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After 60 years, Bill has last laugh on his critics ; more : PeopleThe big interviewActor and comedian Bill Maynard celebrates 60 years in...

September 14, 2013

YellowBrix

After 60 years, Bill has last laugh on his critics ; more : PeopleThe big interviewActor and comedian Bill Maynard celebrates 60 years in showbusiness this week. More magazine's Lee Marlow went to his house in Burbage to interview him. He emerged four hours later, blinking into the light. Sorry about that, old son, said Bill. But I'm not going anywhere and you're asking me about my favourite subject''

He answers the door on his mobility scooter, wearing long shorts and knee-high grey socks. That is all. It is, as you might imagine, a sight to behold.

Hello darling, says Bill Maynard, now 84. Come in, he adds, steering a path past the Old Rogue Greengrass ale he has piled in his hallway and into the lounge.

Take your shoes off, will you, son, if we're sitting in here, he says. I walk around here barefoot. I don't want any **** on my feet.

He looks well, old Bill; slimmer than he's looked in some time. No, no, no, he says. You're thinking of my Greengrass character. I had to wear jumper over jumper in that. It made me look fatter than I was. I'm about the same weight.

We're here to tell his story. It's 60 years this week since Bill Maynard made his first appearance on television. He knows this because he has a yellowed cutting of an old Mercury which reported on his appearance on Henry Hall's Face the Music programme. Well, we say has it.

He had it. He's now lost it.

This is where it started for Bill, a soldier's son who learned his trade in the working men's clubs of Leicester and Leicestershire. This is his story.

there was a man here at my house yesterday. We recorded a new version of It's A Wonderful World. I may be biased but it was so beautiful it made me cry.

I think, looking back over my career, a lot of the things I've done have either been brilliant, like that song - or they've been crap. I made 31 films. Most of them were rubbish. There's no point trying to put a gloss on it. They were. But the rest of my career - I'm proud of it.

Even when I had it all, I wasn't satisfied. I wanted to be a film actor. And then, when I became a film actor, I couldn't believe how easy it was.

Anyone can be a film actor. Seriously, I'm not lying. You could do it. It's as easy as falling off a log. Comedy - that's where the skill lies.

I was born in Heath End, a little village in Farnham, Surrey. My dad was from Ullesthorpe. He was in the Army. He wanted to come home.

We settled in South Wigston, in a place called Lansdowne Grove, or rat alley as everyone called it. It was opposite the tip. There were rats everywhere.

We were poor. I didn't go to school for a while because I didn't have shoes. Every Saturday night, we went to South Wigston Working Men's Club. One night, the turn didn't arrive so they had what was known as a free and easy''.

I went up and sang George Formby's Leaning on a Lamppost. I was eight. I went down a storm.

The very next day, I was struck down with scarlet fever. I was in quarantine for 16 weeks in a sanatorium in Woodhouse Eaves. No-one could visit me, so my dad bought me a ukulele and a book on how to play it. And for 16 weeks, that's all I did. When I came out I learned the guitar, the mandolin, I had singing lessons, dancing lessons. By the age of nine, I had an entire act.

I remember playing East Park Road Club, just a kid, getting there at 7pm and the queue was all the way down the road. A girl asked me to sign an autograph. An autograph. Me. Well, I never. I didn't know what to do, so I asked my dad. Sign it, son, he said.

people still ask him: What was your biggest break, Bill?'' like there was some magical bolt of lightning from the showbiz gods which made him a star. Bill always says the same thing. It wasn't like that. It all happened gradually He honed his act. He paid his dues and, eventually, it happened. Success didn't find him. He worked for it.

There are other ways to find it, he says. But this is the best.

i got a good agent and my work increased. I worked at Butlins with Terry Scott. We had a double act.

I was getting paid Pounds 9 a week. I sent Pounds 8 home to my wife, Muriel, and kept Pounds 1. I didn't need much. I had my digs and food paid. I didn't drink, not back then. I just drank Vimto. After a tour of army camps with Jon Pertwee, I had a steady stand- up slot at a strip show in London called The Windmill. All the BBC talent scouts came there. They knew if you could make people laugh at The Windmill, you could make them laugh anywhere.

My first slot on TV was 60 years ago. That went quite well, but it was my next appearance on TV that did it. I did a jokey take on a popular song of that era, My Son, and had a chimp run out and hug me at the end of the song. It worked brilliantly. My career took off. It cost me Pounds 17 to hire that chimp. It was more than my TV fee. But it was money well spent. It made me.

I did a double act on TV with Terry Scott called Great Scott - It's Maynard. It turned me into a superstar. I couldn't go anywhere. I was a sex symbol. I was treated like royalty. I used to go to watch Leicester City and they gave me free tickets, drinks, a parking space right outside the ground.

I stopped going there when Frank Worthington left. I started following Frank, not City - especially when Leicester wanted me to do little skits to entertain the fans. I felt like I was singing for my supper. I didn't like that.

by 1960, Bill Maynard was a household name. TV shows. Magazine interviews. Top hotels. Adoring fans. Pots of money. The young lad from Leicester who learned his trade in the clubs and pubs was living the dream. Still he felt unsatisfied, like there was something missing, something he needed to achieve.

i was earning Pounds 1,000 a week in the early 1960s. What would that be today? Pounds 100,000 a week probably.

I went from that to doing local rep theatre, earning Pounds 9 a week. Why? Because I has this silly idea that I wanted to be a serious act-or, darling.

It was a mistake. First, it nearly ruined me. I was paying tax a year behind my earnings. So when I was bringing home Pounds 9, I was paying tax on Pounds 1,000 a week. I had to sell Continued on Page8 ?

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