Sir Harry Secombe Biography


Sir Harry Secombe BiographyClaim to Fame: Welsh singer, actor, comedian, and former president of the Diabetes UK
DOB: September 8, 1921
Date of Death: April 11, 2001
Diabetes Type: 2

Best known for playing Neddie Seagoon of The Goon Show, a British radio comedy show with Peter Sellers, broadcast throughout the 1950's, Sir Harry Secombe was a talented singer, actor, and overall performer who later became president of the British Diabetes Association.  A charming tenor, Secombe's voice brought him great success as an Episcopal singer and set him apart from many other performers of his day. Though a born entertainer, it is his honesty in regards to his diabetes and his efforts to raise money for diabetes-related charities for which he will be most remembered.

Born in Swansea, Wales in 1921, Secombe was the third of four children born to Nellie Jane Gladys and Frederick Ernest Secombe. From an early age, Secombe showed tremendous personality and skill, singing in his church choir and putting on a comedy show with his sister at church gatherings.  Secombe attended the Dynevor School until 1938, when he joined the Territorial Army – a part-time volunteer force of the British Army – as a Lance Bombardier in the Royal Artillery. During his tenure he would entertain the soldiers. During his tenure in North Africa and Sicily, Secombe joined concert parties and created his own comedy routines to entertain his fellow soldiers during a time of great hardship. This is where he met his longtime friend Spike Milligan and together they performed a number of comedy routines. Long after he was discharged from the army, his old regiment decided to promote him to the rank of sergeant. 

In 1946, Secombe joined the Windmill Theatre Group and developed his comedy routine. After establishing a following, he was offered a role on long-running radio variety show, Welsh Rarebit, where he met comedians Benny Hill, Peter Sellers, and Michael Bentine. In 1951, together with Sellers and old friend Spike Milligan, Secombe joined The Goon Show. The show was so successful that it continued to run until 1960.

With the success of the radio show, Secombe had the freedom to work on his singing career and release a comedic album of Herbert's Sweethearts. In 1958, Secombe appeared in his first of two films, Jet Storm, staring Richard Attenborough, followed by Davy, a comedic film in which he held the title role.  In 1963, Secombe landed his first of many musical theater roles with the show Pickwick. The show gave him the hit single "If I Ruled the World," which would quickly become his signature song. In the same year, he was also appointed as a Commander of the Order of the British Empire. It is an order of British chivalry that dates back to 1917. In 1965, the show toured the United States and Secombe was nominated for a Tony Award for Best Actor in a Musical.

In 1968, Secombe was given his own sketch comedy show, The Harry Secombe Show, which often featured Spike Milligan. Throughout the 70's, Secombe would have similar success with shows like Sing a Song of Secombe and Secombe with Music. Secombe also starred in a number of religiously themed shows like Songs of Praise and Highway.

In 1980, after a lifelong struggle with his weight, Secombe was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. Devastated, he quickly began working with diabetes-related charities, hoping that his fame would generate awareness of the threat of diabetes. In 1981, Secombe was knighted for his efforts and, in 1983, was made president of Diabetes UK, the UK's leading diabetes charity. He held this post proudly until his death.

On April 11, 2001, Sir Harry Secombe's death was publicly announced. The cause of death was said to be prostate cancer.  Secombe was cremated and his ashes were interred in a church in Surrey, England, where he died. A memorial service was held at Westminster Abby and Charles, Prince of Wales attended, as well as other members of the royal family. Secombe's legacy also lives on in the Secombe Theatre in Sutton, London, England.

Find more entertainers with diabetes.

Reviewed by dLife staff 02/15.


Last Modified Date: February 11, 2015

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by Brenda Bell
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