You might not recognise the name but Roger Edwards’s journey through entertainment rivals any Light Entertainment heavyweight. Beginning his career as a stand up comedian in the working men’s clubs of the West Midlands, Roger enjoyed a tough grounding in entertainment which he built upon throughout his career. Whilst on the circuit, Roger encountered a young comedian Les Dennis whom he would develop a successful working relationship with which would come to define his career. Meeting the late great Dustin Gee following forming a successful double act on the hit ITV impressions show Who Do You Do, Roger slowly became in charge of his professional affairs and charted his rise to stardom.
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His association with Les Dennis and Dustin Gee took Roger to some of the most prestigious theatres in the country. As a performer, he mastered his craft as a stand up comedian touring the clubs of the West Midlands so could identify with Les and Dustin’s journey through entertainment. He recognised Dustin’s unique talent as an impressionist in the way that not only could he perfect individual voices but he also became the people who he was impersonating in a way that Roger had never seen. The working relationship between Dustin, Les and Roger was built upon a mutual respect and appreciation for each other’s work and hearing Roger recollect these times it’s easy to see that this was so much more than a professional partnership.
Les Dennis and Dustin Gee were one of the biggest double acts of the 1980’s and were a regular booking on the biggest Variety shows of the day. On 15th April 1984 Les and Dustin were booked to perform on the heavyweight ITV show Live From Her Majesty’s hosted by Jimmy Tarbuck with the legendary Tommy Cooper as top of the bill. Roger sadly wasn’t present at Her Majesty’s Theatre for the show but like the rest of the viewing audience, he watched in horror as Cooper dropped to the floor in what was thought to be the climax of his act. On meeting with Dustin a few days later, Dustin recalled the events of the Live show and surmised that if he could pick a way to go, that would probably be the best way to do it.
In life, history has an unexplained, inconceivable way of repeating itself and Roger hung on to those few immortal words of Dustin’s just twenty months later when he suffered a fatal heart attack in the middle of a costume change when performing in panto at The Southport Theatre in Merseyside. After successfully performing CPR, paramedics were able to stabilise him and rush him to hospital where he tragically passed away two days later. From the way in which Roger reflects upon this period in his life, it’s easy to realise that this hit everyone associated with the late great comedian in a huge way and left an irreplaceable void not just in entertainment but within all of their lives. Having charted his thriving career from the working men’s clubs to the doyen of 1980’s Light Entertainment, Roger had unique insight into the man behind the laughter and not only lost a respected work colleague but a dear friend. Dustin Gee may be gone but never forgotten.
Following such a shock not only to Roger but the whole Light Entertainment fraternity, it was difficult to know what life would be like without Dustin. Throughout the whole ordeal, Roger had remained extremely close with Les and it was thought that if they both would work in television again then it would be together. Such an opportunity arose in 1987 when Dennis was given the keys to ITV’s flagship game show Family Fortunes following in the footsteps of legends Bob Monkhouse and Max Bygraves. As programme associate, it was Roger’s job to welcome the families to the studio and create an informal atmosphere throughout the day in order to relax them before the show. Recorded at Carlton Studios in Nottingham, ITV put all crew up in a hotel for two weeks while filming was taking place. This had a strong benefit on the quality of the production as all crew got to know each other very well and this atmosphere transcended the screen and contributed to the success of Family Fortunes.
The other hit show which Roger became associated with was the legendary ITV Sunday teatime phenomenon Bullseye hosted by the late great Jim Bowen. Having encountered Bowen in tragic circumstances when he was selected to replace Dustin following the difficult decision to continue with the pantomime in light of his sudden death. Bowen was an eccentric club comedian who had grown up in Lancashire and despite his success, forever had a deal going on for miscellaneous items which he could then sell on. Therefore the Bullseye production meeting also felt like an episode of Only Fools And Horses as Jim would be cementing deals for everyday items including women’s clothing and accessories. This bizarre environment remains extremely memorable for Roger who forever saw the funny side of such a strange arrangement.
Beyond his entertainment credentials, Roger has always had an enormous sense of morality. As a long time volunteer for The Samaritans, he witnessed first hand the devastating effects of loneliness on both the mental and physical health of the community. Long before mental health became hot topic on political agenda, Roger realised this national crisis and set about making waves to combat it. Sergeant Pepper’s Friendship Club was launched in the West Midlands to aid people living alone to access a whole host of different activities and make friends in the process. More informal than Esther Rantzen’s Silver Line, Sergeant Pepper’s Friends simply acts as the middle man between two people getting to know each other. This is something that Roger remains extremely passionate about and satisfies the natural entertainer in him.To find out more about Roger’s tireless work with Sergeant Pepper’s Friends please listen to Roger’s podcast on Spotify.
Roger insists that despite Sergeant Peppers being a charity that is a lifeline for many people throughout his community, it still fulfills his need to be an entertainer. Irrespective of whether he’s booking jugglers and acrobats or hosting an amateur talent show for a room of people, he still feels like he’s at the very heart of entertainment. This may be evidence to suggest that laughter is actually literally the best medicine and Roger himself remains a strong advocate of this. So whether he’s supporting Les Dennis on a national acclaimed hit game show or he’s playing wildlife bingo on zoom with a dozen people, to Roger, entertainment is entertainment. It was a great pleasure to interview Roger Edwards and with such a diverse and fruitful career behind him, it’s exciting to see what challenges await him next.