ONE of Warrington’s best known entertainers, Nicky Holcroft, who used the stage name Nicky Martyn, has died at the age of 79.

Nicky was best known for winning ITV’s New Faces in the 1970s. He died peacefully at home in Appleton Thorn with his family by his side on Monday, June 15, after a brave battle with cancer.

In a long career that began playing drums in bands in Warrington, he appeared at the Cavern in Liverpool with the Beatles, and at the London Palladium, as well as making many television appearances.

Nicky is survived by wife Edwina, daughter Phillippa, her partner Dave, and grandchildren Chloe, Tom, Ryan and David.

Originally from Orford, he began entertaining aged 12 with his brother, Lex, in a harmonica trio, the Harmaniacs, at concert parties around Warrington and had a spot on a children’s radio programme.

Nicky had ambitions to be a singer and a drummer. Around this time he made appearances on pop music television shows Six-Five Special and Oh Boy.

He became the drummer with Warrington band leader Eric Pep, who had helped launch the careers of earlier Warrington stars Edna Savage and Barbara Law.

Warrington Guardian:

Nicky on the drums

In the early 1960s Nicky played drums with jazz band the Zenith Six. Among their bookings was a dingy Liverpool cellar called the Cavern Club. Originally a jazz venue, it was beginning to allow rock and roll bands to play on its tiny stage. Nicky would later recount how Zenith Six would go for a drink after their set while an up-and-coming beat group performed. The band, of course, were the Beatles.

He later had his own band, the Nick Holcroft Five, which had a residency at the Hamlet club in Warrington. They provided musical backing for such visiting acts as Ken Dodd and Bob Monkhouse.

It was during this time that Nicky began slipping jokes in between numbers. The comedy bug bit him and he now focused on becoming a comic.

A fan of George Formby for many years, Nicky decided to buy a ukulele, believing it would be a good addition to his act. He practised and practised until he had completely mastered it.

Warrington Guardian:

He loved the ukulele

Even in his lunch-break while working at Harts fabric stall on Warrington Market, Nicky could be heard strumming his uke sitting in his car. Soon he was playing Formby songs at shows.

It was clear Nicky’s future lay in comedy and in 1973 he turned professional. His training ground would be the northern clubs circuit.

Within 12 months he had appeared on ITV’s hugely popular talent show New Faces, a forerunner of Britain’s Got Talent, wowed the audience and won the show. He was immediately snapped up by London Management and performed at the London Palladium in the Howard Keel Show. All this from someone still relatively new to comedy.

He was invited back to New Faces the following year to compère the All Winners shows, introducing such emerging stars as Lenny Henry and Victoria Wood. He also hosted the Gala Winners show televised live from the London Palladium, which was won by Marti Caine, followed by the ATV series The Summer Show.

Warrington Guardian:

Over the years he topped the bill at the UK’s major night clubs – the Night Out, Birmingham’s Caesar’s, Talk of the North, Eccles Golden Garter and the Manchester Commodore.

The 1976 and 1977 summer season of the Nicky Martyn Laughter Show at Blackpool Pleasure Beach’s Horseshoe Theatre was acclaimed as the best show ever at the venue. In 1976 he released a single, Eddie Waring, and an LP.

His many television appearances included The Comedians and Look Who’s Talking.

In the mid-1980s he turned to performing cabaret on cruise ships, his work taking him all over the world for 30 years. He was the headline act on many ships, including the QE2. His wife Edwina travelled with him everywhere and was a huge influence on his performances. He would work six months out of every year on the ships, quite an achievement, working one month on, one month off so that he could spend time at home. During each cruise he would write a personalised log of what had happened, which was then given to passengers as a souvenir.

Warrington Guardian:

With his wife Edwina on a cruise

In 2000, he compèred the Millennium Jazz Festival at the Royal Albert Hall, in aid of the British Heart Foundation, a charity he did a lot of fundraising work for.

After retiring from the ships, he performed at the Old Time Music Hall at Darlington Theatre, and the City Varieties theatre in Leeds.

He wrote all of his own material and took pride in it being clean and suitable for families.

Nicky married Edwina, a secondary school teacher also from Warrington, in 1964 and they had two children, David and Phillippa.

Nicky’s widow Edwina said: “He loved his work making people laugh. A comment I heard after his show leaving the theatre – ‘I wish we could get him on the National Health’ – sums up how he achieved this.”