Entertainment & Arts

Frank Carson: Stars pay tribute to comedian

Eamonn Holmes, Sir Michael Parkinson and Ken Dodd have paid tribute to comedian Frank Carson, who has died aged 85.

Holmes said the Northern Irish star, best known for the catchphrases "It's a cracker" and "It's the way I tell 'em", was a "legend".

Dodd said he had a "fantastic gift of making people happy".

Carson had been suffering poor health. His family said he passed away at his home in Blackpool.

Dodd, who worked with Carson on the BBC Radio 2 show Pull The Other One, called him a "wonderful comedian".

He added: "His humour was always mainstream - he didn't do dirty or obscene comedy."

Sir Michael Parkinson said: "He was a good man - you're always smiling with people like Frank around."

The Belfast-born comic rose to fame in the 1960s after winning talent show Opportunity Knocks three times.

Speaking to BBC Radio 5 live, Chris Tarrant, who appeared alongside Carson on Tiswas, called him the "funniest man I have met in my life".

The Who Wants To Be A Millionaire host added: "All our lives are the richer for Frank passing through, but the poorer for him going. He was a complete one-off."

Holmes, who has known Carson all his life, said: "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'."

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."

Carson had a successful operation for stomach cancer last year but had told the BBC his health had been a problem for some time.

His family's statement said the "husband, father, Gaga and comedian set off for his final gig today".

'Bundle of energy'

"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.

"It's quieter down here now. God help them up there!!"

Frank Carson in the uniform of a Knight of St Gregory, at the funeral of Lord Fitt
Carson was knighted into the order of St Gregory in 1987

Carson's agent Ashley Yeates said the comic was one of the "nicest people in showbiz".

He added: "His audience and friends alike will remember him as a genuine, kind-hearted and generous man who was also very funny because of 'the way he told 'em'."

Carson, the son of a binman, was born in Belfast on 6 November 1926 to a family of Italian descent.

He grew up in the Little Italy area of the city and worked as a plasterer and electrician, before joining the Parachute Regiment.

He served for three years in the Middle East in the 1950s, before his attention turned to showbusiness.

Spotted for his stand-up work, he became a popular performer on Irish television before moving to England.

The comedian appeared in the TV music hall revival show The Good Old Days, before his appearances on Opportunity Knocks propelled him into the mainstream.

He went on to appear alongside fellow comedians Charlie Williams, Bernard Manning, Mike Reid and Jim Bowen in the 1970s TV series, The Comedians.

A familiar face on British TV for the next two decades, Carson became known for his self-deprecating sense of humour. Other TV work included Who Do You Do? and variety show The Wheeltappers and Shunters Social Club.

Papal honour

In 1975, Carson signed up to play Paddy O'Brien in Spike Milligan sitcom The Melting Pot, but the show was cancelled shortly after the first episode was broadcast.

He later claimed Milligan had mocked his constant stream of wisecracks by writing a joke of his own: "What's the difference between Frank Carson and the M1? You can turn off the M1."

Carson continued to work following a heart operation in 1976, and was a frequent guest on children's series Tiswas.

He was also at home on radio, appearing alongside David Frost and Leslie Crowther in the 1980s, on BBC Radio 2 show Pull The Other One.

In 1987, Pope John Paul II knighted Carson into the order of St Gregory at a private audience in Rome, in recognition of his charity work in Northern Ireland.

Frank Carson meets the Queen at the Royal Variety Performance in 2009
Carson appeared at the Royal Variety Performance in Blackpool three years ago

"He kissed me and said I was a wonderful man," Carson later told the Daily Mail.

"I was in there for 17 minutes - the priests time it. President Reagan only got 11, so that was nice."

Alongside his showbusiness career, the comedian served as mayor of Balbriggan in north Dublin twice.

"It is my favourite place in the world," said Carson, who spent his honeymoon in the area, "it always brings back happy memories".

Following the ascent of alternative comedy in the late 1980s, the performer largely returned to his roots in stand-up. In later life, he moved to Blackpool and was performing hundreds of shows a year as recently as 2008.

'Wonderful entertainer'

Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph last year, Carson said he wanted to be cremated and his ashes scattered around Corporation Street in Belfast, where he grew up.

He leaves a wife, Ruth, daughter Majella and sons Tony and Aidan, as well as 10 grandchildren.

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."

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