On this day in history….30th June 1956

On this day in history : 30th June 1956 – ‘I’m Walking Backwards for Christmas’ by the Goons enters the British music charts – six months after Christmas….

The Goons – Fair use

During the 1950s the BBC was one of the biggest employers of musicians – but it also played contemporary music in the form of records…. At the same time new technology had arrived making it possible to pre-record programmes, rather than everything going out live…. In early 1956 negotiations began between the BBC, the copyright licensing organisation Phonographic Performance Ltd (PPL) and the Musicians’ Union – who wanted restricted recorded music…. However, talks broke down resulting in the 1956 Musicians’ Strike….

Radio comedy shows of the time, of which the Goon Show was one, had their roots in the old music hall performances – and so their format was expected to have musical breaks…. One episode of the Goon Show that was recorded during the Musicians’ Strike was episode 13 of series 6, ‘The Great Tuscan Salami Scandal’ in February 1956…. The plot involved Ned Seagoon attempting to prevent a war with the other side of the Spaghetti Curtain by tracking down the missing breeding pair of ground-to-ground salami missiles that had been fitted with war heads….

With no professional musicians available something had to be done to fill the void that should have contained a musical interlude…. So to prevent radio-silence Spike Milligan quickly composed a song, which he then performed accompanied by Peter Sellars….

The original song was only about 50 seconds long but proved extremely popular with the audience and the Goon team realised they could be on to something….

Image : Pinterest

After signing with Decca in the Spring of 1956 the song was revamped and added to – and then quickly released so it could be got into the shops…. It reached No.4 in the UK charts – and was also released in the States – but was not received with the same enthusiasm (not everyone gets British humour)….

I’m walking backwards for Christmas,
Across the Irish Sea,
I’m walking backwards for Christmas,
It’s the only thing for me....

Ive tried walking sideways,
And walking to the front,
But people just look at me,
And say it’s a publicity stunt....

I’m walking backwards for Christmas,
To prove that I love you....

On this day in history….19th June 1925

On this day in history : 19th June 1925 – “Hello my darlings”….the catchphrase of slapstick English comedian, actor, singer and writer Charlie Drake – who was born on this day….

Charlie Drake – Image credit : Latour61 at en.wikipedia CC BY-SA 3.0

Born Charles Edward Springall at the Elephant and Castle, South London, Charlie was later to take his mother’s maiden name for the stage….

He made his first appearance on stage at the age of 8…. After finishing school he appeared in working men’s clubs – and after serving in the RAF during World War 2 he began his professional career as an entertainer in earnest….

At just 5ft 1” tall, with his red curly hair, slapstick comedy and almost childlike manor he became a popular comedian with children…. But he was loved by children and adults alike and was to become one of the most successful entertainers of the 1950s and 60s….

Image credit : Bradford Timeline via Flickr

Charlie made his TV debut on the BBC’s ‘The Centre Show’ in July 1953, as a stand up comic…. In 1954 he teamed up with comedian Jack Edwardes, who at 6ft 4” was as tall as Charlie was short – he towered above him….

The pair appeared as a comedy duo on the BBC talent show ‘Showcase’ and afterwards adapted their act to appeal to children, calling themselves ‘Mick and Montmorency’…. They featured on children’s show ‘Jigsaw’ and this was followed with their own series between 1955-1958 on ITV….

However, Charlie wanted to further his own solo career and wished to appeal to adult audiences…. He began to appear as a guest on popular BBC shows…. Eventually his partnership with Edwardes was dissolved….

He had a succession of series of his own with the BBC – ‘Laughter in Store’, ‘Drake’s Progress’, ‘Charlie Drake In’ and ‘The Charlie Drake Show’….

During the 1960s he attempted to establish a film career, starring in ‘Sands of the Desert’ 1960, ‘Petticoat Pirates’ 1961, ‘The Cracksman’ 1963 and ‘Mr Ten Per Cent’ 1967…. However, film acting was not to be his niche….

In 1963 he returned to ITV with ‘The Charlie Drake Show’, followed by ‘Who is Sylvia?’ In 1967…. He was back at the BBC between 1967-68 with his ‘The Charlie Drake Show’ which won him the Charles Chaplin Award for Best Comedy at the Montreux Television Festival in 1968…. But his most popular series was ITV’s ‘The Worker’ between 1965-70 – the exploits of a little man who found it impossible to keep a regular job….

