HIS passion was for making people laugh. And yesterday happy memories of the “comedian’s comedian” Norman Collier came flooding back as a host of old friends gathered for his funeral in Welton, near Hull.
Russ Abbott, Roy Hudd, and Roy “Chubbie” Brown were among a host of celebrities outside 15th century St Helen’s Church.
Syd Little came to pay his farewells as did Roy Walker, Tom O’Connor, and Bobby Ball.
Former snooker player Willie Thorne also attended, together with rugby legend Johnny Whiteley.
Eddie Large said his old mate was “the funniest man in the world”, adding: “Norman found everything funny.
“I know it’s a sad occasion but if he was here he would be laughing his head off – at anything.
“That was what was so great about him. He was a wonderful, wonderful man.”
Bobby Ball recalled Collier’s originality – and the fact he’d given the duo their first catchphrase, “That’ll do for me cocker!”, adding: “We have lost a comedy genius.”
Johnny Whiteley said he’d shared many happy moments with his golf partner: “Norman never switched off. Just being acquainted with him was a privilege.”
More than 250 people packed into the village church for the service as flurries of snow fell outside.
A lone trumpeter played Collier’s theme tune From this moment on as his coffin was carried into the church followed by his wife of more than 60 years, Lucy, as well as his three children and many grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
The 87-year-old had had Parkinson’s disease and had been living in a nursing home in Brough.
A contemporary of Little and Large, with whom he often worked, he rose to fame on the club circuit, getting his big break on the Royal Variety Show.
As well as making regular appearances on radio and TV in the 1970s and 1980s, including The Generation Game, Blankety Blank, The Little and Large Show, Collier also toured extensively in the UK, US, Canada, Europe and the Far East.
His best known gag, the intermittently faulty microphone, was recalled by son-in-law, John Ainsley, who a raised a laugh as he started to deliver his eulogy by pleading: “Norman please make it work.”
Mr Ainsley said his father-in-law, who was born in Hull on Christmas Day in 1925, weighing in a hefty 15lb 14oz, the eldest of eight children, never planned to go into show business.
“It happened through sheer, wonderful talent,” he said.
After serving as a gunner in the Second World War, Collier worked as a labourer.
He stumbled into showbusiness after a friend invited him for a pint in the Perth Street Social Club and the booked act didn’t turn up.
He attracted an enthusiastic regional following, but it was his debut at the 1971 Royal Variety Performance that brought him to wider attention, having effectively stolen the show.
“Unknown comedian Norman Collier won a standing ovation for his act,” reported one newspaper at the time.
As well as his regular TV appearances and theatre performances, he was also a frequent pantomime performer, notably playing Widow Twanky opposite Little and Large at Hull’s New Theatre in Aladdin.
He continued to perform into his 80s, and in 2009 appeared with Tom O’Connor, Cannon and Ball, and other stars in a 25-night tour of The Best of British Variety.
Mr Ainsley said his father-in-law remained true to himself throughout his long career.
“Fame, celebrity, he never changed, neither did Lucy or his family. They were grateful Norman worked and he was happy in his career.
“There were opportunities to move to London, but no, their roots were in Hull, his family were in Hull and that’s where he wanted to stay...
“Norman felt he was blessed to be able to do what he did; he had a life that as a young man would be inconceivable.
“He adored his family. He was exactly the same man as people saw him on stage, hilarious, witty and kind.
“We simply adored him, as he adored us.”