Sketch of Ventriloquist Ray Alan and his Character, Lord Charles

I’ve been doing a bit more sketching of past comedy acts and comic actors, and one of these was of the late ventriloquist Ray Alan and his dummy, Lord Charles. Charles was a true-blue member of the aristocracy, making sharp wisecracks and retorts. He’d pointedly comment on himself or somebody else after they’d done something he thought stupid that they were ‘a silly ass’. Looking back in retrospect, he also seems to me now to have been slightly squiffy. That’s the character, of course, not Alan himself. The two are one of my favourite ventriloquist acts. I never got on with Keith Harris and his cast of characters, Orville, the green duck in a nappy that couldn’t fly, Cuddles the monkey and so on. It was all much too sentimental for me. But there was none of that with Alan and Lord Charles.

According to Wikipedia, Alan began his showbusiness career very young. He entered a talent contest at his local Gaumont cinema in Lewisham when he was five. When he was thirteen, he got a job as a call boy at the town’s Hippodrome theatre and started performing magic tricks during acts. He then added ventriloquism and playing the ukulele. He later toured the world as a cabaret act, performing with Laurel and Hardy in 1954. Lord Charles made his debut in a charity performance at Wormwood Scrubs prison and the doll’s appearance was based on Stan Laurel. Like many of the other acts I’ve drawn, Alan made his first TV appearance in the 1960s on The Good Old Days and returned to the programme several times subsequently. It was also in the 1960s he appeared on the children’s TV programme Tich and Quackers, about a small boy, Tich, and Quackers, his pet duck. Alan also a created another character, Ali Cat, for the 1977 ITV series Magic Circle. He also presented the BBC Ice Show for two years. He also appeared as a guest on the comedy series, Tell Me Another, which ran from 1976 to 1978, with Sooty on The Sooty Show in the 1983 episode, ‘Soo’s Party Problem’. The next year he appeared on Mike Reid’s Mates and Music. In 1985 he appeared as the special guest in Bob Hope’s birthday performance at London’s Lyric Theatre. The next year he presented a Channel 4 series on ventriloquism appropriately called A Gottle of Geer., which he also wrote. He also appeared on Bobby Davro’s TV Weekly in 1987. He also wrote for other comedians, including Tony Hancock, Dave Allen, Morecambe and Wise and Bootsie and Snudge, and the 1985 programme, And There’s More, which starred Jimmy Cricket. This was often under the pseudonym Ray Whyberd. He was still working well into seventies, including at conferences and corporate events, and in 1998/99 he was one of the acts entertaining the guests on the luxury liner the QE2. Ill health forced him to take a break from recording, but he never ruled out returning to it. His last appearance on stage with in 2008 at a charity concert in Bridlington organised by his friend, the MP Greg Knight.

He also made numerous appearances on panel and game shows. He was the host of Where in the World and the children’s quiz, It’s Your Word. He also appeared on Celebrity Squares, Give Us A Clue, Family Fortunes, 3-2-1, and Bullseye. He was also a guest on the Bob Monkhouse Show, the Des O’Connor Show and Blue Peter. On the radio he was a guest on Radio 2’s The Impressionists from 1974-5 and was its host from 1980 to 1988. In the 1970s he made four appearances on the long-running Radio 4 panel game, Just A Minute, and presented the edition of the News Huddlines, also on Radio 4 on 29th October 1975.

Apart from his stage, screen and radio appearances Alan was also a literary man. From their titles, I think they were thrillers – Death and Deception (2007) A Game of Murder (2008), and Retribution, published in 2011 after his death. They were all published by Robert Hale. The year previously, 2010, his novel Fear of Vengeance had been published by F.A. Thorpe. He wasn’t the only comedian with literary aspirations. Way back in the 1980s I came across an SF novel about genetic engineering in one of the local bookshops in Bristol by Les Dawson. I didn’t buy it, partly because I wondered if it really was that Les Dawson. But it was, and I now regret it, as it would have been interesting to read his views on the subject.


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8 Responses to “Sketch of Ventriloquist Ray Alan and his Character, Lord Charles”

  1. trev Says:

    Another great blast from the past!

  2. Mark Pattie Says:

    Forgive me, but I thought Lord Charles was the Trinidad calypso artist who sang about the West Indies Test match in 1950, when they beat the old “colonial” British team. Was Ray Allan the guy who invented the “Gottle o’ Geer” catchphrase?

    • beastrabban Says:

      That might be another Lord Charles, Mark. 🙂 I don’t know if Ray Alan invented the ‘Gottle o’ geer’ catchphrase. I think it may have been in use before him and he used it as the title for the programme.

      • gillyflowerblog Says:

        Not sure Ray Alan invented the phrase. It’s common among bad vent acts as it’s obviously hard to say. Going back even further I remember Archie Andrews on the radio. I mean, only the British could fall for a vent act on the radio. At least you never saw Brough’s lips move. And I’m still waiting for the book The Dummies guide to Ventriloquism!
        Also, I think it was Lord Kitchenor, who was the calypso singer. (No, not THAT Lord Kitchenor)

      • beastrabban Says:

        Thanks for that, Gill. I think you’re right about Lord Kitchener the calypso singer – it rings a bell. I’ve heard of Archie Andrews, from ‘Educating Archie’, and it is bizarre to have a ventriloquist act on the radio, but people accepted it. But it wasn’t just us Brits who did this. I can’t remember who it was, but there was a similar American act on during the War.

        Speaking of old music hall/ radio acts, for some reason the artist Damian Hurst hated Jimmy Clitheroe. Hurst had a poem published called, ‘Jimmy Clitheroe’s Penis’, in which he reviled the Clitheroe Kid as a ‘f**king vaudeville’. I have no idea why. Perhaps his parents made him listen to it, and told him he should be more like it.

      • Mark Pattie Says:

        Re the Calypso artist from Trinidad- it was Lord Beginner who sang about the Windies’ Test victory over England in 1950.

  3. Brian Burden Says:

    Ray Allen had a v. amusing series on Radio Four in the late sixties, called Life With Lord Charles. Nothing really odd about building radio shows around ventriloquists’ dolls. After all, the Goon Show was based on imaginary characters with funny voices. Another ventriloquist’s act more or less contemporaneous with Lord Charles and Archie Andrews was Saveen and Daisy-May (or Mae?). Did you know that Quackers, of Tich & Quackers fame, grew up, changed his name to “Michael Gove” and went into politics? Not many people know that! And did you know that racist and sexist comedian Bernard Manning took off his stage make-up and served part time as Thatcher’s potty-mouthed press secretary, using the soubriquet “Bernard Ingham”? The giveaway is in the fact that “Ingham” is a virtual anagram of “Manning”! And, of course, the two of them have never been photographed together!

    • beastrabban Says:

      Well, it always seemed to me that Michael Gove looked like a partly melted Thunderbird puppet. Now I know the truth! As for Bernard Ingham, he was spectacularly caught out by Chris Morris in Brass Eye. Morris got him to read out a warning about an entirely fictional drug called ‘Cake’, from Czechoslovakia. If was the size of a large cake, and you had to swallow it in one gulp. Users developed a swollen neck, called ‘Czech neck’. But the script Ingham read made it very clear that what he was saying was rubbish. It began with ‘Cake is a made-up drug’. But Ingham was so stupid and arrogant he bought it, and made himself look very stupid.

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