WHEN you meet James Joseph Tarbuck, bookmaker’s son from Wavertree, Liverpool, it’s rather like hitting the jackpot on a fruit machine. An instant bonanza. But in friendliness, not tanners.
Comedian Jim positively beams mateyness. I’ve never had the pleasure before, but his greeting is overwhelming. I’m ushered into a chair, offered a drink, smoke or sandwich and the undivided attention of Master Tarbuck, aged 26. grinning schoolboy fashion and looking like a stray Beatle.
He’s one of the guests in Secombe and Friends, on Sunday; so friendliness is an appropriate background and subject. For Jim has a great loyalty to his mates, and when he meets them (it’s never at the local — he’s teetotal!) all manner of unpredictable events occur.
With Dennis King (of the singing King Brothers) he goes golfing. He’s been playing for two years, handicap 16, and a bit worried about his chips. Would like to keep chatting about golf, but our subject is friendship…
With Tommy Steele he either plays or watches soccer. A great soccerman, Jim: I have difficulty dragging him off the topic of Celtic and back to his mates.
With Bernie Winters he goes butterfly spotting or bird-watching in open country like Clapham Common.
Er, what was that again? Butterflies and birds with Bernie? Now who is kidding who? These ITV comedians just love testing the elasticity of my leg and it looks like Jim has got the message, too.
“No, no. I’m serious,” he says earnestly. “Bernie Winters is quite an authority on ornithology and lepidoptera. I love just going along with him. It’s different. And isn’t this what friendship is all about? Sharing each other’s interests. Widening your own horizons.”
True, true. But the thought of Bernie and Jim stalking red admirals and pearl bordered fritillaries on Clapham Common is… well, a bit of a giggle. So I grin. And Jim grins. This is the way he is. Loves to amuse, even in serious conversation.
Has been in big time show business a fairly short time (three years). But he’d done 44 televised Palladium shows. The Royal Variety Show, shaken hands with the Queen, been a guest of Eamonn Andrews, and is acknowledged as a friend of Harry Secombe on Sunday.
He’s a star; but still hasn’t quite grasped the fact. Still overwhelmed at his acceptance by the big names in the business; still thrilled to be with fellow guests like Shirley Bassey and Dudley Moore.
“Amazing,” he says. “I’m just a kid from Scouse. Came up quick; you’d think the stars who had to slog their way up might resent it. But not at all. They licked me into shape.”
Dickie Henderson taught him to stop saying Thank You Very Much. “I used to repeat it, parrot-like, after every gag,” says Jim. “After every laugh. Nerves I suppose, but you don’t know you’re doing it until someone you respect points it out.”
Morecambe and Wise showed him how to bow properly. “I used to bend stiffly, like a Chinese waiter with lumbago.”
Frankie Vaughan advised on smiling. “I’d always walk on a little worried and grim,” he says. “But Frankie told me you must bounce on, smiling, happy. Then the audience is happy, too.”
What about Harry Secombe, his “friend” on Sunday? “Oh, Harry is the greatest,” he replies, fervently. “I don’t know anyone in the business who doesn’t rate Harry as a friend. I met him after I pushed over a pile of pennies for charity.
“Now it’s all very well pushing them over. But nobody knew where to send them. So I wrote to Harry. He knows all about things like that.
“He contacted me immediately. Ever since I like to think we’ve been mates. And he taught me humility.”
Jim has sporting mates: Ian St John, Liverpool F.C.’s Scots international centre forward; Billy Walker, heavyweight boxer. But all his friends are by no means well known. He’s delighted when old school chums knock unannounced at his dressing room door.
They usually end up at his home in Hertfordshire sharing memories with his wife Pauline — “my greatest mate of all” — and meeting his two children.
Jim certainly hurls himself into his friendships. I’ve a suspicion he’d prefer to be playing golf with me. Or showing off his collection of pop records. Or tiddly-winking…
Anything to forge a friendship deeper. One day I simply must come bird-watching with you and Bernie Winters, Jim.