Dick Emery – one of the greats of British comedy – was born 100 years ago on 19th February 1915 in Bloomsbury, central London.
At the height of his fame in the 1970s, The Dick Emery Show attracted audiences of 17 million on BBC1. It ran for 18 series and 166 editions between 1963 and 1981, with Emery creating a roster of popular recurring characters – wheezy war veteran Lampwick, outrageously camp Clarence, the delinquent Bovver Boy, sex-crazed Hettie and flirtatious blonde Mandy. She had the memorable catchphrase, “Ooh, you are awful but I like you.”
A forerunner of today’s millionaire comedians, Emery made a tidy fortune from live tours. A workaholic and bon viveur, he owned a large house in Esher, Surrey, a Rolls-Royce, motorbikes and was a qualified pilot. He married five times and had five children.
Emery died of heart failure aged 67 in 1983 and is in danger of being forgotten today. Although his broad style of humour went out of fashion, he inspired many modern comedians such as Harry Enfield, Catherine Tate, Matt Lucas and David Walliams. If you’re unfamiliar with his work, treat yourselves and look up Dick Emery on YouTube.
Radio Times photographer Don Smith captured Emery on film dozens of times over the decades, and remembers him with great fondness. “I took my son Peter along with me one day. He was just getting into photography so I asked Dick if he’d mind Peter taking a few photos of him. He was terribly nice and said, ‘Yes of course.’ We actually printed one of the pictures in Radio Times, credited to Peter Smith.
“I went to his home once to take some portrait shots and he’d just locked his car keys inside his Rolls,” says Don. “Dick said, ‘Not to worry,’ and got on the phone to Rolls-Royce. Within half an hour they’d sent someone round with a spare set. That’s the way things worked in those days.”
There are hundreds of images of Dick Emery in the Radio Times archive, many of which have never seen the light of day. Here’s a selection of rare shots.
(To mark his centenary, BBC Radio 4 Extra is repeating Emery at Large, a 1964 radio show, on Sunday 22nd February at 3pm)