Charlie Drake with Henry McGee in ‘The Worker’ – Image credit : Paul Townsend CC BY-SA 2.0

During the 1980s Charlie concentrated on serious acting, appearing on stage in Shakespeare productions…. He also had several TV roles; he appeared as Smallweed in ‘Bleak House’, 1985 and had roles in ‘Filipina Dreamgirls’ and in ITV’s thriller ‘99-1’ in 1994/5…. His last stage performance was with Jim Davidson in ‘Sinderella’, an adult version of Cinderella….

Charlie married Heather Barnes in 1953 and they had three sons, the marriage ended in 1971…. He then married Elaine Bird in 1976 but the couple divorced in 1984….

In 1995 Charlie suffered a stroke…. He retired to Brinsworth House, a retirement home for actors and performers in Twickenham, West London…. After a series of strokes in just a few hours he died on the 23rd of December 2006….

On this day in history….10th June 1993

On this day in history : 10th June 1993 – The death of comedian, actor, presenter and writer Les Dawson – known for his deadpan comedy and for his deliberate playing of the piano off-key….

Les Dawson – Fair use

It is probably safe to say Les did not set out to become an entertainer and there must have been many a time when he nearly gave up altogether – as success did not come easily for him….

He was born in Collyhurst, Manchester on the 2nd of February 1931, to an Irish mother, Julia Nolan and English father, Leslie Dawson Sr, who was a low-paid labourer…. It was a close, loving family – but poor…. Les moved schools frequently as the family would often have to do a moonlight flit to avoid the rent man…. From an early age Les showed a natural talent for writing and enjoyed composing poetry – but he kept his passion quiet as he thought he would be teased by his classmates….

On leaving school at the age of 14 he found employment with the Manchester Co-op – and then later became an apprentice to an electrician…. However, this wasn’t something he particularly enjoyed and when he was called up to do his National Service it probably came as quite a relief….

After National Service he returned to Manchester with the idea of becoming a serious writer…. He submitted his poetry and essays to various magazines and publications – but with no success…. Feeling despondent and thinking a change of scenery might help he decided to move to Paris….

Les was an accomplished piano player and managed to land a job playing in a Parisian bar…. However, he couldn’t understand why there were never any customers…. It took a while for the penny to drop that the bar was actually a smoke screen for a brothel…. To amuse himself he began to play familiar classic tunes in an off-key comical way – and soon built himself a regular little fan club…. But the money he earned was not enough to survive on, so after four months he packed his bags and returned to Manchester….

Buoyed by his brief success as a comic pianist he decided to enter a talent contest – but his act fell flat on its face…. So Les got a job as a door-to-door salesman, selling vacuum cleaners – only to soon realise he wasn’t cut out for this kind of work…. Next he tried his hand at journalism, working for the Bury Times – but this didn’t suit him either….

Still hankering after a showbiz life he started to perform in working men’s clubs across the North…. His audiences were not always the most appreciative – but it was a good learning curve for him and slowly but surely he was beginning to come to the attention of those in ‘the business’…. It was also on the club circuit that he was to meet his first wife, Meg….with whom he was to have 3 children…. It was Meg who encouraged him to enter ‘Opportunity Knocks’ in 1965 – and although he didn’t win he certainly made an impression and was subsequently booked for the ITV show ‘Blackpool Night Out’…. Les Dawson, with his rubbery face contortions, mother-in-law jokes and comical piano playing had finally successfully launched his career as a comedian….

By the end of the 1960s he was a household name…. He now had his own series ‘Sez Les’ on Yorkshire TV – and from that came the two memorable characters of Cissie Braithwaite (played by Roy Baraclough) and Ada Shufflebottom…. The show ran for 11 series between 1969-1976 and then Les went on to do ‘Dawson’s Weekly’ before in 1978 being signed with the BBC for ‘The Les Dawson Show’ – which ran until 1989…. He became the presenter of the game show ‘Blankety Blank’ in 1984 after taking over from Terry Wogan….

Cissie and Ada – Fair use

In April 1986 Meg died from cancer and Les withdrew from public life to look after their children…. Being a heavy smoker and drinker he wasn’t in the best of health himself – and this was to lead to a heart attack….

Les remarried in May 1989 – and he and his wife, Tracy, were to have a daughter…. After another serious heart attack in 1992 his doctors advised him to stop working – but he was having none of it…. The 23rd of December 1992 saw him as the subject of ‘This Is Your Life’ – it was to be one of his last TV appearances….

On the 10th of June 1993 he was at hospital, waiting for his test results after having had a check-up, when he suffered another heart attack…. This time it was fatal….

On this day in history….28th May 1911

On this day in history : 28th May 1911 – The birth of actress, comedienne, presenter and writer Dame Thora Hird – who with a career spanning more than 70 years was to become a British institution….

