Saturday, 25 February 2012

"Hello Playmates" - Remembering Arthur Askey (1900 - 1982)

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"), and "Before your very eyes".
Arthur Askey was born at 29 Moses Street, Liverpool, the eldest child and only son of Samuel Askey (d.1958), secretary of the firm Sugar Products of Liverpool, and his wife, Betsy Bowden (d.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 (1905–11) and the Liverpool Institute for Boys (1911–16), where he was known for winning an egg and spoon race at a school sports day. He was very small at 5' 2" (1.58 m), with a breezy, smiling personality, and wore distinctive horn-rimmed glasses.

He served in the armed forces in World War 1 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 Waggon began as a variety show, but had been unsuccessful until Askey and his partner, Richard Murdoch, took on a larger role in the writing.

In the early 1930s, Askey appeared on an early form of BBC television — the spinning disc invented by John Logie Baird that scanned vertically and had only thirty lines. Askey had to be heavily made up for his face to be recognisable at such low resolution. When television became electronic, with 405 horizontal lines, Askey was a regular performer in variety shows. During World War 2, Askey starred in several Gainsborough Picture comedy films, including Band Waggon (1940), based on the radio show; Cahrley's (Big - Hearted Aunt) (1940); The Ghost Train (1941); I Thank you 1941); Back Room Boy (1942); King Arthur Was a Gentleman (1942); Miss London Ltd. (1943) and Bees in Paradise (1944); as well as the popular West End Musical, Follow the Girls. When television arrived, he made the transition well. His first TV series was Before Your Very Eyes! (1952), named after his catchphrase. In 1957, writers Sid Colin and Talbot Rothwell revived the Band Waggon format for Living it Up, a series that reunited Askey and Murdoch after 18 years. He also made many stage appearances as a Pantomime Dame.
He continued to appear frequently on television in the 1970s, notably as a panellist on the ITV talent show New Faces, where his usually sympathetic comments would offset the harsher judgments of fellow judges Tony Hatch and Mickie Most. He also appeared on the comedy panel game Joker's Wild.
Arthur's 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 (m. 1925, d. 1974), was also an actress and often starred with him. For many years, he was an active member of the Savage Club (a London Gentleman's Club).
His recording career included "The Bee Song", The Thing-Ummy Bob and his theme tune, "Big-Hearted Arthur", (which was also his nickname). During the 1950s and 1960s, he appeared in many sitcoms, including Love and Kisses Arthur's Treasured Volumes and The Arthur Askey Show. However, in 1940, a song he intended to record, "It's Really Nice to See you Mr Hess" (after Hitler's deputy fled to Scotland), was banned by the War Office. A collection of Askey's wartime recordings appear on the CD album Band Waggon/Big Hearted Arthur Goes To War. Private Eye magazine in the 1970s regularly made the comment that he and the Queen Mother had "never been seen in the same room together" — referring to the fact that they were both of about the same height, and suggesting that the Queen Mother was Askey in drag.
Arthur Askey carried on working until just before he was hospitalised in July 1982. Poor circulation resulted in gangrene which led to him having both legs amputated and he died in London's St Thomas's hospital on 16th November 1982. Arthur Askey is buried in Putney Vale Cemetary.

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