The death of Grumbleweeds comic Graham Walker in 2013 ended a 50-year partnership with his straight man Robin Colvill.
But after trying to continue as a solo performer, Robin is now returning as a double act – only this time, he’s the funny one.
Walker’s throat cancer spread throughout his body, and he made his last performances during chemotherapy treatment for the crippling illness, which had reduced him to half his former weight. The legendary comedy act seemed certain to die with him, and all planned performances were abandoned, including an imminent date at Coventry’s Belgrade Theatre.
Now, four years later, his lifelong sidekick Colvill has made the unprecedented switch from ‘feed’ to ‘funnyman’ and revived the Grumbleweeds with a new partner and a new look.
They play the Belgrade on Thursday, April 27, topping the bill in Stars Of Blackpool.
Robin Colvill and Graham Walker first formed a rock ‘n’ roll band in 1962, gaining experience in the pubs and clubs of their native Leeds.
A stint in Hamburg saw them playing alongside the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, but soon their talent for creating laughter took precedence over music. An appearance on Opportunity Knocks kick-started them professionally and the Grumbleweeds expanded to become a zany five-piece group.
Theatre and TV success followed, and the award-winning Grumbleweeds Radio Show ran for 15 series.
Following their departure from radio in 1988, the original Grumbleweeds returned to double-act format in a style reminiscent of Morecambe and Wise, enjoying golden years of success headlining seaside variety shows.
It was in 2011 that tragedy struck, when Walker was diagnosed with cancer. Bravely he went on working, determined never to miss a show, but his cancer could not be cured, and claimed his life in June 2013.
It was a devastating blow to Colvill, who lost not only his lifelong friend and working partner, but his livelihood.
He said: “I thought I’d have to quit the business. I did try a solo act, in an attempt to keep going despite losing Graham, but I hated every minute of it, and so did the audience!
“I knew I could never replace Graham, so I didn’t. Instead, I replaced me! Never before has an established straight-man switched to become the comic, it’s unheard of. But that is what I had to do.”
James Brandon was a busy stand-up comic who had worked with Colvill as a scriptwriter.
Robin said: “I realised that James and I both think about comedy in the same way, and, more importantly, we don’t have an ego between us. So for two years, we studied in great depth the magic that Graham created, analysing why it worked so well for as long as it did.
“We couldn’t simply throw an act together – it was a long process, working out what made the act tick. So, without trying to copy what Graham did so brilliantly, we rehearsed, re-wrote and rewrote again.”
The producers of Coventry’s Midday Variety season, saddened to lose Graham in 2013, were among the first to book them, for their forthcoming production Stars Of Blackpool, which seeks to re-create the fun of an end-of-the-pier summer show.
Bookings can be made online at www.belgrade.co.uk or by calling the box office on 024 7655 3055.