In terms of the story of British Light Entertainment, the contributions which holiday camps had upon the evolution of the genre remains slightly overlooked when it comes to celebrating the landmarks of British comedy. Butlins and Pontins have been nurturing and showcasing the very best in UK talent since the end of the Second World War and everyone from Jimmy Tarbuck to Shane Ritchie have benefited from this quintessential British institution. Comedian Mick Miller was one of the first products of this new era of handcrafted entertainment yet his career could have taken another path altogether.
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Having shown flair for football, Mick’s height carved him out as a potential goalkeeper. Successful trials for Port Vale whisked him into the enigmatic of sport at what became a pivotal time for popular culture. However, it wasn’t long before the young footballer witnessed the cut-throat nature of sport and was faced with finding another outlet for his talent. The rise of working men’s clubs in northern England would offer entertainers another platform to hone their craft in the post variety era which in time gave birth to a whole new generation of comedians. Having been a successful Redcoat at Pontins, Mick had been given the perfect grounding in entertainment but now had his sights firmly set on television.
The northern working men’s club circuit attracted the attention of ITV executives who saw potential in such a regional phenomenon in comedy and in 1971 commissioned a series which showcased this. Appearing alongside the likes of Bernard Manning, Charlie Williams and Stan Boardman, this was the perfect vehicle to propel Mick from jobbing comedian to a household name on what was then one of the biggest shows on television. Nowadays The Comedians has been rightfully tarnished for its dated, racist and xenophobic material by some of its most outspoken characters. Yet Mick maintains that there was a lot of funny material in the show which was devoid of controversy and believes that those segments deserve celebrating. The Comedians dominated the ITV schedules for over a decade and irrespective of the politically controversial undertones, helped to put Mick Miller on the comedy map.
His Liverpudlian roots were a big draw when being booked for shows and his slick live act packed with innovative one liners made Mick one of the most popular club comics of his generation. Unphased by fashions and fads, Miller was persistent in his craft which made him a cult northern hero and remained a formidable stalwart of the working men’s club circuit. Yet what set him apart from many of contemporaries was the ability to write his own material which was relatively seldom in the golden age of TV Variety. This aspect of his work seemed unique and helped to pave the way for a new comedy revolution. Suddenly Mick was seen as a popular inspiration for the next generation of northern working class comedians which unbeknown to him would help to revitalise his career.
Fast forward to 2005 and Mick received a phone call from the up and coming northern comic Johnny Vegas who had written a semi autobiographical sitcom and had always wanted Mick to play his father. Being a big fan of Vegas’s stand up material, it didn’t take long before Miller accepted and was cast as the main character’s estranged stepdad Keith. Like many successful sitcoms Ideal had a bleak undertone and shone a harsh insight into the world of drug addiction. For Mick, this was a refreshing opportunity in a career which had always thrived upon traditional jokes. Suddenly he was able to flex his acting muscles and allowed the public to see another side of the comedy legend. The success of Ideal over seven series helped to introduce Mick to a whole new generation of fans and encouraged fellow comedians to have the desire to collaborate. This included a cameo in the award winning Peter Kay’s Car Share in 2015 playing a delivery driver and the opportunity to work with the modern comedy powerhouse was a great highlight for the northern comedian.
Slowly becoming an elder statesman of British comedy, Mick is now able to be selective with the projects which he undertakes. In 2018 he fulfilled the ambition of a lifetime when he teamed up with seven fellow veterans of entertainment for ITV’s Last Laugh In Vegas. For this, he got to experience an American comedy club and culminated in playing the legendary Vegas strip. Stepping foot on the Vegas stage, you could argue that Miller’s career had gone full circle as he wowed the Vegas audience with the same energy and wit that he had with The Comedians over half a century previously. So whether he’s storming Vegas performing a one man show at Butlins or cruising around the Mediterranean, Mick’s passion for making people laugh remains evident. It was a great pleasure to interview the legendary Mick Miller and long may he reign over live comedy.