Web Page 2084
31st August 2014
Top Picture: Roy Castle, Jimmy James Junior, Eli Woods
Bottom Picture: The original Jimmy James.
In The Box
Back on 1st May Eli Woods died aged 91. He was one of the very last links to the great era of twice-nightly British variety theatre, the Music Hall. A stooped and gangling figure with a long, lugubrious face and permanently gaping mouth, clad in flapping trousers, too-tight jacket and deerstalker hat, he had a stammer which he greatly exaggerated to tremendous comic effect. He spent his early career as a stooge for his uncle, Jimmy James, the well-known music-hall comedian who bypassed traditional jokes in favour of elaborate and sometimes surreal flights of fancy and was revered in the business as "the comedian's comedian".
Jimmy James was too unusual and often unpredictable to reach the highest pinnacle of stardom, but he was loved by discerning audiences as well as fellow pros. His act was mostly improvised around two or three basic sketches, supported by a pair of grotesque individuals – the belligerent Hutton Conyers, who always arrived on stage shouting "Are you putting it around that I'm barmy?" and the gormless Bretton Woods, who got the biggest laughs with his wonderfully timed, stuttering interpolations. The role of Bretton Woods was taken by Eli Woods, whereas Hutton Conyers was often played by Jimmy James's real son and Eli Woods's cousin, Jim Casey and later by the later to become famous, Roy Castle.
Their best-known sketch involving Eli Woods was the In The Box sketch, it was almost as famous in its day as Monty Python's Dead Parrot. The way it worked was that Jimmy James and Eli Woods would be chatting inconsequentially when Hutton Conyers entered carrying a shoebox in which he claimed he kept two man-eating lions.
Jimmy James asks Eli Woods to get some coffees while he engages Hutton Conyers pending the arrival of medical help. It is then that Hutton Conyers informs them that he also has a giraffe in the box.
The basics of the sketch were as follows:-
James: "Where do you keep it?"
Conyers: "In the box."
James (to Woods): "Get on the phone. I'll keep him talking till they come."
Conyers: "Are you telling him about the giraffe?"
James: "No, I'll tell him. He's got a giraffe in that box."
Woods: "Is it black or white?"
James: "I'll ask him. He wants to know if the giraffe is black or white?"
Woods: "No, the coffee I mean."
Conyers says he also owns an elephant.
James: "Is it male or female?"
Conyers: "No, an elephant."
James: "I don't suppose it makes any difference to you whether it's male or female."
Woods: "It wouldn't make any difference to anyone but another elephant."
James: "I shall have to stop you going to those youth clubs."
The sketch actually survived the death of James in 1965, and was still being presented (notably in a Royal Variety Performance in 1982) up to 30 years later, with Jim Casey taking his father's role, with various star comedians as Hutton Conyers and always Eli Woods in the part he had by then played for more than four decades.
Eli Woods was born John Casey in Stockton-on-Tees. He attended St Bede's school and had early theatrical ambitions, accepting that his stammer would restrict him to comedy. His Uncle Jimmy had been working mostly as a solo act. By the late 1940s, he had devised several routines that required stooges, and one night in 1948, when the regular performer couldn't make it to the Preston Hippodrome, his nephew was drafted in to play Bretton Woods. A few months later they were starring with Max Miller at the London Palladium and in 1953 they appeared in the Royal Variety Performance. Jack, now known professionally as Eli Woods, also acted in two films with Jimmy James, Over the Garden Wall (1950) and Those People Next Door (1953).
After Jimmy James’ death, Woods remained popular in pantomime, on television and in clubs, where he showed he shared his uncle's gift for ad-libbing. Asked if he had a snappy comeback for hecklers, he said: "Yes, so long as they'll w-w-w-wait for it."
Les Dawson was a close friend and often used Eli in TV shows, he also introduced Eli Woods to his second wife, Pamela. He also worked with Kenny Everett and Des O'Connor. During the late 1970s and early 80s, he featured in two BBC radio series: The Show With Ten Legs and The Show with No Name. On television, he was in Last of the Summer Wine occasionally between 1988 and 2002 and appeared in programmes including Heartbeat, You Rang M'Lord, Little Dorrit and Super Gran. He also had a part in the film A Private Function (1984). He continued taking In the Box on tour in old-time music-hall shows with Jim Casey through the 1990s. Jim Casey died in 2011.
Eli Woods, who lived in Stockton all his life, retired 10 years ago when he was 80. He is survived by his second wife, Pamela, a former dancer, five children, Giselle, Simon, Neil, Mark and Nicola, six grandchildren and one great-grandson.
One of the last stars of Traditional British Music Hall
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News and Views:
Mark Chapman, murderer of John Lennon, was denied parole for the eighth time on Friday August 22nd. He had been interviewed earlier in the week by New York prison officials. John’s widow, Yoko Ono, wrote a letter to the parole board reaffirming her belief that the 59 year-old Chapman should not be released. He was sentenced to 20-years-to-life in jail for the 1980 murder. His next chance for parole will be in two years.
On this Day 31st August 1960-1965
On 31/08/1960 the number one single was Apache - The Shadows and the number one album was South Pacific Soundtrack. The top rated TV show was Rawhide (ITV) and the box office smash was Psycho. A pound of today's money was worth £13.68 and Tottenham Hotspur were on the way to becoming the Season's Division 1 champions.
On 31/08/1961 the number one single was You Don't Know - Helen Shapiro and the number one album was South Pacific Soundtrack. The top rated TV show was Coronation Street (Granada) and the box office smash was One Hundred and One Dalmations. A pound of today's money was worth £13.25 and Ipswich were on the way to becoming the Season's Division 1 champions.The big news story of the day was Burma becomes world's first Buddhist republic.
On 31/08/1962 the number one single was I Remember You - Frank Ifield and the number one album was West Side Story Soundtrack. The top rated TV show was Coronation Street (Granada) and the box office smash was Lawrence of Arabia. A pound of today's money was worth £12.89 and Everton were on the way to becoming the Season's Division 1 champions.
On 31/08/1963 the number one single was Bad to Me - Billy J Kramer and the number one album was Please Please Me - The Beatles. The top rated TV show was Coronation Street (Granada) and the box office smash was The Great Escape. A pound of today's money was worth £12.64 and Liverpool were on the way to becoming the Season's Division 1 champions.
On 31/08/1964 the number one single was Do Wah Diddy Diddy - Manfred Mann and the number one album was A Hard Day's Night - Beatles. The top rated TV show was Labour Party Political Broadcast (all channels) and the box office smash was Dr Strangelove. A pound of today's money was worth £12.24 and Manchester United were on the way to becoming the Season's Division 1 champions.
On 31/08/1965 the number one single was I Got You Babe - Sonny and Cher and the number one album was Help - The Beatles. The top rated TV show was Coronation Street (Granada) and the box office smash was The Sound of Music. A pound of today's money was worth £11.69 and Liverpool were on the way to becoming the Season's Division 1 champions.