This is a short post about my memories of the Cornish comedian Jethro. It’s not about any specific jokes or performances, but on the way he became a part of my upbringing, and his style and distinct language, part of a lexicon that I would dip in and out of over the years, and still do.
It was a Friday night at my Auntie and Uncle’s house in Ottery St. Mary, Devon, in the early 1990s, when I first saw and heard Jethro. It was one of his early stand-up videos. We would have not long before arrived there from the Midlands for a Roberts family weekend. Jethro, being Cornish, was well known to my Devon-based family but the rest of the family were largely unaware, though I now understand that Jethro’s national prominence would’ve been enhanced by two appearances on the Des O’Connor show in the preceding years, which doesn’t sound much but back then in the days of only four television channels, the Saturday night slot would have been a propulsion to fame.
In their living room, I remember there being a mixed reaction. Belly laughing from the men, apologetic and slightly guilty giggles from the women, and everyone occasionally straining their ears to understand his accent. I can’t remember my initial feelings, I might have been too young, or there might have been too much noise in the room for me to properly hear the VHS audio. However, this was to be the start of an unlikely connection with, and affection for, this benevolent, comedic anachronism.
I obviously had absorbed enough of what he had said on that first viewing to make me more intrigued to listen and watch more of his material. I duly did so and found that one of my friends also knew of Jethro and had some videos which we watched together and I also borrowed. Jethro had a string of videos in the 1990s, which I think usually came out at Christmas as the ideal stocking filler. Titles such as ‘Not for the Vicar’, ‘A Portion of Jethro’, ‘ Jethro says Bull’cks to Europe’ and ‘Rule Brittania’ you could argue, played to a certain type of audience. Having said that though, the audience I’m in danger of lazily stereotyping I wouldn’t say I would naturally align with, so perhaps he really did transcend the generations and political persuasions (or perhaps I don’t really know myself).
At some point in the mid-1990s I found that I could impersonate the Devon and Cornwall accent, or at least, I could do an impression of Jethro which others found accurate, convincing or amusing, so much so that I would confidently have a go despite in all likelihood projecting little resemblance to the West Country dialect. As a teenager I would occasionally play the piano at functions attended by my parents and their friends, to give me a bit of practice at playing in front of friendly audiences. One such time, one of my parents’ friends asked me to tell a Jethro joke in front of them all after their meal. Fuelled by alcohol and also the slightly bizarre image of a teenager trying to pull off the persona of a middle-aged, rotund, Cornish comedian, everyone laughed at whatever poorly-remember jokes I decided to regurgitate, with my mum not really being sure where to look when I used some of the more ‘fruity’ Jethro language which was integral to some of the stories.
This became something of an irregular occurrence at extended family dinners, or even just at the end of the night when I had not long passed my driving test and I would arrive to pick-up my parents from a function. I would often get egged on to perform a few Jethro jokes to a now well-accustomed crowd, though to the bemusement of fellow diners who happened to be in the same room as my parents’ party.
Jethro became so familiar to the good people of the Bridgnorth Round Table and Ladies Circle that they organised a trip to the Oakengates Theatre, in Telford, to see him. I was invited to go along as well as special guest, and absolutely loved it.
This was the first of five occasions I saw Jethro perform live. Twice in Telford as a teenager, once in Bristol when I was a student, again in my mid-twenties back at Telford, and then the final time being in late 2019 just prior to his announcement that it would be his last tour. On that occasion I went with my dad and some friends. We arrived quite early and were surprised, and thrilled, to see Jethro standing on the door of the venue greeting the audience members as they arrived. We had a quick chat, and I told how well known and liked he was within our family. To my delight, after hovering with my phone I asked if he’d mind having his picture taken with my dad and I, to which he replied “I thought you’d never bloody ask!”.
That evening, in retrospect, felt like part of a lap of honour for Jethro as he was to bow out of performing. Sadly, he wasn’t able to fulfil his remaining tour dates in 2020 due to Covid, but I hope he felt at least that he had been master of his own destiny having already decided to call it a day and, who knows, maybe the slightly premature end to his tour might have come as a relief.
I have two regrets with respect to Jethro. One was that I didn’t see him perform in Cornwall, or at one of his own comedy clubs. The second one is, I wish I had written to Jethro to tell him I had grown up listening to his stuff and trying to copy it to make my friends and family laugh. I’m sure he would’ve appreciated that. Maybe one of his friends or family members will read this piece and pass it on to others who might feel some comfort in knowing this. Amazing how people can have an effect on others’ lives, but never know it themselves.
RIP Jethro. You were a very funny chap. Thank you for the stories and the jokes, they will live on as long as I am around!