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Dames

Arthur Askey

Palladium 1964 - Widow Twankey in Aladdin

Arthur Askey (1900 - 1982)

For the best part of forty years, Big-hearted Arthur Askey (or Martha as he was called when Dame) was a stalwart of the the British entertainment scene. He was a major figure in radio, television, variety and panto. His film career was not quite as impressive, but he did take the lead in some comedy gems.

Askey was born in Liverpool and started work as a clerk when he was 16. At 24 he joined a concert party and started touring the halls. What he lacked in height he made up for in energy. His act consisted of silly jokes, sillier songs and really really silly dances.

His big break came with the radio comedy/variety show Band Waggon. The first few episodes were poor and the programme was cancelled after the third broadcast. With another three weeks to fill before a replacement could be found, Askey and his team mate Richard Murdoch were able to do what they wanted with the time. Their anarchic humour based around the idea that they were sharing a flat in Broadcasting House quickly caught on. Soon Band Waggon was a hit and Askey a star.

Band Waggon was quickly adapted for the screen and Askey's career as a film star began. He made a series of witty, anarchic films which kept people cheery during the war. With the war over, and the flop of Bees in Paradise the first phase of his film career ended.

He went back to radio and the halls, and as TV developed became a major star on that medium too with his variety show Before Your Very Eyes. This lead to the second phase of his film career. These comedies were gentler and less surreal, as you'd expect in the fifties. Still, they're pleasant enough.

Askey's career gradually wound down as he got older, but he still found the energy to be a popular pantomime dame. He also appeared as a panellist on the New Faces talent show in the 70s. He only stopped working a few years before his death when poor circulation meant his legs had to be amputated.

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This page was last updated 12th June 2002

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