Tuesday 4 October 2016

Remembering Jerry Desmonde


Jerry Desmonde is a name you don't hear very often these days. This is perhaps because the heyday of his career was the immediate post-war period and his career subsequently came to a very tragic end. Although his Carry On connection is very slim - a cameo as a rather randy actor in Carry On Regardless - his prominence in post-war British comedy makes his story important. 

Desmonde was a multi-talented performer. During his career he was an actor on film, television and radio. He was a performer on stage in straight and musical theatre. He was a television personality and game show host. He dabbled in a bit of everything and we look back fondly at all round entertainers today as they are so few and far between. Born into a theatrical family in Middlesbrough in 1908, a career on the stage was clearly in his blood. Working in music hall from the age of 11, he had met and married Peggy Duncan and the pair formed a very successful touring double act.  

Jerry's big break came in 1942 when he began a very successful working relationship with legendary comedian Sid Field. This began Jerry's long career as a comedy stooge. Together they appeared in several highly successful stage revues during the Second World War as well as feature films including London Town in 1946. The partnership came to an end when Sid Field suffered a heart attack and died in 1950.

Desmonde's career continued apace, branching out into television with regular roles including Before Your Very Eyes with Arthur Askey and a sitcom called Bud, starring Bud Flanagan and other members of the famous Crazy Gang. Jerry also became a well-known television personality as "himself" featuring as a regular panelist on the game show What's My Line? during the late 1950s and early 1960s. He also hosted shows Hit The Limit and The 64,000 Question for ATV.

Of course to modern day audiences Jerry Desmonde is best remembered for his many roles as straight man to Norman Wisdom in his hugely successful comedy films. Desmonde, together with Edward Chapman (Mr Grimsdale) became a part of Wisdom's regular comedy troupe. Jerry worked with Norman in Trouble In Store (1953 - also featuring a young Joan Sims); Man of the Moment (1955); Up in the World (1956); Just My Luck (1957); Follow A Star (1959 - with Hattie Jacques); A Stitch in Time (1963) and finally The Early Bird (1965). 

Sadly this success wasn't to last. Jerry Desmonde was happily married for three decades and his marriage to Peggy produced a son, Gerald, and a daughter, Jacqueline. This happy family life was rocked in 1966 following the death of Peggy. This was a blow from which Jerry never fully recovered. He became prone to bouts of depression which eventually resulted in him taking his own life in 1967, at the age of just 58.

The role of straight man is often over looked in comedy. However without the reliability and assured performances from the likes of Jerry Desmonde, some of our favourite and most famous comedians would not have flourished as they did. I think it's time to revisit some of Jerry's terrific performances, both with Norman Wisdom and elsewhere.

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  1. I'm trying to trace Gerald/Gerry Desmonde the son of Jerry Desmonde. If anyone can please help me I would appreciate it very much.

  2. Hi, Jerry was my grandfather & Gerald my uncle. Gerald is no longer alive. My brother has more knowledge than me as he met Gerry's family about six years ago. Regards Toby