LIVERPOOL'S comics were queuing up last night to pay their respects to Jackie Hamilton, the comedian they hailed as the funniest of them all.
To them, Jackie, who died yesterday aged 65 in Whiston Hospital, had been the master in a city of humour. One described him as the Pele of comedy.
Drawing his stories and gags from the life he saw all around him, Jackie made people laugh on or off the stage.
Just a fortnight ago he had more than 900 people mopping their eyes when he topped the bill at a Radio Merseyside Summer Friday at the Floral Pavilion, New Brighton.
Nobody had any idea then that all was not well with the father of four boys and a girl, who was brought up in St Eldon's Parish, off Scotland Road. But a few days later he sufered a stroke.
The news was particularly sad for Micky Finn, also from the Scotland Road neighbour-hood. For years they had been stage partners and friends. Sometimes they worked together in a comic trio, originally with Stevie Faye and after his retirement with Hal Nolan.
Jackie's last words to another friend, Billy Butler, the Radio Merseyside presenter, were: "Are you coming for a pint?"
Like so many of Merseyside's entertainers, including Ken Dodd and Jimmy Tarbuck, Billy had the highest admiration for Jackie, whose real name was Johnny Kearns.
"There are stories about him which will go down in folklore," said Billy, who especially liked one told to him by Micky Finn who had persuaded Jackie to go to keep-fit in the gym.
"They were all in the sauna, all these massive weight-lifters and bouncers, and little scrawny Jackie walks in, sits down on one of the benches, looks around and says, 'do you know what lads, I have never taken a steroid in my life'."
Although he gained a national television audience on The Comedians and won top billing at summer shows and theatres across the north of England and North Wales, Jackie, educated at Our Lady's School, remained true to his Liverpool roots, living in Stockbridge Village.
In June of this year, he and Micky Finn gave their services free of charge at the party held in the Silvestrian Social Club to mark the 200th anniversary of Scotland Road.
Sean Styles, a stand-up comic who presents a Sunday morning programme on Radio Merseyside with Willie Miller, said: "In my opinion he was an absolute master-class of comedy timing.
"I almost learned my trade as a young lad watching Jackie Hamilton, Micky Finn and Stevie Faye. When I worked with him it was a like a young lad playing football with Pele."
Among Jackie's friends was Terry Cooke, chairman of the Vauxhall History and Heritage Group and author of Scotland Road: The Old Neighbourhood.
He said: "He was a good friend to everybody and never forgot his roots. When he left school most of the lads wanted to be footballers, singers or boxers.
"But he used to go to a pub called the Tatlock (Nellies) in Tatlock Street with his pals.
Some of them would play guitars and he developed this patter."
At the time Jackie was a scaffolder. "He had a tremendous personality, a typical Liverpool working-class personality," said Terry."His timing of a joke was perfect. But if there was clergy present, he would tailor his act so as not to offend."
Micky said: "We were great mates. He was a one off. If he walked into a room, you started laughing. He will be sadly missed by me particularly, but I'll have to go on in memory of him."
Jackie's age has for long been a secret. His wife Teresa said that he would come back and haunt anyone who revealed it.
But the man himself was describing himself as 33 in February 1971.
Jackie was the third of Liverpool's comedians to die this year, following Eddie Collinson and George Roper.