Dame Thora Hird, 1974 – Image : Allan Warren, own work CC BY-SA 3.0

Thora was born in Morecambe, Lancashire…. Her mother, Mary Mayor, had been an actress and her father Henry Hird, managed entertainment venues in Morecambe…. Thora’s first stage appearance was at just 2 months old, during a play at the Royalty Theatre, one of the venues her father managed….

On leaving school Thora worked in the local Co-op store and in 1937 she married James Scott…. The couple had a daughter in December 1938, Jeanette Scott, who was also to become a successful actress….

Thora joined the Morecambe Repertory Theatre and then made her West End debut in 1944 in the play ‘No Medals’…. She was to make several film appearances, alongside big names such as Laurence Olivier, before finding her niche in TV comedy…. We probably remember her best for sitcoms such as ‘Meet the Wife’, ‘In Loving Memory’, “Hallelujah!’ and of course as Edie Pegden in ‘Last of the Summer Wine’…. But whilst we may particularly remember her for comedy roles Thora was a versatile actress, winning a BAFTA for best actress in two of Alan Bennett’s ‘Talking Heads’ monologues – and she won another BAFTA for her role in the 1999 TV film ‘Lost for Words’…. She was awarded an OBE in 1983 and made Dame Commander in 1993….

She had a heart bypass operation in 1992 and was widowed in 1994…. Suffering from severe arthritis Thora became a wheelchair user in later life…. However, this was not going to stop her from acting…. In December 1998 she played the part of Dolly’s mother in Victoria Wood’s hit TV comedy’Dinner Ladies’…. Her final acting role was for radio, ‘The Last of the Sun’ – a monologue written for her by Alan Bennett…. Thora died on the 15th of March 2003, aged 91….

1964 Bournemouth Pier Theatre programme – Image : Alwyn Ladell via Flickr
Radio Times, 4th May 1968 – Image : Bradford Timeline via Flickr

On this day in history….8th May 1913

On this day in history : 8th May 1913 – The birth, in South Africa, of British character and comic actor Sid James – best known for his roles in the Carry On films and Hancock’s Half Hour….

Sid James – Fair use

Sid was born Solomon Joel Cohen in Johannesburg…. As a young man he had a variety of jobs, including as a diamond polisher, a coal heaver, dance instructor and hairdresser…. It was whilst working in a hairdressing salon in the Orange Free State that he met his first wife, Berthe Sadie Delmont – known as ‘Toots’ – and they were married on the 12th of August 1936…. Her father bought them a hair salon of their own – but a year later Sid decided he wanted to be an actor…. The couple had one daughter, Elizabeth, in 1937 – but they divorced in 1940….

During World War 2 Sid was a Lieutenant in the entertainment division of the South African Army…. In 1943 he married dancer Meg Sergei – and they had a daughter, Reina, in 1948….

In the December of 1946 Sid and Meg emigrated to the UK and Sid made his first credited film appearances in 1947, in the crime dramas ‘Night Beat’ and ‘Black Memory’…. His first comedy role was in ‘The Lavender Mob’ in 1951…. He and Meg divorced on the 17th of August 1952 and four days later he married Valerie Elizabeth Patsy Assan, an actress using the stage name of Ashton…. They were to have a son, Steve, in 1954, followed later by a daughter, Sue….

Sid began working with Tony Hancock in 1954, first on the radio and later TV…. He played the part of his own namesake ‘Sid’ in Hancock’s Half Hour, which ran for six series, ending in 1960….

Sid James and Tony Hancock in Hancock’s Half Hour – Fair use

He was to take a lead role in ‘Carry On Constable’ in 1960 and a further 18 Carry On films were to follow…. In the 1970s he was to become a familiar face on the small screen with his sitcoms ‘Two In Clover’ (1969-70) and ‘Bless This House’ (1971-76)….

Sid was highly regarded by almost everyone who worked with him, despite his uncouth demeanour he was a gentleman…. However, it was reputed that he did not get on with his Carry On co-star Kenneth Williams…. But he did get on very well with another co-star, Barbara Windsor – the pair had a well-publicised ten year affair….

He was a hard drinking workaholic – perhaps in necessity to service his gambling addiction….and this lifestyle was to take its toll, when in 1967 he suffered a heart attack…. He was soon back at work, on the set of ‘Carry on Doctor’, in which he played a patient and spent most of the film in bed – which was appropriate for his health situation…. He gave up the heavy smoking, lost weight and cut down on the alcohol…. However, on the 26th April 1976, whilst appearing on stage at the Sunderland Empire Theatre, in the farce ‘The Mating Season’ by Northern Irish playwright Sam Cree, he suffered a further heart attack…. Sid died on his way to hospital….