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Meet The Comic Pioneers Who Made Liverpool The Funny Factory Of Britain

Bob Edwards was born in Liverpool in the 1950s. He has been a policeman, a publican and a teacher in Further Education. He is a keen local historian and the author of the book, Liverpool in the 1950s. Since 2010 Bob has maintained which has attracted more than 1.9 million visitors from around the world.
Bob Edwards was born in Liverpool in the 1950s. He has been a policeman, a publican and a teacher in Further Education. He is a keen local historian and the author of the book, Liverpool in the 1950s. Since 2010 Bob has maintained which has attracted more than 1.9 million visitors from around the world.

OVER the years Liverpool has been responsible for producing some of the greatest comedy talents the world has known, names like Arthur Askey, Ted Ray and Rob Wilton who were some of the early comedians to grace the Music Hall boards, let us take a look at some of those famous names and find out a little more about them as we explore the history of ‘Liverpool’s laughter makers’.

Arthur Askey

Arthur Bowden Askey CBE (6 June 1900 – 16 November 1982) was a prominent English comedian and actor. Askey’s humour owed much to the playfulness of the characters he portrayed, his improvising, and his use of catchphrases, as parodied by the Arthur Atkinson character in The Fast Show. His catchphrases included “Hello playmates!”, “I thank you all” (pronounced “Ay-Thang-Yaw’ll”) which we believe he got from a tram ticket collector, and “Before your very eyes”.

Askey was born at 29 Moses Street, Liverpool, Lancashire, the eldest childArthur Askey and only son of Samuel Askey, who died in 1958 , his father was secretary of the firm Sugar Products of Liverpool, and his wife, Betsy Bowden (who died in 1949) , of Knutsford, Cheshire. Six months after his birth the family moved to 90 Rosslyn Street, Liverpool. Askey was educated at St. Michael’s Council School (1905 to 1911) and the Liverpool Institute for Boys (1911to 1916), where he was known for winning an egg and spoon race at a school sports day. He was very small at 5′ 2″, with a breezy, smiling personality, and wore distinctive horn-rimmed glasses. He served in the armed forces in World War I and performed in army entertainments. After working as a clerk for Liverpool Corporation, Education Department, he was in a touring concert party and the music halls, but he rose to stardom in 1938 through his role in the first regular radio comedy series, Band Wagon on the BBC. Band Wagon began as a variety show, but had been unsuccessful until Askey and his partner, Richard Murdoch, took on a larger role in the writing.

His last film was Rosie Dixon – Night Nurse (1978), starring Debbie Ash. Soon afterwards, he was forced to give up performing, and had both legs amputated owing to circulatory problems. Anthea, his daughter by his marriage to Elizabeth May Swash, was also an actress and often starred with him. For many years, he was an active member of the Savage Club (a London gentlemen’s club). He was awarded the OBE in 1969 and the CBE in 1981.

Billy (The Mirthquake) Matchett 1889 -1974

Billy MatchettBilly Matchett was born at a time that was probably the height of the Music Hall era. His birth date is somewhat disputed in published matter as 27th or 28th August in 1889 or 1890, however his son Ken Matchett gives us 28th August 1889. There are few references to him in literature although Roy Hudd gives us a personal view of the man and his performance in ‘Roy Hudd’s Cavalcade of Variety Acts’ saying: “A Liverpool comic of the old school. I saw him as Chairman in Old Tyme Music Hall. He had all the attack and gusto of the music hall, having learned his trade the tradional Scouser way, via smokers, working men’s clubs and concert party. He graduated to play variety, revue and pantomime (always as the dame) at almost every theatre in Britain. He was a regular broadcaster in John Sharman’s Music Hall.”

