As a lifelong mimic, Stockport entertainer Mike Yarwood did a pretty good impression of being a professional footballer.
So good, in fact, that he almost pursued a career in the game instead of going into showbusiness and becoming one of the biggest stars of British TV in the 1960s and 70s.
Yarwood, born in Bredbury in June 1941, worked as a messenger and a salesman at a garment factory after leaving school. He was also a talented amateur footballer, playing for local clubs.
His initial screen success came through appearing on the variety show Sunday Night at the London Palladium in 1964. His timing was perfect as his best known impression was Labour party leader Harold Wilson – the Prime Minister of the time.
Yarwood also worked for ATV and Thames Television before starring in his own shows on the BBC. The ATV series Will the Real Mike Yarwood Stand Up? ran for a year from 1968 to 1969.
His two BBC shows were Look: Mike Yarwood from 1971 to 1976 and Mike Yarwood in Persons from 1977 to 1981.
By the mid-1970s, Yarwood was one of the BBC’s leading stars along with Morecambe and Wise, the Two Ronnies, Bruce Forsyth and Dick Emery.
Viewing figures for his programmes were enormous. The Mike Yarwood Christmas Show, aired on Christmas Day 1977, was watched by an audience of 21.4 million.
This is still the record for the biggest audience of a single UK light entertainment broadcast, beating the Morecambe and Wise Christmas special later the same day.
Yarwood’s shows followed a familiar format. There was a mixture of sketches, guest singers and musicians. Yarwood always sang the final number himself, introduced with the line ‘and this is me.’
He had a stock list of characters to impersonate, including Chancellor of the Exchequer Denis Healey and Opportunity Knocks presenter Hughie Green. Other targets included outspoken football manager Brian Clough, Tory Leader Ted Heath and TV interviewer Robin Day.
Yarwood made a number of catchphrases popular too. Healey’s ‘Silly Billy’ and Green’s ‘I mean that most sincerely folks’ featured on most programmes.
After reaching his peak on the BBC, Yarwood signed up with Thames TV in the early 1980s. The ratings held for a while, but started to decline in the mid-1980s as most of his famous subjects retired from public life.
The tone of comedy changed too. Yarwood described himself as an all-round family entertainer, unsuited to the new wave of observational satire and hard-bitten comment that took over TV.
His Thames TV show was cancelled in 1987 and he decided to concentrate on stage work.
He made an appearance on Have I Got News for You in November 1995 and impersonated Prime Minister John Major on stage later in his career.
Yarwood continued his interest in football by becoming a director of Stockport County. He was awarded the OBE in December 1976.
He was also the subject of a This Is Your Life special presented by Eamonn Andrews in May 1978.