Jimmy James – A Comedian’s Comedian
Jimmy James was a music hall, film, radio and television comedian and actor brought up in Portrack, Stockton.
Jimmy James was born James Casey on 20 May, 1892 to Jeremiah Casey and his wife Polly. Originally from South Bank, Middlesbrough the family moved to Stockton when Jimmy was seven. Jimmy would return to Stockton throughout his life to visit friends and family and to appear at the various theatres in the area. At the age of ten, Jimmy made his stage debut at the Stockton Hippodrome where he won a boy soprano contest and by the age of twelve he had joined ‘Casey’s Court’ a music hall act made up predominately of children. Here he met and made lifelong friends with Charlie Chaplin.
Jimmy’s career as a singer was interrupted by the outbreak of the First World War. He joined the army and was to rise to sergeant before being invalided out of the forces after being gassed. After the war Jimmy returned to his singing career and enjoyed his first excursion into pantomime at the Stockton Hippodrome with unknown starlet Gracie Fields.
Jimmy became a comedian by accident. One night the comedian in a show called ‘Movie Maid was unable to appear for personal reasons so Jimmy decided that he would have a go and stepped into the comedians role – he was an instant success. He decided to give up his singing and began to develop his new career as a comedian. By 1931 he was a national star appearing at the London palladium and his weekly wage had risen from £8 to £100 a week. The secret of Jimmy’s success as a comedian was due to is excellent timing, his jokes were spontaneous as he believed that a true comedian should never plan his laughs.
Playing comic sketches with a number of stooges notably his Stockton born nephew Jackie Casey (who had the stage name Eli Woods), Jimmy was an established name in the world of British entertainment and was often referred to as a ‘comedian’s comedian’. Jimmy worked with Eli Woods for 14 years until ill health forced him to retire in 1964. He died in Blackpool in 1965 and is buried at Oxbridge Cemetery in Stockton.
Talking to Marty Feldman in the late 1960s, comedian Eric Morecambe had this to say about Jimmy James, ‘He had that thing that broke all barriers with an audience. He was loved by the pros – professionals – and loved by the audience. Now Jimmy had this fantastic gift, that he was liked and loved – this is an important word – was loved – by both. One of the few comedians that all the comics used to stand on the side and watch. One of the greats.’