Bill Kerr

Bill Kerr
William Henry Kerr (10 June 1922 – 28 August 2014)

Bill Kerr was born in 1924 in Cape Town, South Africa, whilst his show business parents were on tour, and he grew up in Wagga, in Australia. Like Sid James, Bill made his first theatrical appearance at a very early age, his mother taking him on stage at the age of just ten weeks.

Bill gained fame as a child actor in Australian music halls and variety theatres, during which time he learnt to dance and sing. Billed as Willie Kerr, he made his first film appearance in the film 'Harmony Row' in 1933. From vaudeville road shows he moved on to become a star performer touring with the young Australia League, also appearing in children's radio shows for the ABC. This only ended when his voice broke, at which point he ended up working as a bellhop in a hotel.

At the outbreak of World War 2, Bill signed up for the Air Force Reserve, working as a comic entertaining the troops in the South Pacific. After being demobbed he went back to vaudeville again, until he got a passage to England, in 1947, on a cattle steamer, with just £5 in his pocket. His British stage debut occurred in 1947, after which he kept busy in musical comedies and stand-up comic gigs. His first engagement in Britain was at the Windmill Theatre, where he met Peter Sellers and Harry Secombe; and between 1948 and 1953 he worked alongside the likes of Jack Benny, Sophie Tucker and Danny Kaye.

Bill's big break came when he appeared in the hugely popular radio show, 'Variety Bandbox'. Bill's catch-phrase, "I've only got four minutes!" originated from his time at Melbourne's Tivoli, when he was asked to fill in briefly to cover for a failed scenery shift. His introduction on 'Variety Bandbox' as "…the boy from Wagga Wagga" also endeared him to the English audiences.

Bill appeared with Hancock in the programme 'Happy Go Lucky' in 1951, and also appeared in several other radio comedies before joining the cast of 'Hancock's Half Hour' from the first series, which began in 1954. In the early shows, Bill Kerr's character was a somewhat sharp, wise guy, but as the series progressed, the character was to evolve into more of a 'village idiot', or a Stan Laurel type character.

Following the end of the radio series, Bill continued to appear in films and also on television, including the BBC series 'Citizen James' with Sid James, and a series of 'Dr Who' with Patrick Troughton in 1967. His many film credits included 'The Dam Busters' and 'You Know What Sailors Are'. His ambition to become a serious actor led to his return to Australia in 1979, where he remained in demand as a character actor for both films and TV work. Bill died in Perth on 28 August 2014.