Ted Robbins on his near death experience and depression
PUBLISHED: 12:26 21 November 2018 | UPDATED: 12:26 21 November 2018
Liverpool-born Ted Robbins is the king of the warm-up men, and the comedian who almost died on stage.
It is very nearly four years ago that Ted Robbins went out before a packed Manchester Arena in a stage production of Peter Kay’s Phoenix Nights and promptly sank to the floor with a heart attack.
But for the efforts of a doctor and paramedic who leapt forth and broke a dozen of his ribs bashing his heart back into life, this could have been Ted’s own Tommy Cooper moment.
Today, Ted is fitter, slimmer – down from 22 stones at his most portly to 16 stones – and still doing what he’s always done best...making people laugh. A veteran of over 20 professional pantos, he’s pulling on his corsets to play the dame in Stockport Plaza’s Sleeping Beauty.
‘It had a huge effect on me, hopefully for the good,’ says Ted, reflecting on his heart attack at home in Crawshawbooth, near Rawtenstall.
But his recovery wasn’t all plain sailing.
‘I had my heart surgery and, not long after that, I went into a very dark place. In the end, I went to my doctor and said “This isn’t just feeling down. I’ve no pleasure in anything at all”. I was getting anxious, depressed. There was a hopelessness.’
But then his tone brightens. ‘I got help and I’m doing great.’
Supporting him through this process was his wife Judy, who hails from Accrington, the daughter of well-known local politicians Cliff and Dorothy Westell.
Ted and Judy married 29 years ago and the reception was a hotpot supper at a working men’s club in Oswaldtwistle. He still speaks of the moment he met professional dancer Judy as ‘the best thing in my life’. He proposed just days after meeting her and started married life with Ted confessing to being ‘absolutely penniless, in fact I was overdrawn’.
Ted’s CV is almost as varied as that of his late dad Mike Robbins, who worked as a holiday camp compere, singer, manager of the Golden Garter cabaret club in Wythenshawe, Manchester, pub landlord, production line worker at Vauxhall, shopkeeper and even, briefly, a professional trampolinist.
Ted – who has four younger sisters including actor, comedian and singer Kate Robbins – grew up in Bebington and attended Wirral Grammar School.
One of his first jobs in entertainment was as compere for a performing dolphin show in Porthcawl, run by his dad. Ted tried nursing, teaching, worked as a Butlins redcoat in Blackpool, starred in a risque stage show with 1970s sex symbol Fiona Richmond but then carved out a name in TV land as the nation’s best warm-up man.
He would put audiences at their ease for Victoria Wood, Des O’Connor, Cilla Black and many more. Even TV shows such as Mastermind sought Ted’s golden patter to keep the crowd happy. ‘I have a very interesting relationship with John Humphrys,’ says Ted. ‘I’m like the Fool to his Lear.’
There was the odd big break which made Ted star of the show rather than warm-up man, for instance, the 1984 Saturday night Granada TV show Some You Win. Ted can still quote, word for word, Nina Myskow’s withering News of the World critique of his performance, in which perhaps her least offensive phrase was ‘hugely talentless’.
‘The best thing to come out of that for me was working with Kenneth Williams,’ says Ted. ‘He was hilarious and funny, strange and weird.’
Another crucial figure came into Ted’s life through a chance meeting almost 20 years ago. ‘I was coming up from London on the train and I had my butty and my newspaper and I just wanted to nestle into a crook of the train and half doze,’ Ted, aged 63, recalls. ‘This plump lad blocked my way and said: “You’re Ted Robbins, aren’t you?”.’
The chatty stranger knew everything about Ted’s career. ‘He kept talking to me across the aisle and towards the end, he said: “Channel 4 have given me a show. Do you want to be in it?”.’
The stranger was, of course, Peter Kay. Ted took a role in the spoof documentary series That Peter Kay Thing, and then played the villain Den Perry in the hugely successful Phoenix Nights.
‘That changed things for me so much,’ says Ted. ‘I’ve worked with two geniuses in my time. I think Peter’s a genius, and Victoria Wood was a genius. Victoria was so kind to me.’
Ted Robbins stars with Claire King in Sleeping Beauty at the Stockport Plaza from Friday November 30 to Sunday January 6.