Bransby WILLIAMS (1870-1961)

Bransby Williams This Is Your Life

programme details...

  • Edition No: 76
  • Subject No: 76
  • Broadcast live: Mon 8 Dec 1958
  • Broadcast time: 7.30-8.05pm
  • Venue: BBC Television Theatre
  • Series: 4
  • Edition: 11

on the guest list...

  • H J Kisbey
  • Compton Mackenzie
  • Ted Hennings
  • Maidie Andrews
  • Lupino Lane
  • G H Elliott
  • Eric - son
  • Kathleen Saintsbury
  • Jim Craug
  • Charles Brewer
  • John Baxter
  • Kenneth Milne-Buckley
  • Richard Hearne
  • Telegram messages
  • Greatrex Newman
  • Al Read
  • Emlyn Williams
  • Gilbert Harding
  • Filmed tribute:
  • Sax Rohmer

production team...

  • Researchers: Nigel Ward, Michael Williams
  • Writers: Nigel Ward, Michael Williams
  • Director: Vere Lorrimer
  • Producer: T Leslie Jackson
  • names above in bold indicate subjects of This Is Your Life
related pages...
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Photographs of Bransby Williams This Is Your Life

The Times article: Bransby Williams This Is Your Life

The Times 4 December 1961



Mr Bransby Williams, actor and music-hall performer, who was especially well known for his impersonations of characters from the novels of Dickens, died yesterday in a nursing home in Streatham, S.W. He was 91.

Bransby Williams was born at Hackney on August 14, 1870. Though he was originally intended for the Church, his early employment was with a firm of tea merchants and in a paper works. He began as a youth to perform in amateur theatricals, and then took small professional engagements performing at Saturday variety shows and working men's clubs at two shillings or five shillings a night. He then spent some years in stock companies, and on August 26, 1896, made his first regular appearance, at the London, Shoreditch, where he gave imitations of Irving, Tree, Wyndham and other actors. He immediately got a West End engagement at the Tivoli, and in 1897 began his renderings of Dickens characters. These remained for many years his chief stock in trade, and included Micawber, Uriah Heep, Little Nell's grandfather and many more, all acted with a certain richness and broad sense of character, though without much subtlety. He also had a long repertoire of imitations of performers whom he had known and watched on both the music-hall and legitimate stages. These he sometimes gave in a little sketch of an old stage door keeper remembering the stars of the past. Occasionally he would vary his turn by reciting Shakespearian speeches, and as a reciter, too, he was the first to render Milton Hayes's famous pieces, "The Green Eye of the Little Yellow God", and "The Whitest Man I Know".

A well-built, handsome man, with black hair and a square jaw, Williams generally appeared wearing a tail-coat with brass buttons and black knee-breeches and stockings. He did not, however, confine himself to the variety stage and in the twenties acted in a number of plays, sometimes in London but mostly in the provinces. He tackled such theatrically famous things as Irving's old double part of Lesurques and Dubose in The Lyons Mail, and was not afraid to tackle Hamlet at Birmingham in March 1923. He was a very competent actor, in an extremely old-fashioned way, speaking resonantly and clearly, and making great play of stage business. When in 1922 he doubled the parts of Micawber and Peggotty in David Copperfield at Brixton, it was greeted as a remarkable tour de force, though complaint was made that Williams, for the sake of contrast, took an unjustifiable liberty in rendering Micawber as a drunken buffoon. In recent years he often appeared in television, tackling the new medium with modesty and professional competence. When he was 88 he was the subject of a BBC television programme in the This Is Your Life series. In 1959 a committee, of which Lord Birkett was chairman, launched an appeal on his behalf.

His eldest son, a captain in the Royal Flying Corps, was killed in 1918.

The Guardian article: Bransby Williams This Is Your Life

The Guardian 4 December 1961

Mr Bransby Williams

Bransby Williams, who has died at the age of 91, will be remembered by thousands who saw his impersonations of famous actors and of Dickens and Shakespeare characters. Latterly, he made a hit with the millions of television watchers too, when nearly 80. At 88 he was the subject of a This Is Your Life programme.

He seemed due for immortality in the most literal sense, enjoying excellent health to a very late age, in spite of occasional forced retirements.

His real career was in those famous monologues. He had a great gift for low comedy and had been an actor before he went on the halls professionally. But the combination of a phenomenal memory a real old style thespian's 'boomer' voice and a hypnotic eye which, like the ancient mariner's, held the watcher in thrall, combined to make the monologue his speciality.

He had made many appearances already as an enthusiastic amateur in the intervals from the job of tea-tasting in Mincing Lane before, with the encouragement of William Terriss, he joined a provincial stock company playing all sorts of roles.

He deserted the theatre when he made a great success at the Shoreditch music hall doing imitations of Irving in "The Bells" (a role he himself was to play at the age of 79 on television). Then - the proverbial stroke of luck - he was asked to deputise for Dan Leno at the Tivoli, was immediately engaged on his own account and was soon famous both here and in Canada and the United States.

Besides Irving and Tree (in "Trilby") he did memorable impersonations of the people in such works as "David Copperfield" - no one who saw his "Peggotty" is ever likely to forget it.

Shakespeare offered a similar mine of material for the monologuist. He actually played Hamlet in the theatre in the early Twenties, but "The Green Eye of the Yellow God" and "The Yogi's Curse" are the works which most people will associate with his exceptional talents.

After the war he toured in Edward Percy's "The Shop at Sly Corner" and also in his namesake Emlyn's "The Light of Heart."

He was a wonderful old trouper, with that thrusting, outgoing talent which perhaps only the old music hall, with its sink or swim in the first minute condition, could ever have brought to such a pitch.

Series 4 subjects

Jo Capka | Jimmy Edwards | Andrew Milbourne | Bella Burge | Tommy Steele | Ronald Shiner | James Edward Wood
Margaret Rowena Jones | John Griffiths | Freddy Bloom | Bransby Williams | Miriam Moses | Elsie Mullock | John Vidler
Florence Desmond | Noel Duckworth | Alfred Daniel Wintle | Ted Heath | Andrew Macdonald | Harriet Cohen
Willie Hall | Reginald Blanchford | Kenneth More | Hugh Llewelyn Glyn Hughes | Miriam Jowett | Ted Willis
Alfred Southon | Tiger Sarll | Mary Ward | Roy Gill | Stirling Moss | Ethel Goldsack | Tommy Trinder