James Robinson Clitheroe (24 December 1921 – 6 June 1973) was a British comic entertainer. He never grew any taller than 4 feet 3 inches, and could easily pass for an 11-year-old boy, the character he played in The Clitheroe Kid.
The Clitheroe Kid was a BBC radio comedy show featuring diminutive Northern comedian James Robinson (“Jimmy”) Clitheroe in the role of a cheeky schoolboy, who lived with his family at 33 Lilac Avenue in an un-named town in the north of England. Jimmy’s best friend was Ozzie, alias Oswald Higginbottom, a character who was only heard of secondhand and didn’t actually appear. Sixteen series were produced totaling 290 episodes in all. The show was broadcast between 1957 and 1972.
The show’s stars included:
1. Peter Sinclair playing Clitheroe’s Scottish grandad
2. Patricia Burke as his mother (also played by Renee Houston in some early shows)
3. Diana Day as his sister Susan (also played early on by Judith Chalmers)
4. Danny Ross played Alfie Hall
5. Tony Melody played Mr Higginbottom
Jimmy Clitheroe was 35 when he started playing the part in 1956, but he could pass as an 11-year-old boy because he had never grown physically beyond that age, though in later years his face gave his real age away. The series was made with a studio audience and there were frequent gales of laughter at Jimmy’s schoolboy humour, as well as at Alfie Hall’s mangling of the English language as he tried to explain something and made it worse.
Jimmy wore a schoolboy blazer and cap even for radio recordings, to maintain the appearance that he was 11 years old. Real children never appeared in the show, as this would have given away that Jimmy was an adult acting a part; so he talked of his pal Ozzie and his friends in the “Black Hand Gang” (who would punish any member caught in the company of a girl) but they never actually appeared.
The humour could seem sharp, and if read in the cold light of day might occasionally seem harsh, but this was because it was supposed to be the humour of a schoolboy. The audience accepted this and roared with laughter at it.
Jimmy referred to his teachers by nicknames such as “Umm-ya Pete” and “Tick Tock Tillie”. His grandfather’s Scottish ancestry was endlessly mocked, with talk of haggises and bagpipes, and he was portrayed as someone who only lived for his beer. Jimmy’s sister Susan was usually referred to as “Scraggy-neck”, “Sparrow-legs” or occasionally “the Octopus” (for her clinches with boyfriend Alfie), though she in turn often had a go at her “little brother” (Jimmy was only 4 ft 3 ins).
Alfie, too, was mocked endlessly; but the daft character portrayed by Danny Ross probably never understood the insults. Mr Higginbottom was also mocked whenever he appeared: among other things, his house was said to be rat-infested and a dump. But Jimmy was very careful about this as Higginbottom had a hair-trigger temper. Higginbottom’s son, the much-maligned Ozzie, was a fat kid who (despite being Jimmy’s best friend) was knocked about by him a goodly number of times, and frequently suffered as a result of Jimmy’s schemes. But Ozzie seemed to feel it was safer to be Jimmy’s friend than his enemy!
The one person who escaped Jimmy’s quick wit on the radio was his mother. In real life his father had died and he lived with his widowed mother, and was devoted to her. Jimmy would not stand for his mother being mocked, even if it were only his fictional mother on the radio.
Jimmy’s radio character frequently listened at keyholes, where he usually got the wrong end of the stick. Even when he tried to do good, as when he thought his grandad had stolen some money from a local shop (but which grandad had actually been given to look after), he usually messed things up, with the help of Alfie Hall. After the end credits, a short piece by Jimmy was usually inserted where he winds-up the show, tying up any loose ends in the plot and often reporting that Grandad had spanked him for what he had done.
As a celebrity, Jimmy Clitheroe was much in demand at public events, he had many business interests outside show business. He owned a racehorse, betting shops, and a hotel. Jimmy had a reputation for being “careful” with his money – a trait he got from the hard background which he endured growing up in the Great Depression.
He maintained a very private private-life, away from all his other interests, living quietly at Blackpool in a semi-detached bungalow with his mother.
He died in June 1973, following her death. He was found unconscious on the morning of her funeral and died later the same day. An inquest found that his death was due to an accidental overdose of sleeping pills.
Most of the recordings for this series were made by home listeners at the time of broadcast, using reel to reel recorders, so some will contain higher than normal tape hiss.
Out of the total of 290 episodes produced many are lost, we maintain 128 episodes which you can hear on the British Comedy Channel and the US & UK Channel ‘comedy block’
You can download a 30 minute documentary about his life called ‘All There With My Cough Drops – The Story Of Jimmy Clitheroe’ in our download section!