Northern Ireland comedian Jimmy Cricket has led showbusiness tributes to popular entertainer Eddie Large, who has died from coronavirus after battling heart problems for more than 20 years.
Large (78), who became an ever-present on Saturday night television in the 1970s and '80s thanks to his comedy partnership with Syd Little, contracted the virus in hospital where he had been admitted with heart failure.
Syd said he was "devastated" by the news of the death of his friend, whose real name was Edward McGinnis and whose family confirmed his passing "with great sadness".
His son Ryan McGinnis said relatives had been unable to visit Eddie in hospital because of coronavirus restrictions but they spoke to him by telephone every day.
He said his Glasgow-born father had bravely fought illnesses for a long time "but his heart was, sadly, not strong enough to fight the Covid-19".
He added: "We will miss him terribly and we are so proud of everything he has achieved in his career with Syd and know that he was much loved by the millions that watched them every week."
Jimmy Cricket, the Cookstown-born comic, was one of the first comedians to post a tribute on social media about Eddie's death after hearing the news "with a heavy heart" from his son.
He said: "I worked many times with him and his partner Syd. They were not only a great act but such fun to be with."
Jimmy said his thoughts and prayers were with Eddie's wife Patsy and their family.
Little and Large were almost "accidental" stars and even they admitted their rise to the top was something of a "fluke".
They teamed up after Eddie, an electronics engineer, heckled Syd, an apprentice painter and decorator, in a club where he was trying his hand as a solo entertainer. Eddie later went on stage to join him for a song.
That brief encounter kick-started a career that made them big draws on the northern club circuit and pubs and in 1971 they said they "reluctantly" went on Opportunity Knocks, a forerunner of modern day talent shows like the X Factor.
To their amazement they won it with Eddie's impressions of stars like Cliff Richard capturing the hearts of the British public.
However, in a recent TV interview Syd said they had not been overnight sensations, having to wait until the late '70s before landing prime-time shows of their own, first with ITV and then with the BBC.
The programmes were to run for a remarkable 13 years until 1991.
While their BBC show was axed, their double act was effectively ended many years later by Eddie's health problems which saw him receiving a heart transplant in 2003. He later revealed that as he recovered in hospital, Northern Ireland comedian Frank Carson, who had worked regularly with Little and Large and who had also been an Opportunity Knocks contestant, constantly rang him to tell him jokes.
Little and Large had little contact with each other for years after Eddie's enforced retirement but dismissed reports of a rift.
However, in 2017 they appeared on Good Morning Britain on ITV to talk about the heart transplant which Eddie said had saved his life.
He revealed that just before embarking on a British tour in 2000 a doctor told him not to do it, saying he could drop dead at any minute.
Eddie said his heart problems before the transplant meant that he could barely walk and putting his seatbelt was extremely tiring.
But Eddie, who became an ambassador for the British Heart Foundation, said that his biggest regret about ending the partnership was that he was putting Syd out of work.
"We weren't just a double act. We were mates," said Eddie, who added that he was grateful for his "second chance at life" thanks to the anonymous donor whose heart he had received.
And he used the TV appearance to appeal to people to sign up to become organ donors.
Two years later Little and Large reunited for their first stage appearance in decades as part of the Slapstick comedy festival in Bristol.
As they faced a sell-out audience Eddie asked: "Hands up who thought we were dead?"
He and Syd immediately raised their hands in the air.
The duo also appeared together in a sketch on Ant and Dec's Saturday Night Takeaway several years ago. The hosts also paid their respects to Eddie Large.
They recalled the pleasure they had in working with him on their show and added: "He just loved making people laugh."
Yesterday Syd Little, who runs a restaurant in Lancashire, said he had been talking on the phone to his former stage partner regularly recently, with the last call coming on Wednesday night.
"He was in pain, bless him, but he even asked me how are we up here," he said. "He was so thoughtful to everybody."
Little said: "He'd been ill for a while but when it happens, it hits you. We did everything there was to do in showbiz. And we did it together."
Manchester City paid their own tribute to Eddie Large, who had been one of the club's most passionate supporters ever since moving to Lancashire at the age of nine.
They tweeted: "Everyone at Manchester City is said to hear that lifelong City fan Eddie Large has passed away."