Comedian Frank Carson dies aged 85
Frank Carson, the Belfast-born comic who coined the catchphrase "it's a cracker" and once joked with the Pope, has died.
Immortalised as one of the "jolly jesters" of British comedy, the Belfast-born stand-up, who had suffered from stomach cancer and was in poor health, died at his home in Blackpool, Lancashire.
The 85-year-old comedian, also known for his quip "it's the way I tell 'em", "set off for his final gig today," his family said in a statement last night.
"He went peacefully at his home in Blackpool surrounded by his greatest fans -- his extended family. We will be taking him home to Belfast to lay him to rest and celebrate his joyful life," the statement read. "It's quieter down here now. God help them up there!!"
Mr Carson, who grew up in a poor part of north Belfast known as "Little Italy" and worked as a tradesman, went on to become friends with some of the world's greatest "old school" comedians, including Eric Morecambe, Bernard Manning, Tommy Cooper, Spike Milligan and Norman Wisdom.
He broke into show business on the TV talent show 'Opportunity Knocks' after being inspired by meeting Laurel and Hardy in a Belfast barbershop when he started out performing in local pubs and concert halls. He went on to fame after being commissioned to take part in the TV show 'The Comedians' in the early 1960s.
He was described as "one of the nicest people in showbiz" and was one of a generation of comedians that included Eric Morecambe, Bernard Manning and Tommy Cooper.
He worked right up until he succumbed to his battle with stomach cancer, taking in about 80 events a year.
Journalist and friend Eddie McIlwaine said: "He met the present Pope (Benedict XVI) and the Pope said: 'Did you ever meet Elvis Presley?' and Frank said: 'No I have not, but it won't be long now'."
He also worked ceaselessly for charity and was made a Knight of St Gregory by Pope John Paul II in 1987, the highest honour in the Catholic Church.
Only a couple of months ago he was at the late pontiff's beatification ceremony in Rome wearing his knight's uniform, Mr McIlwaine said.
He dedicated much of his life to looking after his wife Ruth, who had serious eyesight problems, with his sons Tony and Aidan and daughter Majella, despite his own heart problems.
They have also put a huge effort into bringing the two sides of the community in Northern Ireland together through education.
Mr McIlwaine said Mr Carson's sense of humour shone through in everything he did.
"He was not just a comedian on stage, he was always a funny man and an expert at the one-liner, he was a naturally born comedian."
Carson said recently that he believed being able to make people laugh was "something that's in your genes" and described his father, a bin man, as "one of the funniest people I've ever known".
His friend and television presenter Eamonn Holmes said: "The term legend is often overused - but Frank Carson was a legend and we will never ever see his likes again.
"I knew him since I was a child because he was a friend of my father. I was just with him recently and I spoke to him throughout his illness.
"He was just a complete bundle of energy and at 85 he was still going and still cracking jokes.
"He immortalised the phrase we will all remember him for - it's a cracker."
Former chat show host Sir Michael Parkinson said: "We had him on the show a couple of times and I met him playing golf.
"He was a good comic and great company. He represented that front-of-cloth comedy, it's a different genre from the kind of comedy that we have today, where younger and smarter comedians play big halls - he was a club comic.
"People's sense of humour has changed, this generation laugh at different things. At that time, comedians could talk about fat women and people with bow legs, I doubt whether he'd enjoy going on TV today, with all the strictures that are put on people.
"He was a good man - you're always smiling with people like Frank around."
Nationalist SDLP assembly member Alasdair McDonnell said: "Frank Carson was a truly unique and wonderful entertainer who made people laugh and never forgot his native Belfast.
"He lifted spirits in times of despair and during some of the worst days of the Troubles with his sparkling wit which made him very popular in Ireland and throughout Britain."
Comedian Ken Dodd said: "He was a wonderful comedian, a fabulous jolly jester and had a fantastic gift of making people feel happy. His humour was always mainstream - he didn't do dirty or obscene comedy."
Sir Bruce Forsyth told ITV News: "The only trouble with Frank, as far as I'm concerned, is that he made me laugh too much.
"He'll be remembered as the one and only Frank Carson - the man who loved to make people laugh."
Actor Simon Pegg tweeted: "Thanks very much and goodnight to Frank Carson. It was the way he told them. Funny man."
Comedian Lenny Henry said: 'Fella wnt in2 B&Q - He says: "I want some nails" - the guy said: "How long d'you want em?" Fella said "I wanna keep em" Frank Carson R.I.P.'
TV presenter Anthony McPartlin tweeted: "Sad news about Frank Carson. Had the pleasure of working with him and he was a real gent. Very funny man. Thoughts are with his family."