Hello and welcome to another edition of Vintage Media Millennial. I would like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to one of the British TV greats we lost in the last day or so.
I was sad to hear that impressionist, comedian and actor Mike Yarwood has passed away at the age of 82. He is best remembered for starring in his own TV shows in the 60s, 70s and 80s on the BBC and ITV.
As someone born in 1989, I missed Yarwood’s golden years on television. He had faded from the limelight by the 90s, and his shows were never repeated. The topical nature of impressions meant his works weren’t re-shared in the same way as Morecambe and Wise or The Two Ronnies. His show, which attracted a record holding Christmas day audience of 21.4m viewers in 1977, seemed lost in the mists of time. Older members of my family mentioned him, documentaries referenced him, but I would have no reference point of my own for decades.
It fell to a minor digital channel a couple of years ago to show me a glimpse of what I had missed. I sat down with my wife to watch one his Thames era shows, and we really loved it. Being somewhat vintage nerds, we revelled in Mike’s ability to embody the vocal and physical mannerisms of a number of characters we know and love. Much will be said of his Wilson, Spencer, Basil Fawlty and Prince Charles, but I’m willing to bet few will mention his wonderful impersonation of George Burns; Watching him seamlessly switch between Burns, Jack Benny and himself during a story is a feat reserved for seasoned voice actors.
I should also mention his ability to mimic singing voices, which came as a great surprise to me. Max Bygraves and Frank Sinatra were two such icons he could imitate effectively, before using his own voice to say “And this is me”. It was a clever way to end each show that was very meta.
It was after this that I looked up his BBC shows online. From what I could see, this was truly the peak of his career. It was during this time that huge stars, such as Abba, appeared in sketches with him. Much is made of his contemporaries doing the same thing, but Mike seems to get lost in the shuffle because he was doing a celebrity figure of the day. It would also seem his style was later overshadowed by the likes of Spitting Image, who took satire and impressions to a different place.
Before I saw these shows, little had I realised just how influential he had been. From costume to the use of props, mannerisms and more; Even just the idea that an impressionist can reach those heights. He paved the way for many names I grew up with, such as Bremner, Culshaw and McGowan. Now in my early 30s, I feel there is so much more to discover about Mike Yarwood. May he rest in peace.