Charlie Williams dies

One of Britain's first black comics

Charlie Williams, one of the first black comedians to appear on British TV, has died at the age of 78

The comic, who had suffered Parkinson's disease and dementia for several years died yesterday at Barnsley General Hospital.

He was born on December 23, 1928, in Barnsley, to a family from Barbados.

Williams became a coal miner on leaving school, but was spotted playing football for the Upton Colliery works team and signed up by Doncaster Rovers, and made 171 appearances for them between 1948 and 1959. He was one of the very few black players at the time, and was subjected to racial abuse, which he never reacted to.

Once his playing career ended, he became a club entertainer, first as a singer, then a comic, and he found mainstream fame in the Seventies on the TV show The Comedians.

He went on to host The Golden Shot game show for one series in 1973, although he appeared ill at-ease fronting the live programme, and Bob Monkhouse was soon reinstated as host.

In his stand-up set, Williams would often joke about his colour, although his routines did not depend on it, and made the Yorkshire catchphrase ‘me old flower’ his own.

He was criticised for playing along with the crude racial sterotypes of the day, with gags like ‘It was so sunny today I thought I'd been deported’ or the heckle put-down: ‘If you don't shut up I'll come and move in next door to you’

But he always denied he was pandering to race prejudice, arguing  that he dragged it out in the open and mocked it.

He once said: ‘Because I make jokes, it does not mean I'm willing to be walked over. I'm not saying that problems should be ignored. The great thing about this country is that justified complaints can be heard and get some action.’

In the 1988 book Windrush, Lenny Henry said that Williams was a pioneer for black comedians.

He wrote: ‘Charlie Williams was perfect for the time he appeared. It was a brilliant thing, this black Yorkshireman who played football with Doncaster Rovers, who'd had the wartime experience of white Yorkshire people, who talked like them, who thought like them, but who just happened to be black.

‘And when he can along it was astounding to hear this bloke talking like, "Eh up, flower, eh. Hey, have you ever been to supermarket where they have the broken biscuits?". I think it was a huge culture shock for people. And Charlie exploited this to the full.’

And of the sometimes un-PC material Williams used, Henry said: ‘I went through a period of thinking it was all bad, but I just think it was the times and you did what you had to do to get by. I think you did what you had to do to survive in a predominantly white world.’

Published: 3 Sep 2006

We see you are using AdBlocker software. Chortle relies on advertisers to fund this website so it’s free for you, so we would ask that you disable it for this site. Our ads are non-intrusive and relevant. Help keep Chortle viable.