Norman Collier, 1925 – 2013
Dubbed by Jimmy Tarbuck as ‘the comedian’s comedian’ Norman Collier was not the most regular face on television, despite a long running career dating back to the 1960’s. Instead probably much like Bobby Thompson, he made his name on the Northern Club Circuit.
Having made guest appearances on many shows he was perhaps best remembered for his faulty microphone and chicken routines.
Born in Kingston upon Hull, East Riding of Yorkshire, England, into the working-class family of Thomas and Mary (née Dowling) Collier on 25th December 1925 weighing 15 lb 4 oz. Growing up in the centre of Hull, Norman Collier was the eldest of eight children.
During World War Two he served as a gunner. after demob he found work as a labourer. Work followed at BP’s chemical factory in Salt End. It was here he began to amuse his workmates in breaktimes, this would be the beginnings of a career that would span some sixty years.
Norman Collier was married with three children, several grandchildren, and a growing number of great-grandchildren. In recent years he had been suffering from Parkinson’s disease, he died on 14th March 2013.
In 1948, whilst visting the Perth Street West club in Hull, an act failed to turn up, and Collier volunteered to fill in. Feeling comfortable on stage he began to work some local clubs.
Whilst working for in BP’s Salt End chemical factory he started making his workmates laugh with improvised comic routines during breaks (and all too often outside them). Encouraged by his managers, he began to work the wider northern working club scene, and became a full-time comic in 1962, enjoying steady success through the 1960s.
It was a successful appearance at the Royal Variety Command Performance in 1971 that brought him to national media attention. Though occasionally appearing on television thereafter, he made his main reputation on the northern club circuit, and was highly regarded by many fellow comics (notably Frank Carson, Les Dawson, and Little and Large, who were regular house guests). Jimmy Tarbuck dubbed him ‘the comedian’s comedian’
It was to the casual television viewer that he became best known for two routines: one in the guise of a northern club compere whose microphone is working intermittently; another adopting the noises, gestures and movements of a chicken, using his out-turned jacket to suggest the chicken’s wings. He was the originator of the ‘club chairman’ character later popularised by Colin Crompton in the ITV series Wheeltappers and Shunters Club.
The short appearances on television, never reflected the detailed and large-scale routines that characterised Collier’s club work and which brought him enormous success through the 1970s and 1980s. (He was never a participant, for example, in the 1970s ITV series The Comedians.) He appeared alongside Jim Davidson when he stood in for Bruce Forsyth during his final series of Bruce Forsyth’s Generation Game.