Felix Dexter 26 July 1961 – 18 October 2013
A VERY FUNNY MAN – AND A VERY, VERY DECENT HUMAN BEING
I first met Felix Dexter in 1987. He was an artist of Caribbean descent, born in St. Kitts. He strived for excellence and was busy gigging on the London comedy circuit when we met. Felix was extremely talented, a consummate professional earning a very respectable living working as a comedian, actor and comedy writer. But above all Felix was an exceptionally decent human being.
In the early 90s, I was promoting comedy in theatres in London, tasked with attracting new audiences to come through their doors. Felix’s show was the very first show that I organized to sell out at the Tom Allen Arts Centre in East London. He made me feel successful and gave me the confidence to continue doing a job I still love.
His television and radio credits were varied and very, very funny: ‘Down The Line’, ‘Bellamy’s People’, ‘Absolutely Fabulous’, ‘Have I Got News For You’, ‘Knowing You – with Alan Partridge’, ‘The Lenny Henry Show’, ‘The Real McCoy’ and, most recently, ‘Citizen Khan’ which is currently screening. He also starred on stage working opposite the Hollywood actor Christian Slater in ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’, as well as spending a season with the Royal Shakespeare Company.
Whilst gigging in the mainstream comedy clubs where he learnt his craft, Felix soon became a pioneer for the fledgling Black comedy circuit. He also became a household name when he gained further recognition in the 90’s series of ‘The Real McCoy’, making the African and Caribbean community very proud. Actress Judith Jacob who worked alongside Felix in that groundbreaking series explains:
“Felix was a very private man with a huge personality. I first saw him at the Hackney Empire and he made politics sexy. His observations and use of words became his trademark; when a guest of mine couldn’t make it, [on my chat show, ‘Yaba Yaba’] as he had got a job and the dates clashed, Felix stepped in at very short notice (even though I had already had him as a guest on an earlier show). I’m very honoured to have known Felix professionally but more importantly to have personally known this generous and genuinely funny man.”
Felix was a great humanitarian and used his status to empower others. I set up The Comedy School in the 90’s and Felix soon became a very active part of it s an Associate and Patron. But he wasn’t just a name at the bottom of the headed notepaper – he was an active individual who genuinely cared about people. Felix’s work reached far into the community and must never be forgotten. He regularly gave up his time for good causes and always had time to give his advice, freely. He and several other prominent comedy figures worked very closely with me. Through his involvement with The Comedy School, he worked with young people, with individuals in the mental health sector and with prisoners. He had a broad repertoire and the striking ability to communicate with a diverse range of groups, from businessmen in large corporations to members of The Women’s Institute.
Felix agreed with the principles of The Comedy School which are very simple; if you can make people laugh, it is the beginning of the learning process. If people are laughing, it means they are listening and then they are actively learning. An eloquent and witty man, Felix certainly made people laugh – and he gave them plenty of food for thought. On one occasion, in a maximum security establishment where we provided courses on communication skills, he entertained more than 100 inmates and officers. The atmosphere was electric, but the officers were wary – the fact that a room full of prisoners were roaring with laughter was a bit nerve wracking – how to deal with them was obviously not in the officers’ training manual. Was this distraction the beginning of a major escape ploy? No, they were just captivated by a very good comedian by the name of Felix Dexter. Officers began to relax as they realised that it was ok to laugh themselves, and they too were drawn into the lighter side of Felix’s intriguing material. He had the ability to make everyone in the room feel as if they were at any other regular gig. After the show numerous Individuals, both inmates and prison staff, started queuing for his autograph. He had achieved his objective – he had made them laugh – he had opened the door to active learning.
I booked Felix early in August of this year for a private function. He was poorly at the time and was running slightly late. I had worked with Felix for over 25 years, and he had never been late before. I really believed he had a very bad back – which is what he told me – and I was grateful to him for being so professional to ensure that the show went on. It was a ‘surprise event’ and they had requested one of the characters he had portrayed in ‘The Real McCoy’ many years previously – that showed me what a lasting impact his work had on people. I didn’t realise at the time that this would turn out to be his last ever live performance.
One week later, I found out that he was seriously ill. Visiting Felix was hard as the strong, confident man we all knew and loved was suddenly a frail patient dependent on others. My first visit was awkward. I was not sure what we were going to talk about. It did not really matter, as he did all the talking, still expressing his thoughts, wishes and feelings in a very articulate manner. Not knowing what I should give him, I decided to take a bottle of Lucozade and a bottle of water. Felix still managed to make light of the situation. He looked me in the eye and quietly said:
“You brought me water. This is a very valuable commodity if you are in a desert. I will now use all my powers to imagine that I am in a desert, even though I’m not, but thank you for the drinks anyway.”
In his final days, Felix was surrounded by people who loved him – individuals whose lives he had touched in some way and who he admired because of the choices they had made in mapping out their lives. He loved individuals who were driven and made things happen. He is survived by his mother to whom he was very close.
Felix Dexter was an avid football fan and it’s comforting to know that he was wearing his team’s shirt – Arsenal – at his end, bought for him by another funny man and very keen footballer friend Gary Beadle who said “Laughter is an instant vacation. In the presence of Felix, I experienced enough laughter to travel round the universe 100 times over. Now my beautiful and talented friend has evaporated to beyond the blue curtain, I shall cherish every moment I ever spent with the genius of comedy that is Felix Dexter. R.I.P.”
I wish Felix could see the overwhelming love and admiration that has surrounded the very sad news of his untimely death – even though I personally felt he never received the full recognition that he deserved. During the past year, we had been working together on a documentary idea with the working title of ‘ The Story of Ethnic Comedy in the UK’ exploring 25 years of Black Comedy in Britain. I didn’t realise at the time, but this was the legacy that Felix wanted to leave behind. I will make sure that the series will still be made so that even though he is no longer with us in person, the programme will be made in the spirit he intended and under his name. I miss him very much.
Founder/Director – The Comedy School