Belfast Telegraph

Sunday Life

My wife saved my career, says Catchphrase host Roy Walker

Pictured Roy with his wife Jean Walker
Pictured Roy with his wife Jean Walker

 By John Toner

Comedy legend Roy Walker has revealed his beloved wife rescued his struggling career in the early 1970s by recruiting pals to secretly attend his shows.

The former Catchphrase host is now working on cruise ships in the autumn of his career, but it wasn’t always plain sailing for the iconic funnyman.

In the early days of his career Roy was performing in London and trying to make a name for himself as an entertainer.

After hosting at the London Palladium for Welsh singer Dorothy Squires in the 1970s, Roy had been booked for a string of gigs in clubs in England’s north-east but was, by his own admission, dying on stage.

However, his beloved wife Jean came to the rescue by gathering a group of friends to attend his shows and get the laughs flowing.

Roy said: “Off I went to the London Palladium and had a great night. We went to the party afterwards and all the stars were there and what have you.

“My wife and I then made the long trek up to the north-east where my agent had booked me for these shows. There I was on the Monday direct from the London Palladium, right, so, I died.

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“Tuesday, direct from the London Palladium? Didn’t look like it. Wednesday, I died. Thursday, it was terrible, they didn’t want to give me any money. How do you go from the London Palladium to being rubbish?

“I pulled into a lay-by on my way home and sort of had a wee bit of a cry to myself thinking ‘Oh God’ and I went home and told Jean.

“Unbeknown to me she phoned all my friends because I was appearing at this very hard club on the Saturday.

“It sort of works sometimes if you have someone at every table and they laugh — it’s infectious, you know — so she arranged all that for me and I went on and did very well.

“If I hadn’t done as well I don’t think I would have carried on with the comedy so she saved it for me.”

Speaking in new BBC show Roy Walker: Beyond A Joke, he also talks movingly about losing his wife and how grateful he is for the life they shared.

He said: “I suppose life for everybody is about highs and lows, I’ve had my share.

“Jean had a little bit of indigestion, the doctor told her to take some Rennies or what have you; little did we know what we had in front of us.

“We were both keep-fit people and watched our diets so never thought anything more about it. We got her to go for a scan and then they told her that it was a growth inside her, in her tummy.

“We didn’t know anything about cancer and had never met anyone who had died from cancer. Even on her way into the operating theatre she looked at me and she said, ‘There’s nothing wrong with me Roy, look at me.’ I said, ‘You look amazing, kid.’

“We thought she was just going in for a routine opera¬tion. The surgeon came over to me and said the long term wasn’t good and the more they looked the more they found.”

Following Jean’s death in 1989, Roy considered retiring as a performer completely but would eventually continue his glittering career after going away to America as part of his grieving process.

He added: “I got on a Greyhound bus and when it stopped I got on another one. Some places I’d stay, some places I’d travel through the night and sleep on the bus. I did that for about a fortnight in the same clothes.

“With bereavement I think you don’t really come to terms with it until you realise how lucky you were, that’s the secret to it all.

“You realise, that was an amazing 27 years, over a quarter of a century. You’re still very sad and may never have that experience again but once you start thinking how lucky you were in your career to have a wife like that who gave you three beautiful children, you start to feel too greedy to want anything more.”

Roy Walker: Beyond A Joke is on BBC One Northern Ireland at 10.35pm on Monday

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