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[Deathwatch] Dave King, British comedian, 72

HUGE thanks to a reader for doing a lot of groundwork to help me find
this obit - Ed.

April 17, 2002

Dave King
Entertainer who began life as a comedian and pop star and became a
well-respected screen actor
Few British comedians were as successful in the 1950s and early 1960s
as Dave King; he became one of the first British acts to top the bill
at the London Palladium, and had his own shows on both British and
American television and an enviable chart career. But perhaps most
remarkable was that when King’s golden touch disappeared, he reinvented
himself and became a respected screen actor. He played villains in a
number of television dramas before being cast against type as a police
inspector in Dennis Potter’s Pennies from Heaven, and he also starred
in films that included The Long Good Friday and Revolution. 
David King was born in Twickenham and showed an early flair for music
and performing, joining Morton Fraser and his Harmonica Gang, an
eccentric variety act based on the American act Borrah Minevitch’s
Harmonica Rascals. He first came to the public’s attention having
returned to the band after he completed his National Service with the
RAF. They soon established themselves as headliners in all the number
one theatres in Britain. 

By the mid-1950s King was pursuing a solo career. With his laid-back
style and his songs in the style of Perry Como, he began to make
appearances in television variety shows, and in 1955 he was given his
own series by the BBC. An innovative comedian with brilliant timing, he
had a madcap and ground-breaking show that was scripted by the top gag
writers of the day. He would engage in banter with the BBC announcers —
something previously unheard of — and his humour had something in
common with his American contemporaries such as Jackie Gleason and Sid

His hour-long show was famous for its sketches, and in particular for
his take-offs of famous Hollywood films and genres long before the
advent of later stars such as Stanley Baxter. He would, for instance,
send up westerns, or war films — winning the war single-handed — and
inevitably any movie featuring Bing Crosby, of whom he did an uncanny
imitation. Among the sidekicks on his show was the young Tommy Cooper,
and the glamour was often supplied by the singer Yana. 

King began his recording career in 1956 with a cover of the Dean Martin
song Memories are made of This, and followed this with hits such as
Christmas and You, With All My Heart, High Hopes and The Story of My
Life (one of three versions of the Burt Bacharach song to make the UK
Top 20 in 1958). Although most of his releases were cover versions of
songs by Dean Martin or Perry Como they always did well in the charts.
At the same time he was a regular top of the bill at the London
Palladium, in a period when the theatre was dominated by American
stars. With the Grade Organi- sation doing the booking, the policy was
to present major American film and theatre personalities such as Danny
Kaye, Mickey Rooney and Liberace, but King was always an enormous draw

In 1958 he was poached from the BBC by ITV, who in turn gave him his
own show. A year later he was the host of the famous Kraft Music Hall
Show in America, replacing Milton Berle. In 1961 he appeared as a guest
on the Bing Crosby Show on British television and a year later he made
a cameo appearance as himself in the film The Road to Hong Kong. One of
the few British comedians to work successfully in America, he performed
there in cabaret but his fame was shortlived and by the late 1960s he
had returned to Britain. 

Unfortunately the world of both stage and television variety had
changed. New comics had replaced his style of humour and he found it
hard to get work. In a complete switch, he decided to turn to straight
acting, and, despite initial scepticism from fellow performers, he
proved to be a natural. 

Throughout the 1970s he gave a series of highly polished and gritty
performances in several television dramas, including The Sweeney, The
Professionals and Bergerac, and he went on to feature in Pennies from
Heaven (1978), with Bob Hoskins and Cheryl Campbell. 

His film credits included comedies such as Go to Blazes (1962) with
Robert Morley and Maggie Smith, Up the Chastity Belt (1971), starring
Frankie Howerd and Roy Hudd, and Richard Lester’s The Ritz (1976). He
worked again under Lester in Cuba (1979), an action film featuring Sean

King also featured in a number of dramas, playing Parky in The Long
Good Friday (1980), Allan Benson in Warren Beatty’s Oscar-winning Reds
(1981) and Mr McConnahay in Hugh Hudson’s Revolution (1985), alongside
Nastassja Kinski and Joan Plowright. For several months in 1994 and
1995 he played Clifford Duckworth in Coronation Street. 

His wife predeceased him. He is survived by his two daughters. 

Dave King, comedian, singer and actor, was born on June 23, 1929. He
died on April 15, 2002, aged 72.