On November 20th 1917 at 47 Fitzwilliam Street, Hoyland Common, Near Barnsley the world was introduced to Harry Bourlon Illingsworth. Little did his parents know then that any confusion, mayhem or disruption he may have caused entering this world would pale in to insignificance to that which was to follow in later years.
Harry’s flair for show business became evident when, armed with a Magic Lantern, he used to put on shows in his shed, charging other children to watch. While at school a visiting ventriloquist gave a show and Harry was immediately hooked.
On leaving school he worked at the Silkstone mine and while down the pit he was constantly practicing his voice throwing skills. The practicing paid off when he won an amateur concert at the Alhambra Theatre, Barnsley as a Ventriloquist. Although it was tradition to work ‘down’t pit‘ the attraction of the footlights was beckoning so in 1938 he became a full time entertainer and worked the local Working Men’s Clubs.
During the war he entered the RAF as a fitter and on being demobed he got an engagement at West Cliff Gardens, Clacton where he was billed as The Versatile Vent. It was here he met Kay Flynn who was to later become his wife. In 1952 he toured with Laurel & Hardy and it was them that persuaded him to try his act without the ventriloquist dummies. It paid off and due to his nervousness his bumbling hesitant manner was born.
In 1958 he was spotted by producer John Ammonds and was given his first TV show. The rest, as they say, is history.
Harry continued to work right up until a few months before his death in 1989.
The whole story is now available in a book. Click the biography link for details.
Click here to see an interview with Harry's daughter Jo about his appearance on This Is Your Life