Born: November 15, 1930; Died: August 24, 2013.
MIKE Winters, who has died aged 82, was a comedian and musician, half of the famous comedy double act, Mike and Bernie Winters.
The Winters brothers were born in Islington, North London, into a family of less-than strict Russian Jewish immigrants. "Being orthodox for us meant you could eat bacon at home, though not ham or pork," Mike Winters later revealed in his memoirs.
There was showbiz in their DNA, their mother Rachel Bloomfield coming from a circus family. However, the brothers weren't drawn initially to the bright lights of the stage because of a burning desire to entertain.
"One reason was the thought of working with beautiful show girls," Mike Winters later admitted. "And we hated getting up in the morning. We believed actors and entertainers stayed in bed until midday."
Two sound reasons, of course. But the route to the top, or at least the upper middle of the showbiz gallery, was circuitous. The older, rather more sophisticated brother Mike (in his teenage years he had an empty pipe in his mouth, believing it gave him gravitas) attended the Royal Academy of Music while Bernie, three years younger, moved along the showbiz apprenticeship route, appearing at the Regency Club in London's Soho playing the ukulele and performing as a stand-up comedian.
The sum of the parts was greater than the individual performances, however, and aged 16 and 13 the pair formed a double act playing musical items and doing (not very good) impressions of the likes of Cary Grant. However, their key career-defining moment came with an appearance at the Stage Door Canteen in Piccadilly, and the response convinced the brothers the showbiz world would warm to them.
There were early setbacks however. The variety hopefuls played the Glasgow Empire, with the bright and peppy act, as always, starting with a flourish as Mike dashed on-stage playing his clarinet. After a couple of minutes Bernie's face peeked through the centre curtains with his trademark goofy leer. But on that fateful Fifties Friday, a shout from the audience famously reflected Glasgow's thoughts; "Christ - there's two of them!"
Yet, the brothers didn't remain grim. They landed a top showbiz agent in the form of Joe Collins (father of Joan Collins and Jackie Collins), who in 1962 propelled them on to the nation's top variety show, Sunday Night at the London Palladium. Success continued, reflected in the well-groomed, flash- cars image of the pair, and a year later they starred alongside Frankie Howerd and Tommy Cooper in the Michael Winner film The Cool Mikado.
By 1965 the brothers had their own TV show that ran from 1965 to 1973. Critics however debated what the public saw in them. Bernie, whose catchphrase was "Shut ya mouf" was malapropism-reliant and would confuse "vowels" with "bowels'"while Mike was the crotchety straight man, trying to curb his brother's enthusiasm with "Stop! I'm not interested." It was a sentiment half the nation agreed with.
The pair would come to be regarded by most as the poor man's Morecambe and Wise. Indeed, when Michael Parkinson asked Morecambe and Wise what they'd be if they hadn't been comedians, Eric famously replied: "We'd have been Mike and Bernie Winters."
Yet, while the brothers laughed off criticism, all was not well between them. It was claimed Bernie had a long- running affair with a dancer 20 years his junior, Dinah May, which caused bitter friction between the brothers and they split in 1978.
Bernie Winters died in 1991, aged 58, from stomach cancer, but by this time the rift had healed.
Mike Winters meanwhile had moved to Florida where he became a night club boss and worked with legendary boxing manager Angelo Dundee, presenting black-tie boxing events. He also brought the first British professional pantomime to appear in Florida, running for five years and starring not only local young talent but also the late Davy Jones of the Monkees.
Perma-tanned Winters also published five books including a biography of Angelo Dundee and two novels, his last book being his memoirs, The Sunny Side Of Winters, which was panned by critics. And not surprisingly. It's full of flat anecdotes, such as the time he attended a séance with Dusty Springfield, with "spirits" spelling out ominous words on the ouija board, and the table suddenly moving.
"Winters has little obvious self-awareness," said one critic, "which is endearing, even if it doesn't make for the most engrossing reading."
But Mike Winters could take criticism on the chin. He was candid, for example, about how frequently the brothers' act was met "with at best complete indifference, at worst outright hostility". And he could handle the ignominy of realising his brother had built a successful TV career with a new partner, a St Bernard dog named Schnorbitz.
There's no doubt Mike Winters was bolstered by his hugely supportive wife, Cassie Chaney, a fashion designer whom he first met when she was just 17 and married in 1955. "It was the anniversary of the Battle of Trafalgar," said Winters, smiling of the date. "Cassie and I have been battling ever since." Mike Winters, who had two children and five grandchildren, had returned to the UK to live and died at his home in Gloucestershire with his family by his side.
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