3rd June 1999. A ‘Gottle of Geer’.
The two post-war decades saw the Golden Age of radio in Britain with many memorable programmes, not least in comedy where imagination was all, and especially important as one of the most popular on the old BBC Light Programme, involved a not very good ventriloquist, Peter Brough and his dummy Archie.
The programme Educating Archie became so popular it had 15 million listeners each week and was set to run from 6 June 1950 to the end of the decade.
Peter Brough who died Today in 1999, was born in 1916 into a family where ventriloquism straddled work in textiles and by the age of 10 was appearing in public concerts.
However failing to make much impression pre-war it was whilst serving in the Royal Army Service Corps that whilst entertaining the troops, he was posted to army entertainment, experimenting with all sorts of dummies before settling on Archie. (2)
Educating Archie was cast in an unlikely domestic scenario after it was decided that Archie should be a cheeky little fellow, with a private tutor, chum of the handyman, and also involved a motherly housekeeper, a teenage girlfriend and a strict continuity announcer.
The manic-eyed, elegantly clad Archie, in his broad-striped blazer haughtily called his mentor ‘Brough’ and was stroppy and anarchic, speaking in a high-pitched voice, contrasting with the bland-speaking Brough.
The programme was tried as a fill-in whilst the popular ‘Take It From Here’ was resting, the format leading to rising stars playing the many parts, with the likes of Tony Hancock, Max Bygraves, Harry Secombe and many more, making their names. The final series in 1960 saw Sid James who went on to higher things in Carry-on films.
The programme spawned a multitude of spin-offs-mugs scarves soaps and also featured in the comic Radio Fun, annuals, games, dummies and all manner of stuff for the Christmas sales.(1)
Radio suited Brough as he had a problem of being unable to operate without moving his lips, rather a disadvantage, so he was never a success when tried on TV in 1956.
By 1960 TV was getting into its stride, radio work petered-out and he returned to the cloth business he had joined at 16.
Behind the scenes domestically it was a different story, as Brough’s first wife was unhappy and neurotic and he eventually left home.
Then the children regretted the lack of attention they received compared with Archie who had brought joy to millions.
It is a common feature in literature for inanimate beings-dolls-to have a malign influence on families or individuals and Brough’s step-daughter Romey found Archie’s eyes manic and creepy, and she was bullied at school for having a wooden-headed brother.
Sadly her mother and brother later committed suicide, but Romey later reflected much of her childhood unhappiness was due to her mother’s mental problems and the resulting family strain, and was eventually to became reconciled to Archie, who had previously been sold for £35,000 to another ventriloquist.
All this was lost on the Author, until researching this Post, who only remembers Brough as a popular act on the radio in his formative years.
(1) Strip cartoon drawn by John Jukes.
(2) Bizarrely for morale purposes he was allowed 50 clothing coupons.
theguardian/7.6.1999/Dennis Barker/ Obits.
dailymail.co.uk.Ian Gallagher and Stephanie Condron. 22.9.2007.
theindependent.co.uk/Obits. Dennis Gifford. 6.6.1999.