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.