Mike Yarwood: A tribute to a television titan

6 December 2023, 16:28

Mike Yarwood was a comedy legend
Mike Yarwood was a comedy legend. Picture: Getty

By Tom Eames

Michael Edward Yarwood, OBE, known to the world as Mike Yarwood, was a towering figure in British entertainment.

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Born on June 14, 1941, in Bredbury, Cheshire, Mike Yarwood’s early life was humble, working as a messenger and salesman after leaving secondary modern school.

His love for football saw him try out for Oldham Athletic, and he later became a director of Stockport County Football Club.

Yarwood’s foray into showbiz began modestly, with a talent show at a pub in Dukinfield marking the start of his journey through the circuit of pubs and working men’s clubs in Northern England.

His breakthrough came as a warm-up man on Comedy Bandbox, which led to appearances on British television shows in the 1960s and 1970s.

The London Palladium was where Yarwood’s star began to rise. His first appearance in 1964 coincided with the senior political career of Labour Party leader and Prime Minister, Harold Wilson, whom Yarwood famously impersonated.

This marked the beginning of a career that would see him become one of Britain’s top-rated entertainers, regularly appearing on television from the 1960s to the 1980s.

TV impressionist Mike Yarwood takes off former Prime Minister Sir Harold Wilson at the launch of his new TV programme 'Taking Off With Mike Yarwood'
TV impressionist Mike Yarwood takes off former Prime Minister Sir Harold Wilson at the launch of his new TV programme 'Taking Off With Mike Yarwood'. Picture: Alamy

During the 1970s, Yarwood reached the pinnacle of his career, becoming part of the 'Cotton Crew' at the BBC alongside other luminaries such as Bruce Forsyth, Dick Emery, Morecambe and Wise, Val Doonican, and the Two Ronnies.

His eponymous BBC TV shows attracted 18 million viewers at their peak, and the Mike Yarwood Christmas Show on BBC 1 in 1977 was watched by 21.4 million people, making it the highest-rated British television programme of that year.

Yarwood’s impressions were legendary, capturing the essence of politicians and royalty with an affectionate touch. His portrayal of Harold Wilson was so successful that the Prime Minister himself would ask his wife to alert him when Yarwood was impersonating him on television.

Mike Yarwood Christmas Show 1978 - Parkinson sketch featuring Margaret Thatcher

Despite his success, Yarwood’s later years were marked by a sense of unhappiness and inadequacy, a poignant reminder of the pressures faced by those in the limelight.

His passing on September 8, 2023, at the age of 82, marked the end of an era for British comedy and entertainment.

Mike Yarwood’s legacy lives on, not just in the memories of those who watched him but also in the standard he set for impressionists and entertainers who followed.

His catchphrase, “and this is me,” remains a fond reminder of a man who brought laughter to millions and became a beloved figure in British culture.

Mike Yarwood, a true titan of television, will be dearly missed but never forgotten.