Family and friends gather to remember - the late, great Phil Johnson.
PUBLISHED: 15:05 16 May 2012 | UPDATED: 15:37 16 May 2012
Make 'em laugh - and that's just what he did. We will never forget Phil Johnson, the laughing landlord.
He was a comedian. He was an entertainer. He was a compere. He was a landlord. He was a war hero. He was Phil Johnson – one of the greatest of all the Norwich characters.
Recently family, friends and comrades packed St Faiths Crematorium for an emotional service where they paid their last respects to the much-loved Phil who has died aged 87 – and one day.
He was a quite extraordinary man but behind the laughs, quips and songs he was an ex-Royal Marine, involved in the D-Day landings, who went on become chairman of both the Normandy Veterans and the Royal Marines associations in Norfolk.
Phil had been a coxswain of a ship under fire, unloading soldiers on to the bloody beaches.
“I was one of the lucky ones. I was going back – they were going to hell,” he told me.
“We must never forget them,” he said – and he never did.
Away from the stage he devoted much of his time to helping former veterans – rarely speaking about the good work he did.
Norwich born and bred, Phil was the son of Elsie and Ernest Johnson who lived off Angel Road. His elder brother Vic died but he has sisters Alma and Margaret.
At the start of the war he became a police messenger before joining the Royal Navy and transferring to the Royal Marines.
He started entertaining the troops as they were travelling back from the Far East at the end of the war and once back in Norwich he turned to showbiz – learning his craft.
He was invited to become the “face of the Fed” – the Federation Club, now The Talk, in Oak Street by manager Jack Woods in the 1950s.
“I needed a face and Phil fitted the bill. He was a first class entertainer and the people adored him. If he had had the breaks he would have become a great national comic. He had such a presence on stage.
“He was such a funny man and a great friend,” said Jack, now secretary of the Norwich Normandy Veterans.
Phil married Joan and they had children Ray and Jill. He later married Beryl, one of the singing King Sisters, and they moved into the pub and hotel trade in Devon during the early 1970s running the Sidmouth Arms.
Five years later they returned to their beloved Norfolk to look after the White Hart at Marsham before moving to the Overstrand Court Hotel and then The Ingate at Beccles.
By 1986 they were back in Norwich – running The Stanley on Magdalen Road and then The Bakers Arms at Millcroft before retiring from the trade in 1993.
During their time behind various bars they raised tens of thousands of pounds for various charities.
“We came into the trade on the 13th with £6,000, we came out of the trade on the 13th 22 years later with £6,600.
“We live in Flat 13. There are 13 steps leading to it.
“Is somebody trying to tell me something?” asked Phil in his book.
He went on to spend much of his time helping those in the Normandy Veterans Association and former Royal Marines before falling victim to Alzheimer’s.
“Phil was a man with laughter in his heart.
“We shall all miss him so much,” said his step-daughter, Gillian King.
Among those paying tribute was Norfolk’s King of Comedy Peachy Mead who said: “Phil was a great comedian and a wonderful character. He will all miss him so much.”