Credit: Shutterstock/Charlie Drake

When you've gambled at the rate I did, there's not much of a thrill in having a fiver each way

One of the best proponents of slapstick comedy in TV history, and a mainstay on television for decades, the diminutive Charlie Drake worked his way out of childhood poverty to become a showbusiness star.

Born in South London, his mother would have to pawn the bed sheets every Monday before picking them up every Friday to make sure that the family of six children would have sheets at the weekend. He worked from an early age as a paper boy in the mornings and a cat-meat seller in the evenings. When the Second World War began, he signed up to the RAF, making use of his 5ft 1 frame as a rear gunner. During the war he signed up for every entertainment program he could, but found that in peacetime, his achievements counted for little. His big break came when he met Jack Edwardes, who stood more than a foot taller than him. They quickly found popularity as a double act on BBC and ITV children’s shows.

He went solo in 1957, and from then until 1975 he was rarely off the tele. The physical nature of his comedy wasn’t without risk, and this came to a head in 1961 when he performed a stunt which involved him being thrown through a specially prepared bookcase - unbeknownst to him, a workman had assumed the bookcase was broken, and proceeded to ‘fix’ it before the live broadcast. Charlie fractured his skull, and was unconscious for 3 days, and would not return to his show for 2 years.

Later in his life he turned his hand to straight acting, earning plaudits in several theatrical performances of Shakespeare and Dickens. His final performance however was a return to comedic form, playing the role of Baron Hard-on in Jim Davidson’s bawdy adult pantomime SINderella.