Express & Star

More tributes paid to Black Country comedy legend Alan 'Aynuk' Smith, 84

Tributes have been paid to Black Country comedy legend Alan "Aynuk" Smith, who has died aged 84.

Alan Smith wore the same cloth cap since first playing Aynuk in 1964

The funnyman, from Dudley, had played thousands of shows as one half of the Aynuk and Ayli comedy duo in a career spanning across seven decades.

He also appeared in a number of hit television shows including The Singing Detective, The New Statesman and Keeping Up Appearances, and had a recurring role in Crossroads, playing an undertaker.

Alan’s son, Paul Smith, also an actor, said the Black Country had lost its greatest ambassador.

He said: "My sister and I have lost a wonderful, loving and caring father, my mom has lost her lifelong soulmate, and his many grandchildren have lost their best friend. And the Black Country has lost its greatest ambassador. A man of love, humour and a man of faith, I know he will rise in glory and his legacy will remain forever."

He also spoke fondly of his father's friendship with funnyman Sir Ken Dodd. The pair were penpals for many years before finally meeting at a show in Wolverhampton shortly before Sir Ken's death.

Former Express & Star photographer Graham Gough, who became close friends with Alan after taking hundreds of pictures of him over the decades, said he was greatly saddened by the news.

That 'ay fair, aer kid – one of friend Graham Gough's favourite pictures of Alan 'Aynuk' Smith, right, with comedy partner John Plant as Ayli

Graham said: "He was always Aynuk, you could be out with him in a social setting and he couldn't stop himself, the Black Country humour always came through. He came along to my 80th birthday at The Cat in Enville and said some really kind things.

"I first met him back in the 80s, and have done hundreds of pictures over the years. He was brilliant, he would do anything, and if you ever needed a picture he would always help. I remember he was in The Singing Detective, and we took a picture of down at the Severn Valley station at Bewdley.

"I remember once taking a picture of them on the beach at Torquay. I was down there visiting my daughter, and Aynuk and Ayli were performing at a club down there. I took a picture of them on the beach in the freezing cold."

Alan pictured with fellow performers at the Hawbush Community Centre, in the early days. .

Alan's daughter, Jayne, added: "He spent his life making people smile, he loved making people laugh."

Alan decided he wanted to be a performer after being taken by his parents to see Laurel and Hardy at Dudley Hippodrome when he was eight.

In a 2014 interview to mark his 50 years in showbusiness he recalled: “My mother and father took me as a lad of eight years old to Dudley Hippodrome and I sat laughing at two Americans called Laurel and Hardy and from that evening the spark was lit.”

Like his contemporary Tommy Mundon, Alan was a devout Methodist, and it was at fundraising events for his local church where he made his name.

Alan with John Guest, the second Ayli

"The drama group did a show every year and we started to run short of material," he said.

"Out of the blue I had this inspiration to bring Aynuk and Ayli to life and put them on the stage. Traditionally they were two half-soaked, humorous, loveable characters in the mould of Laurel and Hardy."

Aynuk and Ayli, based on the mythical Black Country characters immortalised by 19th century music-hall comedian Ernie Garner, made their first outing at the annual church show on April 6, 1964. With his friend Harry Felton, who played Ayli, they brought the house down, and were inundated with requests for them to visit other churches and venues in the area.

But as the act started to take off, Harry decided to bow out, and his place was taken by Alan's friend John Guest. As they started touring working men's clubs around the West Midlands, they built up a popular following.

Alan Smith, one half of the Black Country comic pair Aynuk and Ayli, at a photographic exhibition at Himley Hall charting the career of his friend, the Express & Star photographer Graham Gough

As society began to change in the 1960s and 70s, with traditional working class culture on the wane, they were one of several acts tapping into a sense of nostalgia, along with the Black Country Night Out troupe, poet Harry Harrison and funnyman Tommy Mundon.

John Guest retired as Ayli in the late 1980s, but his old friend John Plant took on the role in 1990, performing up until his death in 2006.

Aynuk and Ayli probably reached the height of their fame in the 1999s, at times performing more than 360 shows a year, playing many provincial theatres.

Alan lived his entire life in Netherton, having been born in Park Road, and attending Northfield Road School as a child.

After leaving school he got an office job at boilermakers Danks, before becoming an auto-electrician at the F H Jennings garage, also in Netherton. It was at Jennings where he not only met future wife Mollie – the couple were married at St John's Church in Kates Hill – but future comedy partner John Plant, who served as Alan's apprentice.

Alan's daughter Jayne married John Guest's son Ian

Alan also raised tens of thousands of pounds for many charities and causes throughout his life. His last gigs were at Brierley Hill Civic Hall in 2012, where he supported Chas Hodges, and a final performance at the Red House Glass Cone in 2014.

Alan and Mollie had two children, Jayne – who married John Guest's son Ian – and Paul, seven grandchildren, and seven great-grandchildren.

The reading room at Northfield Road Arts Centre in Netherton was named the Aynuk and Ayli Reading Room.