Monday, December 12, 2005

Geoff Collins Says: A Big Hand For Archie Andrews!

Archie Andrews has recently been sold for £34000. American readers may not be familiar with this name*, so in case you think some sort of white slavery is involved, I'm pleased to report that Archie was a ventriloquist's dummy. Actually this may come as a big shock to any English readers who always thought he was real; sorry, folks, you should get out more.

Archie's "operator" Peter Brough (1916-1999) was a huge success on British radio in the 1950s with Educating Archie** and Archie's the Boy. Ventriloquism on the radio may be a ludicrous concept, but at the time it worked - and it had worked for many years in the States with Edgar Bergen. Archie was a cheeky schoolboy forever causing disruption for the exasperated Brough and a series of "tutors" who comprised, over the years, a Who's Who of Postwar British Comedy: Robert Moreton, Max Bygraves, Harry Secombe, Beryl Reid, Hattie Jacques, Bruce Forsyth, Tony Hancock, Sid James....

First question: Sid James as a tutor? Yes - you could learn a lot from Sid James. [Insert Sid's distinctive laugh: yack yack yack.]

Second question: Robert Moreton? Never 'eard of 'im! An occasional bit player in British movies - he has a nice close-up and one line in In Which We Serve: "an efficient ship, Sir!" - Moreton developed a hesitant, apologetic upper-class style all his own. Think Derek Nimmo, or Cyril Fletcher without the self-confidence. Sadly his career dipped a bit in the mid 50s and he took his own life. As a consequence he's vanished from comedy history and needs a reappraisal. Perhaps we'll do one.

Third question: What happens when a ventriloquist spends too much time on the radio? You've guessed it: he gradually loses the ability to hide the lip movements - resulting in this apparently genuine exchange, which Ivy heard on the radio only a few days ago :

Brough: Can you see my lips move?

Beryl Reid: Only when Archie's talking...

The early 60s were golden years for ventriloqy, and many of the top names, old and new, began to appear on TV variety shows. We had Saveen and Daisy Mae (excellent; I saw them in a summer show in Hastings); Neville King, being physically attacked by his maniacally aggressive Grandad ("I'm not goin' gack in the gox!"); Arthur Worsley, who just looked glum and "said nothing" whilst being vigorously insulted by the dummy; Shari Lewis (gorgeous!) and "Lamb Chop"; Ray Alan with drunken toff Lord Charles ("you silly arse!") and "Tich and Quackers"; Terry Hall (saw him in Hastings too) with Bert Lahr's close relative "Lenny the Lion"; and best of all, in my opinion, short-lived genius Dennis Spicer. Ah, the glow of nostalgia! A wealth of talent.

In the midst of all this technical virtuosity, Brough did a TV version of Educating Archie in 1958, not for the BBC, but for the commercial channel. This series probably doesn't exist any more and I can't comment on it because (a) I was a baby at the time and (b) my dad didn't get us a television set until January 2, 1959, thereby just missing Christmas and my third birthday.

Thanks, dad.

Don't think I'm still bitter about this or anything....

However I definitely saw Brough and Archie on a later programme; this was probably the Billy Cotton Band Show, in about 1963. What was Brough like? Hopeless! He attempted to hide his flapping lips behind a cigar, but the game was up. I was about 7 or 8 at the time and clearly remember saying to my dad "You can see his lips move!" It was probably this sort of thing that inspired dear old Sandy Powell to develop his "terrible old vent" act; when his hand comes up through the dummy's neck he mutters audibly "I think I've given the game away..."

With so many good vents about, Brough decided it was time to retire. The TV appearance I just mentioned must have been a brief "comeback", as history records that Brough left showbusiness in 1961. Fortunately for him, he had skills in other areas. He was a successful businessman, having inherited a textile business from his dad, another ex-vent, Arthur Grough (sorry, BROUGH) so he took all the money he'd made out of Archie and made loads more out of shirts. Bless his little cotton socks. Come to think of it, he probably made little cotton socks.

Peter Brough's gone now, and his little friend has been silent for many years. But the sale has now taken place, and we can be assured that, someday soon, a new arm will be thrust up inside Archie.

It's exactly what he deserves.

Something else I forgot: it's one of Arthur Brough's dummies that gives Michael Redgrave such a hard time in Dead of Night. I'd like to think Archie was a bit like this offstage.

Just a cotton-pickin' minute. Can you actually believe that I managed to complete an article without mentioning Cyril Fletcher (oops, I did mention him didn't I?), the Finest Art Gallery Outside London, my computer-literate pal Kristian who's ready to give Rubberlegs, my computer, the once-over, and the PATHE WEBSITE???

As I seem to have mentioned the Pathe website, I might as well point out that they have a pre-Archie clip of Brough, from about 1943, and yes, even then he was using the cigar to hide his lips. Let's face it, he was very, very lucky.

Good-gye, Grough.

* ed. note: aside from America's Favorite Teenager, of course.

**ed. note: a free sample episode of Educating Archie is available here. It's like The Goon Show with more catchphrases and less wit.
Be nice and buy something, you cheapskates.

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Blogger NYCOPYGUY said...

As a freelance editor of vintage Archie Comics paperback collections, I am surprised to see there was actually another character running around with the name Archie Andrews! One of my favorite Archie Comics stories of the 1940s (reprinted in ARCHIE AMERICANA: BEST OF THE FORTIES) involved Archie mixed up in a hilarious comedy of errors with a mannequin. The name of the story: "Nobody's Dummy." - Paul Castiglia

6:55 PM  
Blogger Aaron Neathery said...

A freelance editor of vintage Archie Comics paperback collections?? YOU GOT THE JOB *I* WANTED!! I once considered trying out for Archie Comics back in the early 90s, but I couldn't get the Dan DeCarlo look down (I much, much, much prefer the Bob Montana look, anyway).

7:11 PM  
Blogger NYCOPYGUY said...

Yep, I was assistant editor on that first Archie Americana edition, and then full-fledged editor on every trade paperback since. It's been a fun ride being an Archie historian! :)

9:23 AM  
Blogger Aaron Neathery said...

I've really enjoyed the Americana series. Any plans to reprint Montana's syndicated Archie strips? There's some excellent artwork in there.. How about a Super Duck collection? Aw, heck.. What about The Shield? GIMME GIMME GIMME!!

1:40 PM  
Blogger NYCOPYGUY said...

I'd love to do the Montana strips and have suggested it in the past. All we have on those are xeroxes from newspapers on microfisch at the library, so it would take an exhaustive clean-up effort, which may be one reason the publishers are reluctant to do it. Within the last couple of years, a book of more recent strips was released. I can suggest it again, however. Super Duck is one I'd love to do, but only you, me and a couple other people would buy it - and my copy would be complimentary, so I don't think the powers-that-be would want to go there. As for the Shield, we DID do one - it's called THE SHIELD: AMERICA'S 1st PATRIOTIC COMIC BOOK HERO.

4:34 AM  

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