PERCY Monkman worked in the same Bradford bank for 40 years, and nearly always wore a suit. But by night he was treading the boards and making audiences laugh as an entertainer.

Percy led a colourful, unconventional life. Starting out in First World War concert parties, he became a familiar face on local stages, particularly at the Bradford Civic (now the Playhouse) where he was in nearly 30 productions over two decades. He was also a prolific watercolour painter, capturing much of Bradford’s grand architecture, and cartoonist - in the bank he would doodle on the backs of envelopes and at the Civic he often drew other actors in rehearsal.

A longstanding friend of JB Priestley, Percy honed his comedy skills performing for soldiers behind the front line. He continued entertaining through the inter-war years, and in the Second World War was back performing for troops. He continued as an entertainer until the late 1960s when he was nearly 80.

Now Percy’s remarkable life is told in a book by his grandson, Martin Greenwood. Percy Monkman: An Extraordinary Bradfordian follows him from working-class beginnings in a tight-knit Toller Lane community, leaving school at 13, to his death, aged 93, in 1986.

Archive images and some of Percy's paintings will be shown on the Big Screen in City Park every day over the summer. 

The book explores Percy's passions, from stand-up comedy to Bradford City, evoking a sense of Bradford’s industrial and social history. "Towards the end of my grandfather's life a journalist wrote that Percy Monkman must have been the best-known person in Bradford," says Martin. "Percy was a person of many parts for many people. However they knew him, everyone saw him as a character."

It was thanks to Percy's hoarding habits that Martin was able to tell his story. “He kept press cuttings, programmes, notes of every talk he gave, and thousands of other items - sketches, jokes and jottings,” says Martin. “He was the most important male role model in my life growing up. When I was six my father left, and my mother, brother and myself lived with my grandparents for six years. After that we spent just about every weekend at their house. From 1951 he lived at Kirklands Villas, Baildon. Like much about Grandpa, it was an unconventional house. It was the servants’ quarters of a Victorian mansion, split into three properties. Its large conservatory, with leaky roof, was an artist’s studio, crammed with paintings." Percy's artistic skills were self-taught. Says Martin: "I can’t recall him reading a book but he read papers regularly and was very interested in local news and personalities from the Telegraph & Argus."

After leaving school in 1906, Percy became an office boy for R Binns Stock and Share Broker in Swan Arcade. He joined Becketts Bank on his 17th birthday, August 11, 1909. It later became the Nat West and Percy worked there, from apprentice to clerk, until 1952, in the same office on Kirkgate. Percy was 22 when war broke out. His brothers joined the Pals battalions and Percy later joined the Royal Army Medical Corps as a stretcher-bearer. Stationed in Doullens, near the Somme, he had the break that shaped his life. He had some pre-war performing experience - aged 19, he' was in Girlington Cricket Club's ‘A Grand Concert’, in a sketch called Mother-in-law, and at the Elite Picture House, singing Sister Suzie’s Sewing Shirts for Soldiers - and had amassed a large collection of jokes; handwritten, typed and copied from newspapers.

There were 90 concert parties on the Western Front. Entertaining troops was important in alleviating restlessness and raising morale. Percy joined a group called The Archies. “We started with Pierrot costumes and ended up with a show you could have put on in the West End,” he said in an interview, years later.

In notes from a talk he gave in 1950, Percy said: “Soon we got a bigger wardrobe, lighting and eventually a full orchestra. We even had a theatre built with tip-up chairs and heating installed by the Royal Engineers. It was an invaluable apprenticeship. Once, on a moor under shellfire, we were dressed in straw hats, white trousers and life jackets, entertaining 2,000 troops. Once we went to do a show in a village - in a barn packed with hay."

Percy was a stand-up comic, actor, writer and compere. One of his sketches, The Disorderly Room, a satire of army life, was used by Leslie Henson, a music hall star who worked in silent films. Henson performed the sketch for King George V, who was said to be amused. It was performed 300 times from 1916-1918 but the only existing review is in the T&A, December 1932: “The Disorderly Room is everything a military burlesque sketch ought to be. Percy Monkman as the commanding officer is a scream.”

Percy married Doris, a secretary at a Bradford mill, six weeks before the Armistice. After the war he returned to the bank and, through the 1920s and 30s appeared in shows for churches, trade organisations, 'smoking concerts' and ladies’ evenings. Years later, Martin asked his grandfather why he didn't go into entertainment professionally. With the responsibilities of a young family, it seemed a steady job was a safer option.

* Percy Monkman: An Extraordinary Bradfordian, published by PlashMill Press, £24.49.

* An exhibition about Percy, featuring the story of his life through archive images, paintings and sketches will be on Bradford's Big Screen every day at 12.45pm until September 30.