Michael Edward Yarwood, OBE (14 June 1941 – 8 September 2023) was a celebrated English impressionist, comedian, and actor. His vibrant presence on British television from the 1960s to the 1980s made him one of Britain’s most prominent entertainers.
Michael Edward Yarwood was born in Bredbury, Cheshire. After completing his education at a secondary modern school, he took on roles as a messenger and later as a salesman in a garment warehouse. Football was a significant part of his early life, but he didn’t chase a professional career in the sport. Instead, he delved into the directorial side of the Stockport County football club.
The 1960s and 1970s saw Yarwood make regular appearances on popular British television shows. He first rose to fame after a performance in 1964 on the Sunday Night at the London Palladium, where he impressed viewers with an impersonation of Labour Party leader and then Prime Minister, Harold Wilson. Before finding his niche with the BBC, he worked with the ITV franchise holder ATV and later with Thames Television.
The “Cotton Crew” at the BBC
The 1970s marked the pinnacle of Yarwood’s career. He was an integral part of the “Cotton Crew”, a talented team spearheaded by the BBC light entertainment maestro Bill Cotton. This group included iconic entertainers like Bruce Forsyth, Dick Emery, Morecambe and Wise, Val Doonican, and the Two Ronnies.
Yarwood’s shows under the BBC banner attracted a staggering 18 million viewers on average. These programmes showcased a diverse range of comic sketches, musical guests, and Yarwood’s iconic closing song introduced by “and this is me”. This phrase later became the title of his first autobiography. A testament to his popularity was the Mike Yarwood Christmas Show on BBC 1 in 1977, which drew an audience of 21.4 million, making it the highest-rated British television programme of that year.
Yarwood had a knack for capturing the essence of famous personalities, some of his memorable portrayals included:
- Eddie Waring (rugby league commentator)
- Brian Clough (football manager)
- Robin Day (BBC political interviewer)
- Magnus Pyke (TV science presenter)
- Alf Garnett (character from Till Death Us Do Part)
- Columbo (American detective)
- Frank Spencer (comic creation of Michael Crawford)
- Ted Heath (Wilson’s Conservative Party rival)
His depiction of Harold Wilson stood out as his signature performance. Through innovative techniques like colour-separation overlay and video editing, he brilliantly presented scenes where he played multiple characters simultaneously.
Yarwood was honoured with a special episode of This Is Your Life, presented by Eamonn Andrews in 1978. However, by the late 1980s, Yarwood’s television career started waning, leading him to focus on stage performances. Despite making sporadic TV appearances, like on Have I Got News for You in November 1995, his television resurgence remained elusive.
In 2021, a collection of Yarwood’s Christmas shows were reintroduced to British audiences by That’s TV, a move that was well-received, especially by nostalgic fans.
Yarwood shared his life with dancer Sandra Burville, marrying her on 8 November 1969. The couple, who had two daughters, separated in 1985. In 1999, he underwent treatment for depression at the Priory Clinic in Roehampton, London. Later in life, he resided at Brinsworth House, a retirement home for entertainment professionals, until his death on 8 September 2023.
Filmography and Bibliography
Yarwood’s on-screen and literary works include:
- Three of a Kind (BBC) (1967)
- Look: Mike Yarwood (BBC) (1971–1976)
- The Mike Yarwood Show (Thames) (1982–1987)
- Yarwood’s in Town (Thames) (1982)
- And This is Me (1974)
- Mike Yarwood’s Confession Album (1978)
- Impressions of My Life (1986)
Michael Edward Yarwood remains an indelible part of British entertainment history, leaving behind a legacy of humour, talent, and unparalleled impersonations.