Ward's Book of Days.

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JUNE 3rd

On this day in history in 1999, died Peter Brough.

Brough was an entertainer and a ventriloquist. No true judgement can be made on his ability as a ventriloquist because the performances were on the radio.

Peter Brough was born on 26th February 1916, at Shepherd's Bush, London, the son of a textile manufacturer, and part time entertainer. He entered the entertainment business at an early age as a comedian, writing his own material. He developed a complicated line of patter, but always appeared solo, as he could not find a willing stooge, that is a partner to deliver the appropriate lines that led to the punch line. He then hit on the idea of a ventriloquist’s dummy, which could be a substitute for a human stooge. In the early days of ventriloquism, the ventriloquist merely delivered his own material through the dummy, taking care that his lips remained in place. The attraction of the act was the skill of the performer, rather than the script. The idea of an interaction between ventriloquist and dummy provided a new twist to the double act comedy routine.

Unfortunately, despite his undoubted ability in comic delivery and scriptwriting, Brough could not easily control his lip movements and, try as he might, could not perfectly grasp the mechanics of working the dummy. Happily, he sold the idea to the BBC, and began his radio career in 1944, using a dummy named Archie Andrews, a mischievous child with manic eyes, who overshadowed his master. He auditioned for the BBC and they liked his work, his delivery and his material, but as to his technical ability, it did not matter as it was to be performed on radio.

Brough and Archie worked for years on the radio, with an average audience of 15 million listeners. When television arrived in the fifties, there was a small problem. Brough tried to translate his show to the new medium by disguising his lack of skill by having a technician work the puppet and using camera techniques to disguise the facts that his lips moved. The ruse would have worked well with today’s technical wizardry, but when television was in its infancy, they did not have the expertise to produce a credible performance. The television version was only moderately popular, and was soon replaced by other programmes.

In 1961, Brough retired and, for some Freudian reason, left the Archie Andrews doll, in a railway carriage. It was recovered after a reward of £1,000 was offered. Brough made sporadic television appearances until his death. He died on 3rd June 1999, and is buried in Maldon. [London Road Cemetery, London Road, Maldon, Essex CM9 6LJ] In 2005, the Archie Andrews puppet realised £34,000 at auction.

Recommended reading. 

Connor, Steven.   Dumbstruck: A Cultural History of Ventriloquism.

Buy it here at Amazon

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