Billy first saw life at 46 Merlin Street. His father, George Matchett was a stevedore at the local docks. His early days were tinged with tragedy. His Mother died early and when his father remarried Billy with his two younger brothers went to live with their Grandmother. He was a pupil at Harrington Board School Liverpool but his attendance was spasmodic. In those days when money was in very short supply Billy took on jobs whenever he could to bring in a little money and eventually left school early to help keep the family. He worked on Liverpool Docks when he could, as a docker but was often thwarted by his father, who selected the workers for the gangs and was frightened of being accused of ‘nepotism’

Through the twenties he took on a summer engagement and took the family with him for the holidays. The children enjoyed it immensely. In 1927 he made his London, West End debut as principal comic at the ‘Alhambra’ Leicester Square (now Warner Cinema) in Florrie Forde’s show ‘The Mirthquake’ from which he took his billing, although this was changed when he was appearing in Liverpool, when he was billed as “Liverpool’s Own”

His theatre heyday seems to be through the thirties when he was keep busy appearing in many Road Shows with ‘The Two Leslies’- Sarony and Holmes, and often with Sandy Powell in summer seasons on Onchan Head, Isle Of Man.

He died in his beloved Liverpool on 15 November 1974.

Beryl Orde

Beryl OrdeBorn in Liverpool on 9th November 1912 Beryl was an actress rather than a comedian but appeared alongside some of the famous Liverpool comedians of the day. Beryl was a popular music hall and radio artist and was heard in many BBC programmes including 1947’s ‘The Gay Nineties Revue’. She also appeared in the 1943 film, The Dummy Talks, a British crime film directed by Oswald Mitchell and starring Jack Warner and Claude Hulbert.

Rob Wilton

Robb Wilton, born Robert Wilton Smith (28 August 1881 – 1 May 1957) was an English comedian and comic actor who was famous for his filmed monologues in the 1930s and 1940s in which he played incompetent authority figures.

Rob WiltonWilton was born in Everton, Liverpool, and had a dry Lancashire accent which suited his comic persona as a procrastinating and work-shy impediment to the general public. Wilton’s comedy emerged from the tradition of English Music Hall, especially popular in the North of England, he was a contemporary of Frank Randle and George Formby, Jr.. He portrayed the human face of bureaucracy; for example, playing a policeman who shilly-shallies his way out of acting upon a reported murder by pursuing a contrarian line of questioning. Wilton, rubbing his face in a world-weary way, would fiddle with his props while his characters blithely and incompetently ‘went about their work’, his humour embodying the everyday and the absurd – and the inherent absurdity of the everyday.

Wilton’s most popular catchphrase was “The day war broke out…”. The phrase was taken from his opening routine for radio which was “The day War broke out, my missus said to me, ‘It’s up to you…You’ve got to stop it’. I said, ‘Stop what?’. She said, ‘The War'”.

Robb died 1 May 1957 (aged 75).

Deryck Guyler

Deryck GuylerDeryck Guyler, born at the outbreak of WW1 in 1914 in Liverpool , was the only child of Elsie and Samuel Guyler. He grew up in Liverpool and had his senior education at Liverpool College. On leaving school he tried his hand at a few things including working with his father in the family jewellers business ‘Green & Guyler’. However, he then left home to go to Bristol theological college to become an Anglican Minister. It was not long before it became obvious to the ‘powers-that-be’ that he would make a better actor than a Parson!!!! So, he eventually joined the Liverpool Repertory Company in 1935 which became his training ground for a very successful career in theatre, radio and television. Just after the war, in 1946, Deryck joined the famous war time radio show ITMA (‘it’s That Man Again’) and was with the show until its finish in 1949, due to the death of its star Tommy Handley. It was during this time that he was renowned for bringing to the radio, for the first time, the Liverpudlian accent with his immortal character “Frisby Dyke”.

Not long after this television started and Deryck began pursuing his very successful career in this new medium of entertainment. Due to the excellent quality of his voice he started in television, as many did, doing ‘voice-overs’ for many, many commercials which was his ‘bread and butter’. His other now famous roles were in “Sykes” (1972) series with Eric Sykes, Hattie Jacques and Richard Wattis and many other series that followed, supporting such other stars as Michael Bentine in “It’s a Square World” (1960) and Harry Worth in his own series and then, of course, the TV series he’s probably best known for, “Please Sir!” (1968) as the cantankerous school janitor ‘Norman Potter’.

