If Paul Elliott had a motto it would probably be “just get on with it”.
The Bawtry postman will recognise the name of Paul Elliott, but you and I will know him better as one of the Chuckle Brothers, and it is as Paul Chuckle that he appears on the advertising bills and posters for this year’s Bradford Alhambra pantomime. He’s Paul Chuckle when he does public speaking, for his appearances as a DJ and every other major engagement. But, when he takes a stroll down to his local pub, the Turnpike, it’s Paul Elliott, different from his TV persona.
The slightly zany chap who – with his late brother Barry – has been making folk laugh for over half a century, is a long way from the Paul Elliott who is relaxed in an easy chair, chatting away happily about the panto, his career and the state of the world. He’s not one of those gregarious show-business people who believe that their opinions matter, or count for anything. He’s a reflective chap, with an easy-going charm and a genuine honesty.
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Paul, 72, smiles that easy self-deprecating grin and admits that a walk into town is made rather longer by the stream of people who come up to him and ask for selfies on their phones. He sighs: “It used to be so easy, didn’t it, when all they wanted was an autograph? That’s no problem at all. You get out your pen, and that’s it. But these days it has to be on a camera, and that’s not a problem either, not in any way. I never say no – except for the fact that a lot of those lovely folk don’t seem to know how to use them.”
Not that he’s complaining. “I’m just so grateful that they ask in the first place. They’re the ones who gave me and my brother a career. I can’t stand those entertainers who go all grand and brush their fans and admirers aside,” he says.
That he’s up there on stage at all was all down to an accident in his teens. Young Paul – born into a Rotherham family who had entertainment in their DNA (“we all grew up in dressing rooms, we didn’t really know much else”) – had aspirations to be a footballer. He was, in fact, an outstanding player. Until he tore ligaments in his left leg, and thoughts of a professional career were over in a split second. “I was devastated”, he says, sadly shaking his head. It’s about the only time in the conversation that he looks down-hearted for a brief few moments. He reflects: “I was inconsolable. My take was that my life had finished before it had really only started. I was what, 14 or 15? I’d just left school.”
Then his brother Barry asked if he’d like to join him in a double act. “He wouldn’t hear me say no. So I did, and that was that. Never looked back.”
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These days he says he has the best of both worlds. “I’m patron of Rotherham United and I get invited to all the matches that I can make, and that means a nice meal and a couple of drinks in the directors’ suite.
“That’s another motto I have, ‘no regrets’. You never know what life is going to hand you, and what decisions you are going to make. Don’t look back and moan. What you did then makes you what you are today. And you mustn’t complain, because there is no earthly way that you are going to change anything.”
The Chuckle Brothers started out in the dying days of the variety theatres. “That’s worth a book in itself,” says Paul. “I remember playing some dates up in Edinburgh, at the old Palladium theatre, long demolished now.”
Here they were on the bill with veteran performers like Dorothy Squires, “a colourful character with a mouth like a sewer!” and later Sandy Powell, of whom he has fond memories. “We did our first pantomime with him, in the 60s at Malvern. He was amazing, with a ventriloquist’s act that had you doubled up with laughter. He was terrible with the dummy, but that was meant to happen, that’s what made you laugh so much. His wife would be standing in the wings, telling him what to do, and that just added to the humour of it.”
The past 12 months or so have been difficult for Paul, with the death of both his brothers Barry and Jimmy. “I’m the baby of the family” he says. “I cannot explain what Barry and I had together, but just let me tell you that there were never ever any cross words or disagreements. There were – and are – a lot of other double acts who would – and do – get up on stage, and do their bit, and then they’d come off and never even talk to each other. We were different, always making each other laugh. He’d do something on stage, something unexpected, and I’d double up with laughter. Same with me to him. Now, Barry talks to me in my sleep. Never did before, but he does now. In fact, he’s sitting there, in that chair, listening to us, so much wanting to join in. He’s there for me, and I can’t tell you how much that means.
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“He told me once that he never wanted to retire – and neither do I – and that he wanted to die on stage. He darned nearly got his wish. I’ll tell you what it is, and my good mate Billy Pearce summed it up perfectly the other day, it’s that feeling you get from an audience when they give you their love and appreciation at the end of a show. You really do want to be able to pull that out of the air, and to bottle it up for later. But you have all the memories as well, and no-one can ever take them away from you. Laughter is the best therapy in the world.”
Why does he think that the Chuckle Brothers made the impact that they did? “We appealed right across the family. We didn’t tell mucky gags. Others did, and they got a lot of bookings. But – and this is the big but – they never got the telly appearances, not back then. There were only one or two who could appeal across the board. Bob Monkhouse was one of them. He was outrageous when he was doing an ‘adult’ audience, but when he was on the box, he was a completely different performer. Hats off to him.”
Paul and his wife Sue are like “nomads” these days, constantly living out of suitcases, never at home. “I’ve got something of a second life, because I’m appearing all over the place, doing DJ-ing for students, clubs, societies, things like that. And they love it. A bit of good dance music. I’m always getting kids coming up to me and telling me how Barry and I were part of their growing up, their earliest memories of TV. And that’s special, when someone says: ‘You made my childhood, I was being bullied by other kids, ChuckleVision saved me and made me laugh.’”
It seems that those youngsters who want to take up entertaining ask Paul for advice “all the time”. And he’s happy to give it. “I tell them that if they really want to do it – and this applies to any career at all – do it 100 per cent. Give it all you’ve got. Don’t do anything half-heartedly. It’s called ‘commitment’. You give an audience your very best efforts and, believe me, they will give it back to you. And that is the best feeling in the world.”
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Bradford Alhambra Theatre, December 14 until January 26. Box office on 01274 432 000.