The Clitheroe Kid

The Clitheroe Kid

The Clitheroe Kid was a long-running BBC radio comedy show featuring diminutive Northern comedian 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 second-hand and didn't actually appear. The pilot show, pilot series, and 16 subsequent series totalled 290 episodes in all, broadcast between April 1957 and August 13, 1972.

Apart from Clitheroe, the show's stars included Peter Sinclair playing Clitheroe's Scottish granddad, Patricia Burke as his mother (in some early shows the part was played by Renee Houston), and Diana Day as his long-suffering sister Susan (in some early shows his sister was played by Judith Chalmers). The Oldham comedian Danny Ross played Alfie Hall, Susan's daft, tongue-tied boyfriend, who was often drawn into Jimmy's reckless schemes and never learned to steer clear of him. And Tony Melody played Mr Higginbottom, a six foot four inch taxi driver who constantly threatened to give Jimmy a good hiding for what he had done to Ozzie. Horatio Higginbottom (the first name was very rarely used) was also Granddad's drinking partner.

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). For example, in one show (entitled 'Enough to Make a Kitten Laugh') Susan tricked Jimmy into buying back a lost kitten that he had sold to Ozzie, by offering a big reward in the local newspaper for its return (under an assumed name). She warned Mr Higginbottom that Jimmy wanted it back, so Jimmy had to pay double what Ozzie had paid him for it. When Jimmy discovered the trick, he turned the tables on her by selling the kitten (at a profit) to a man at the newspaper, who then turned up at the Clitheroe's home and demanded from her the reward she'd offered.

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 granddad had stolen some money from a local shop (but which granddad 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 Granddad had spanked him for what he had done.

In the Pilot series other members of the cast included John Broadbent, Violet Carson, Fred Fairclough, Fred Ferris, Tom Harrison, Jack Howarth, Shirley King, Eddie Leslie, Tony Melody, Bob Monkhouse, Herbert Smith, Brian Trueman, Jack Watson, Patrick Wells and Rosalie Williams.

The show (apart from the Pilot series) was written by James Casey and Frank Roscoe, and produced by James Casey.

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