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Death of Kent comic Paul James

Tributes are being paid to veteran Kent comedian Paul James who has died at the age of 72.

The much-loved entertainer from Cliffe was born in Gravesend on July 19, 1947, and became one of the most famous voices on radio for 28 years - 13 years co-hosting a show with his good friend and fellow comic Paul Harris of Sheppey.

Paul James relaxing in a chair (16137515)
Paul James relaxing in a chair (16137515)

Paul, who became known as 'PJ the DJ' to his radio fans, began his show business career at 11 singing with his next door neighbour Pat Barham. They were known as the '2P's'.

Paul went to Southfields Secondary School and then studied commercial art at Gravesend Art School.

While there, he joined a group called The Soundcasters and toured with many of the 60s bands including The Kinks.

Paul James at Sheerness East WMC. Picture: John Nurden (16137503)
Paul James at Sheerness East WMC. Picture: John Nurden (16137503)

After leaving art school he bluffed his way in to work for The Beatles' manager Brian Epstein at the headquarters of NEMS in London as a "general dogsbody" collecting guitars, opening fan mail, and taking the band to the TV studios to record Ready, Steady, Go.

After leaving NEMS he joined the arts department of Vox Amplifiers and then the advertising office of the Gravesend and Dartford Reporter newspaper.

It was after this stint he became self-employed and opened a fancy goods shop called Image and the first discotheque in Kent with his partner Brian Belt.

Paul James with ukulele at Sheerness East WMC. Picture: John Nurden (16137462)
Paul James with ukulele at Sheerness East WMC. Picture: John Nurden (16137462)

In 1969, Paul turned professional when he was offered a job at Pontins, Bracklesham Bay as a Bluecoat.

After three years he became the youngest entertainments manager of any holiday camp in the UK.

He said later: "It completely changed my life."

It was during this time he met two very influential people: the famous music hall comedian Jimmy Wheeler and the holiday camp band leader Roy Denny.

Jimmy convinced Paul to abandon his plans of being a singer/guitarist and to try his hand at comedy.

Roy taught him all the secrets of being a good cabaret act and became Paul’s musical director.

Paul and Roy were employed by Gravesham Borough Council to write, direct and star in a Christmas show called Christmas Crackers at The Woodville Theatre in Paul's home town of Gravesend.

It was a successful venture which lasted three years.

Frank Mansell, the booker for Butlin's Holiday Camps, poached Paul away from Pontins and the relationship lasted 10 years.

Paul was employed as principal comedian for their variety shows in the Gaitey Theatres at Bognor Regis, Minehead, Clackton-on-Sea and Skegness.

In 1985 he appeared on the Thames' ITV Telethon, the first charity programme, long before Children in Need, and a year later was on Granada TVs New Faces.

He also started working for BBC Radio Kent after getting the taste of radio following a brief appearance on the rival Invicta FM (later Heart) when he was interviewed by the KM's John Nurden.

Paul Harris and Paul James (16139380)
Paul Harris and Paul James (16139380)

He spent 28 years on Radio Kent playing music of the 50s, 60s, 70s and 80s and sharing showbusiness stories with guest stars of the era including Roy Hudd, Anita Harris, Joe Pasquale and Queen’s Brian May.

For the final 13 years he joined forces with his good pal Paul Harris before the pair were sacked by the corporation without warning despite chalking up record listeners.

Neither forgave the BBC for that.

But despite attracting record listeners they were deemed too “old hat” by new boss Gordon Davidson.

Mr Harris recalled: “The new boss took me for a meal and said he had some good and bad news. The good news was that our listening figures were up. The bad news was that we were attracting the 'wrong type' of audience and he was axing the show. He even told me to tell my ‘mate.’”

Paul James admitted earlier this year: “To this day I have never met the man. I wouldn’t know him if I bumped into him in the street.

"There is even a Facebook page dedicated to bringing back the Two Pauls. People still ask what I’m doing which is why I love doing shows like this on Sheppey.”

Paul appeared in more than 30 pantomimes and summer seasons and twice performed at the world famous London Palladium.

He also toured the world working on cruise ships and entertaining the troops.

From 2009 to 2019 he joined the Brick Lane Music Hall in London as a principal comedian writing and directing the shows.

He also appeared with his ukulele as part of a harmony double act called Just the Two of Us with singer Gary O’Connor.

The pair were regular visitors to Sheerness East Working Men's Club and Minster Working Men's Club on the Isle of Sheppey as part of a series of variety shows produced by Islander Ray Ballard.

Paul's last appearance on Sheppey was at Minster on February 7.

Sheppey comedian and promoter Ray Ballard (16137492)
Sheppey comedian and promoter Ray Ballard (16137492)

At the time he insisted on appearing, despite being in agony with a bad leg.

Mr Ballard said: "That was typical of Paul. He would always insist the show must go on.

"He was one of the cleverest and nicest people in the business. He always had time for everyone.

"This is heartbreaking news. It has come as such a shock."

BBC Radio Kent said: "It is with great sadness that we have to report the death of our former presenter, friend and colleague Paul James at the age of 72.

"Paul, affectionately known as PJ the DJ, hosted most of the major programmes on the radio station, including the Sunday Request Show."

Tribute from comedianLloyd Hollett. Picture: Marlowe Theatre (16139608)
Tribute from comedianLloyd Hollett. Picture: Marlowe Theatre (16139608)

Thanet comedian Lloyd Hollett said: "I am in utter shock to hear of the passing of Paul James.

"I was only chatting to him last week when he phoned me up and offered me a spot on his charity show in Gravesend in November.

"Paul has been so unbelievably supportive to me as a comic for over 20 years especially alongside his radio colleague Paul Harris during their BBC Radio Kent days.

"He was true gentlemen, a lovely person and a great comic who raised thousands for charity over the years.

"Such sad news."

The Rev Colin Johnson, left, with Kent comic Paul James (16159917)
The Rev Colin Johnson, left, with Kent comic Paul James (16159917)

Retired priest the Rev Colin Johnson of Minster, Sheppey, said: "I was very sad to hear about Paul.

"When I was priest-in-charge of Charlton in Dover from 2005 to 2013 – the Two Pauls did a couple of my Evening with Father Colin events to raise money for the church.

" I had known the pair of them for many years during my time with BBC Radio Medway (later Kent) and we often worked together at weekends when I was reading the news and they were doing their morning programmes.

" Paul James was always known as 'PJ' and I was known as 'CJ' around the office – so it was often PJ and CJ on the wireless!

"Even after I retired from the Beeb around 2000 and was ordained I still did the occasional weekend Thought for the Day with them. I was in the BBC Radio Kent studio in Dover and PJ and Harris were in the main Tunbridge Wells studio.

"PJ was a smashing guy. I never knew him downcast or upset although he came close to it when the BBC decided it no longer wanted the Two Pauls on the air.

"He had worked with some of the biggest names in the business, including one of my own particular heroes, Roy Hudd.We’ll miss him."

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