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Wednesday, 11 April, 2001, 18:00 GMT 19:00 UK
Sir Harry: The ultimate entertainer
Sir Harry Secombe
Sir Harry's career spanned 25 years in showbusiness
Sir Harry Secombe was one of the outstanding British entertainers of his time, equally popular on stage and screen, television and radio.

He was also greatly admired within his own profession.

And at a lunch given to him by the Variety Club of Great Britain to celebrate 25 years in showbusiness, he said: "Anyone who, for 25 years, has built a career on such tenuous foundations as a high-pitched giggle, a raspberry and a sprinkling of top 'Cs' needs all the friends he can get".

Secombe in uniform
He developed his talent for comedy in the army
The son of a commercial traveller, Sir Harry was born in 1921 in Swansea, and at an early age, appeared with one of his sisters in a double comedy act at local charity concerts.

He joined the Territorial Army six months before the outbreak of World War II and remained in the Army for seven years, including service in Tunisia and Italy.

While he was in Italy he developed his talent as a comedian in army concert party shows.

In London, after demobilisation, he got his first professional engagement at the Windmill Theatre. He made his first broadcast in 1948 and later became "resident comedian" in Variety Bandbox.

Secombe with Milligan as Goons
Two Goons: Harry Secombe with Spike Milligan

It was in 1951 that he and Spike Milligan, whom he had met in the Army, together with two other ex-servicemen, Peter Sellers and Michael Bentine, launched the radio series that was to become The Goon Show.

Sir Harry's main contribution was Neddy Seagoon, the boisterous character famous for his raspberry blowing.

The Goon Show continued for nine years after which the team members went their separate ways.

Although Sir Harry had sung in the church choir as a boy and was used to including songs in his musical acts, it was not until 1952 that he took steps to have his voice trained.

Singing in the musical Pickwick
Pickwick was his first successful stage musical
He joked that his voice was not so much "belcanto" as "can belto". His first opportunity to combine his comic and singing gifts to any extent was in the stage musical Pickwick in 1963.

One of its songs If I Ruled The World became something of a Secombe signature tune.

He had since taken singing roles in the stage musical The Four Musketeers and in the film musicals Oliver and Song of Norway.

He appeared in several Royal Command performances and was made a CBE in 1963. This is my Song reached number two in the British charts in 1967. The Harry Secombe Show was a popular feature on television.

Secombe in a hospital ward
Secombe's knighthood was awarded partly for his charity work

When his semi-autobiographical novel Twice Brightly was published in 1974, it was reviewed in Punch by Prince Charles, a Goon and Secombe admirer.

His first novel Welsh Fargo was published in 1981, the year in which he was knighted for services to entertainment and charity.

His friends dubbed him Sir Cumference! But he slimmed down rapidly after collapsing with diabetes.

He was a religious man, presenting ITV's Highway programme during the 80s followed by a stint on the BBC's Songs of Praise.

In 1998 he announced that he was undergoing radiotherapy for prostate cancer. Sir Harry Secombe announced his retirement in September 1999 following a stroke.

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Sir Harry Secombe obituary
The BBC's Nick Higham looks back on Sir Harry Secombe's career
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