Friday, 12 December 2014

Day 12 - The Little Fir Tree - Peter Brough and Archie Andrews

Be afraid. Be very afraid. 

Archie Andrews – not to be confused with the US cartoon character of the same name - was once one of Britain’s best-loved ventriloquist dummies. 

On the arm of Peter Brough, the pair were a sensation in the 1950’s where the radio show ‘Educating Archie’ was regularly listened to – yes, you’ve spotted the anomaly there, haven’t you? – by audiences in excess of 15 million. ‘Educating’ was a platform for up and coming stars too and Tony Hancock, Max Bygraves, Benny Hill, Dick Emery, Bruce Forsyth and Julie Andrews were just a few of the familiar names who made their show business debuts alongside Brough and Andrews.

The pair transferred to the growing medium of TV in 1958 but the tele-visual experience only revealed the rather disturbing fact that Brough’s mouth moved a bit too much whenever Andrews was speaking and the act had become dated by the time the ‘60’s arrived. 

Dressed in cap, scarf and stripey blazer and referring to Brough simply by his surname in a disparaging style, Archie is very much a product of the decade in which he found his fame. Later years would see the ventriloquist dummy as an altogether more macabre item though and, if you’re nervous around such a doll, it’s likely Archie Andrews may be the stuff of nightmares.

Peter Brough died in 1999 and Archie is now – quite literally probably – in the hands of a collector who paid £34,000 for him in 2005 at a private auction. Now approaching his 70th year, Andrews may recall ‘The Little Fir Tree’  with a spoken intro about ‘other boys teasing him because he was different’ and continuing with the tale of a little tree who lived quite close to ‘where I come from in the woods’. The whole thing is supposed to be a Children’s classic but is spooky beyond words and I can’t get the spoken ‘It Looked Pretty’ out of my mind as Brough sings.

Try it if you dare but treat it with caution…Hey, what’s that? can’t be but…is that Archie sitting in the corner over there? How come he is speaking but no-one is holding him? Brough? Brough? Noooooo…!

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