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Sir Harry Secombe 1921 - 2001

Harry Donald Secombe was born at 7 St. Ledger Crescent in the St Thomas area of Swansea on September the 8th 1921; Harry was one of four children although his sister Joan died when she was four years old, he had on older brother called Fred and a younger sister Carol. Harry’s father was a good artist, who did drawings for the South Wales Evening Post, and his mother was the manageress of Peacock's Bazaar in Swansea Market for a while. He had a very happy childhood.


After serving in the Second World War, where he met Spike Milligan, he was encouraged by Spike to pursue a career in Showbiz. He shared a flat with Spike and another comedy wannabee Norman Vaughan. An audition followed at The Windmill Theatre and he landed his first paid job at 40 pounds per week, he also met Michael Bentine at the Windmill Theatre, and together with Spike and another friend Peter Sellers formed ‘‘Crazy People’ it was first aired on radio in 1951.It was soon renamed ‘The Goon Show’ and it made household names out of all of them. This led to many appearances at the Royal Variety Performance, Eleven in total and Harry received a CBE in 1963, the same year that he created the part of Mr Pickwick in Dickens ‘Pickwick Papers’. It ran for 2 years in the West End then moved on to Broadway where he was nominated for a ‘Tony’ for his performance. The show spawned a hit single for Harry when ‘ If I ruled the world’ reached number 2 in the hit parade. On film he was Mr Bumble in the Oscar winning musical ‘Oliver’ and appeared on television and toured many times in the seventies. In December of 1980 whilst touring Australia Harry was taken ill with Peritonitis and had to have life saving surgery - Over the next year he shed five stone and was soon back to great health. Swansea was very proud when in 1981 Harry became Sir Harry Secombe. In 1983 he was picked to present ‘Highway’ for ITV and a new career as a presenter was born, the show ran for ten years and was very popular not only with the television audience but also with Harry who regularly sang some of his favourite religious songs. It also pleased him because his brother Fred was a vicar. He followed this up with ‘Sunday morning with Secombe’.


In 1997 he suffered prostate Cancer and following a very slow recovery, he had a debilitating stroke in 1998. He tackled both with huge dignity which was evident in an ‘Everyman’ special screened in 1999 entitled ‘The trouble with Harry’. This I especially remember watching at Trecco Bay Caravan Park in Porthcawl. It hit me really hard as the stroke had robbed Harry of his powerful singing voice and this devastated him more than anything. My father who had sung with the Swansea Male Voice Choir for over fifty years, and the Neath Opera Group for over twenty, was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s at the same time and this had also stolen my fathers singing voice. My father was never happier than when singing, and it his hard to imagine having a talent and then having it taken away so cruelly. Happy childhood memories for me were of my dad performing ‘Myfanwy’ whenever he was asked at whatever choir function we were at. You could here a pin drop as he sung the classic Welsh ballad and I was enormously proud of him.

When the ‘Everyman’ special had finished I was so upset that I went for a walk on my own - not being one to show my emotions - onto the rocks in Trecco Bay. With tears streaming down my face and with only the moonlight for company I sang on the top of my voice ‘If I ruled the World’. Then up popped a Lad, who was with a girl, lets say canoodling, on the rocks not ten feet away. Somewhat shocked he Looked up at me and says


’Leave it out, mate’.


You can find comedy in every situation if you look hard enough.

.

Harry was the subject on ‘This is your life’ on two separate occasions. On March 31st 1958 and then again on march 17th 1990. Then In April 2001 after a courageous and dignified fight Harry died. His body had lost the battle. His spirit did not. Sir Harry Secombe will be remembered as one of not only Wales but also Britain’s most popular performers. In 1946 after demob back in Swansea he met his wife Myra, each week they would visit the Empire Theatre in Oxford Street. Harry would imagine himself on stage as the Comic, after his rise to fame he came back to The Empire as the Star in the 1953 Pantomime “Puss in Boots“. Harry also topped the bill at The Empire in 1954.


Sir Harry Secombe Performed in Swansea Grand Theatre on May 19th 1991 with the Band Of The Royal Artillery and, reprised the role of Mr Pickwick for a national tour in 1995. This appeared at The Grand in May although Harry was unable to complete the whole week due to illness. Ruth Madoc also appeared with him in the production that week. His legacy to the Grand is the Sir Harry Secombe Trust youth theatre company