Web Page No 2460
26th March 2018First Picture: With Sid James recording Hancock
Second Picture: The young Australian Star
Third Picture: Bill in later life
The last surviving member of the cast of Hancock's Half Hour, Bill Kerr, died on 28th August 2014. Bill Kerr was born on 10th June 1922 into an Australian showbiz family while they were on tour in South Africa. His first gig was as a babe in arms-as he later recalled: "My mother took about 10 weeks off to have me, and when she returned to the stage the producers said rather than bother with a doll for the baby, why didn't she use me? So you could say my stage career began when I was only a few weeks old. I was such a hit, I retired in 1922 and made a comeback at seven," he said. At the end of the tour his family returned to Australia and settled in Wagga Wagga, where Bill claimed he was "elocuted to death" in anticipation of a showbiz career. At the age of seven he was billed as "the Jackie Coogan of Australian vaudeville" and made his first film appearance in 1933's Harmony Row, in which he was billed as "Wee Willie Kerr."
His first major movie role was at the age of twelve playing a blind youngster in The Silence of Dean Maitland, one of Australia's first talking pictures. During the war Bill Kerr became a close friend of Peter Finch and the pair served in the Army putting on numerous stage shows in Australia and overseas. Bill moved to Britain in 1947 to pursue his show business career, and decided he would have more chance of landing roles if he retained his Australian accent. He worked on variety bills such as the Camberwell Palace, where he delivered a four-minute deadpan monologue filled with doom and gloom, in a broad Australian drawl. His opening line which became something of a catchphrase for Bill was "I've only got four minutes." Gig's at the Windmill Theatre followed in which he appeared on the same bill as Harry Secombe and Peter Sellers. "Peter Sellers used to do an impression of me," he recalled "and he actually sounded better than me!"
Bill's first break in the UK came on BBC radio's Variety Bandbox in 1948. When presenter Derek Roy was taken ill Bill became his replacement for six weeks. Working with Frankie Howerd and with occasional scripts written especially for him by Bob Monkhouse and Spike Milligan, Bill soon became a well-known performer. Around this time Bill worked on the radio series Happy Go Lucky, it featured a number of up-and-coming comedy stars such as Graham Stark, Peter Butterworth and Tony Hancock. But the show was a complete flop and in desperation the BBC employed the new writing team of Galton and Simpson in an attempt to revive its fortunes. The final Happy Go Lucky was recorded at the Playhouse Theatre in Lower Regent Street, London. It was here that the writers had their first conversation with Tony Hancock. As they were leaving the theatre the star came up to them and making reference to a sketch they had written about a children's party said; "Did you write that sketch?" They nodded. "Very funny," said Hancock walking away, "very funny." With Hancock steadily building a reputation the BBC gave the go-ahead for a thirty-minute radio sitcom.
Bill was cast as an Australian lodger in Hancock's Half Hour. At first he was cast as a fast-talking wise-guy, but he gradually adopted a laconic Australian drawl and his character became a slow-witted simpleton who was often the butt of jokes. "It was a marvellous period of my life." He said but when Hancock finished Bill found himself typecast and it took him a long time to convince anyone that he could do something else. But he got a break when he was cast as the Devil in the original West End production of Damn Yankees, He appeared in a touring production of the play The Teahouse of the August Moon in 1956. He also worked with Spike Milligan in The Bed-Sitting Room in 1963.
He was also cast in The Wrong Arm of the Law starring Peter Sellers, Bernard Cribbins and Lionel Jeffries. He also played a number of 'straight' roles including Giles Kent in the Doctor Who adventure The Enemy of the World. Then in 1972 he co-starred with Anthony Newley in the long- running musical, The Good Old Bad Old Days.
But in 1979 Bill decided to move back to Australia, settling in Perth where his son William lived. He worked in a couple of films including Gallipoli and A Year of Living Dangerously and on the Australian stage during the 1980s, in musicals such as My Fair Lady. In addition to serious roles, he also continued to appear in comedies including The Coca-Cola Kid in 1985 and in 2001, in the Australian comedy Let's Get Skase. In 1980 Bill had played the part of Douglas Kennedy in the soap opera The Young Doctors.
On 26 January 2011 Bill Kerr received the 2011 Walk of Honour in Wagga Wagga. Bill Kerr died at his home in Perth aged 92 years. His son Wilton Kerr said his father was born to perform.
Bill Kerr carved himself an enduring place among an elite generation of comedians who changed the face of British comedy after the Second World War. Bill was an essential part of the comedy chemistry that entertained a generation of fans at a time when radio comedy was king.
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ON THIS DAY 26th March 1960-1965
On 26/03/1960 the number one single was Running Bear - Johnny Preston and the number one album was South Pacific Soundtrack. The top rated TV show was Wagon Train (ITV) and the box office smash was Psycho. A pound of today's money was worth £13.68 and Burnley were on the way to becoming the Season's Division 1 champions.
On 26/03/1961 the number one single was Wooden Heart - Elvis Presley and the number one album was GI Blues - Elvis Presley. The top rated TV show was The Dickie Henderson Show (AR) and the box office smash was One Hundred and One Dalmations. A pound of today's money was worth £13.25 and Tottenham Hotspur were on the way to becoming the Season's Division 1 champions.
On 26/03/1962 the number one single was Wonderful Land - The Shadows and the number one album was Blue Hawaii - Elvis Presley. 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 Ipswich Town were on the way to becoming the Season's Division 1 champions. The big news story of the day was US Air Force consider using lasers to shoot down missiles.
On 26/03/1963 the number one single was Summer Holiday - Cliff Richard & the Shadows and the number one album was Summer Holiday - Cliff Richard & the Shadows. 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 Everton were on the way to becoming the Season's Division 1 champions.
On 26/03/1964 the number one single was Little Children - Billy J Kramer and the number one album was With the Beatles - The Beatles. The top rated TV show was Coronation Street (Granada) and the box office smash was Dr Strangelove. A pound of today's money was worth £12.24 and Liverpool were on the way to becoming the Season's Division 1 champions. The big news story of the day was Radio Caroline starts broadcasts.
On 26/03/1965 the number one single was The Last Time - Rolling Stones and the number one album was Rolling Stones Number 2 - The Rolling Stones. 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 Manchester United were on the way to becoming the Season's Division 1 champions.