Big Hearted Arthur” became “Big Hearted Martha” in pantomimes at the London Palladium and across the country. In 1975 he recalled “Pantomime is a great family affair and it’s marvelous to hear the reaction from the kiddies….Of course, in those days the children were enchanted by the whole thing…when I did my undressing scene as Dame, I used to get yells of laughter from the kids: Now I remove my many petticoats to the accompaniment of wolf-whistles and cries of “Get ‘em off!”
Arthur was born in 1900 in Liverpool. In 1924 he joined a touring concert party , and in 1926 joined Fred Wilton’s Entertainers at the Oval, Cliftonville, remaining there for four years. In concert party with Powis Pinder’s “Sunshine” in 1930 he attracted the attention of London producers, and by 1937 he co-compered “The Coronation Revue” with (Sir) George Robey, which led to his being teamed with Richard “Stinker” Murdock in Radio’s “Bandwaggon”, which made him a household name. The radio catchphrases too became household phrases – “Before your very eyes”, “Have you read any good books lately?”, “Hello Playmates” were imitated throughout the land, along with Doesn’t it make you want to spit?” and, of course Arthur’s own “Ay-thang-yew!”
Famous for his silly songs- especially “The Bee Song”, Arthur topped the bills of the Holborn and Finsbury Park Empires, and appeared in the Royal Variety Shows of 1946, 1948 and 1978. His daughter, Anthea Askey became an actress who also specialised in pantomime. Although Arthur played other panto roles, including Buttons, his greatest triumphs were as “Big Hearted Martha”, with virtually no make-up, and the very basic of costumes as Dame. It was Arthur the public wanted to see, and to disguise himself would have been a great mistake. Les Dawson belonged to the same school of disguise- a touch of red on the end of the nose, and, in Arthur’s case, those trademark spectacles. Arthur remained one of the biggest box office draws of his time, even in his seventies. He died in 1982.
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This page was last updated 17th August 2007