the wrath of Mary Whitehouse.

Yet he did it all within the mainstream of British television, and his comedy successors have enjoyed the licence he created.

It isn't perhaps a heritage he always necessarily enjoys for his own entertainment, but Britain has become a more liberal society for his efforts - at least in terms of comedy.

"When I see what people get away with nowadays, I realise those were really very innocent days indeed!" he says

First published:July 2001

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Published: 22 Mar 2009

Baxter's back | Stanley's first TV show in 12 years

Baxter's back

Veteran comedian Stanley Baxter is to come out of retirement…



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