Deryck and his wife Paddy emigrated and moved to Brisbane Australia on 5th November 1993, and lived in the tree-lined suburb of Ashgrove until about September of 1997. In October of that year, due to a few unfortunate falls at home attributed to his frailty and ailing legs, he had to go into a nursing home to be cared for, his wife Paddy being too small and frail herself to care for him. Regrettably due to his frailty; he had to be content with a wheelchair to get around. Paddy moved to ‘Forest Place’ Retirement Village, attached to the nursing home, and naturally, visited him daily until the evening of 7 October 1999 when he passed away very peacefully at about eight o’clock whilst wife Paddy and son Chris with his wife, were at his bedside to say their final ‘Goodbyes’.

His funeral service was held at St. Mark’s Catholic Church, Inala on the 13 October 1999 and he was cremated at Mt. Gravatt Cemetery in 1995.

Tommy Handley

Tommy Handley with Dorothy Summers
Tommy Handley with Dorothy Summers

Thomas Reginald “Tommy” Handley was born at Toxteth Park, Liverpool in Lancashire. He served with a kite balloon section of the Royal Naval Air Service during World War I and went on to work in variety, and in the infancy of radio became known as a regular broadcaster. He worked with people such as Arthur Askey and Bob Monkhouse, and wrote many radio scripts, but it is the BBC comedy series ITMA for which he is best known, and which itself became known for a number of catchphrases, some of which entered popular vocabulary. He later starred in the ITMA film in 1942 and in Time Flies in 1944. In later years, he suffered with high blood pressure, the result of his driving commitment to ITMA, and died suddenly on 9 January 1949 from a brain haemorrhage, 8 days before his 57th birthday. He was cremated and interred at the Golders Green Crematorium. In a eulogy at his memorial service at St Paul’s Cathedral, the Bishop of London, John W C Wand, said that “he was one whose genius transmuted the copper of our common experience into the gold of exquisite foolery. His raillery was without cynicism, and his satire without malice.

Ted Ray

Ted RayTed Ray, was born in Wigan he was brought up in Liverpool and appeared in ‘Does the team think’? with Arthur Askey. Ray was born Charles Olden on 21st November 1905, the son of a Wigan comedian. He stage name was inspired by a famous golfer of the 1920s, whose name he had selected from a sporting diary. Ray’s route into the theatre was punctuated by work as a ship’s steward, an office clerk and a dance band violinist before he made his debut at the Palace Theatre, Preston, Lancashire in 1927. Three years later, he was appearing in London Music Hall.

Television work beckoned and Ray was undoubtedly a natural, able to work to the camera in empty studios as though he was in a packed theatre. His affinity and direct interaction with the audience made him a popular performer on both sides of the camera lens. In 1955, he fronted his own monthly BBC comedy series, insipidly titled The Ted Ray Show, which ran in various forms until 1958, at which point he temporarily jumped ship and made six programmes for independent television entitled (much more imaginatively) Hip Hip Who Ray, which were more stand-up focused than his BBC shows. Among his other television work were readings of children’s stories on the long-running Jackanory strand and regular appearances on McDonald Hobley’s panel game, Does The Team Think?. After receiving serious injuries in a 1975 car crash, Ted Ray cut down his public appearances to a minimum, meaning he was unable to appear in the tenth anniversary edition of its A Knockout, where he would have joined original co-hosts McDonald Hobley and Charlie Chester.

Ted Ray died in hospital following a heart attack on Tuesday 8th November 1977 aged 71. He left a wife, Dorothy, and their two sons, Andrew Ray, the actor, and BBC producer and Face the Music panellist, Robin Ray. He committed his career memories to paper in two autobiographies: Raising the Laughs (1952) and My Turn Next (1963).

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