9:31pm Wednesday 22nd February 2012
© Press Association 2014
Comedian Frank Carson, best known for his catchphrase "It's a cracker", has died, his family has said.
The Belfast-born stand-up, 85, who had suffered from stomach cancer and was in poor health, died at home surrounded by his family in Blackpool, Lancashire.
In a statement, his family said Carson was a "husband, father, Gaga and comedian" who had "set off for his final gig".
"He went peacefully at his home in Blackpool surrounded by his greatest fans - his extended family. We will be taking him home to Belfast to lay him to rest and celebrate his joyful life. It's quieter down here now. God help them up there!"
The comic rose to fame in the 1960s after winning talent show Opportunity Knocks three times. He went on to appear in The Comedians and Tiswas. Carson had undergone a successful operation for stomach cancer last year.
Born in Belfast on 6 November 1926 to a family of Italian descent, the son of a binman grew up in the Little Italy area of the city and worked as a plasterer and electrician before joining the Parachute Regiment. He served three years in the Middle East in the 1950s before turning to showbusiness. Spotted for his stand-up work, he was a popular performer on Irish television before moving to England.
Celebrity friends who died before him included Eric Morecambe, Bernard Manning, Tommy Cooper, Spike Milligan and Norman Wisdom. He also worked ceaselessly for charity and was made a Knight of St Gregory by Pope John Paul II in 1987, the highest honour in the Catholic church. He dedicated much of his life to looking after his wife Ruth, who had serious eyesight problems, with his sons Tony and Aidan and daughter Majella, despite his own heart problems. They have also put a huge effort into bringing the two sides of the community in Northern Ireland together through education.
His agent said: "His audience and friends alike will remember him as a genuine, kind-hearted and generous man who was also very funny because of 'the way he told 'em'. We will remember him as one of the nicest people in showbiz, a gentleman and a friend."
Former chat show host Sir Michael Parkinson said: "We had him on the show a couple of times and I met him playing golf. He was a good comic and great company. He represented that front-of-cloth comedy, it's a different genre from the kind of comedy that we have today, where younger and smarter comedians play big halls - he was a club comic... He was a good man - you're always smiling with people like Frank around."
Sir Bruce Forsyth told ITV News: "The only trouble with Frank, as far as I'm concerned, is that he made me laugh too much. He'll be remembered as the one and only Frank Carson - the man who loved to make people laugh."
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