Ventriloquist Keith Harris, who grew up in Chester and whose career began in the city, has died aged 67.

The performer, best known for his act with green puppet Orville, passed away today (Tuesday April 28) at Blackpool Victoria Hospital.

Back in 2008, Keith backed a Chronicle campaign to reopen the Gateway Theatre.

He said at the time: “I lived in Chester for over 20 years and started my career at the old Royalty Theatre, City Road, along with such stars as Russ Abbott.

“The theatre was sadly demolished many years ago but along came the Gateway Theatre, where I have played on several occasions and always to a full house.

“It is so important to have a professional place of entertainment in every town and city. It would be a great loss for the people of Chester to lose its only theatre. I support all the efforts that you make in reviving the theatre.”

The Gateway Theatre, Chester (240)
The old Gateway Theatre in Chester

Royal performances

The star had been suffering from cancer, but in April last year announced at a show in Prestatyn that he had beaten the disease and secretly battling it. He also revealed he had been given “months” to live at the time.

Keith starred on BBC One Saturday night show The Keith Harris Show and performed at private birthday parties for Princes William and Harry.

Keith leaves behind two teenage children, Kitty, 15, and Shenton, 13, from his marriage to four wife Sarah and daughter Skye, 27 from his first marriage. He appeared on panel shows such as Never Mind the Buzzcocks and Channel 5 show The Farm, which he won.

He appeared in Peter Kay and Tony Christie’s comical music video Is This the Way to Amarillo alongside stars such as Brian May, Roger Taylor, Shakin’ Stevens, Shaun Ryder.

Memories of Harris in Chester

People had already shared memories of Keith Harris, a Chester FC fan, on the ‘Entertainment in Chester’ Facebook page prior to his death.

Paulette Walters said: “I remember Keith before Orville. He used to go to the Warren Club...that was under the Royalty Theatre. My brother Bill was the DJ there...that was in the 60’s Mind xx”

Ann Wreyford posted: “I remember his dad, he owned the chemist near me in Blacon. He signed a picture of him and Keith for me when I was younger as well.”

Rose Price commented: “I remember him auditioning at the Royalty talent show with his dad Norman, as a ventriloquist act – except his dad was the vent and Keith was the dummy!! I was a little Newton Primary School lass also auditioning.”

Ventriloquist Keith Harris, aged 20, with dummy called Minnie and girlfriend Jennifer Crompton, in Chester, 26th February 1968

Sue Coppack wrote: “We lived around the corner from Keith and his family in Vicars Cross. His mum (Cynthia) was a lovely lady and worked very hard at the Royalty theatre in City Road. I remember his dad always raised his hat to you. A proper gent!”

Sue Wade posted: “Remember being in a pantomime with Keith in St Paul’s Hall. His mum used to run dancing classes and his dad directed the Pantomimes.”

Sue Hammond wrote: “My dad taught Keith at secondary school and my mum was friends with his mum. His mum taught me ballet and tap in the early 60’s (City Road) and I used to go round to his house and watch him make his own puppets and practise his routines. Great memories.”

Stewee War wrote: “I was at school with his daughter at Christleton, was on back of bus and he was behind in roller with Karen so we waved n waved. In the end he waved. We V-signed him, watched her ducking down haha.”