Charlie Drake Remembered

Written by Cameron K
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Charles Edward Springall was born in 1925 in the Elephant and Castle, Southwark, South London.
His mother Violet (Drake) and father a newspaper seller who took racing bets on the quiet realised early little Charles was a born entertainer but he was also accident prone. When he was eight years of age he answered an advertisement in the South London Press and was first in the queue to audition for a show.
The top of the bill was Harry Champion and the show stopping young Charles sang "Boiled Beef and Carrots", which was one of Champions own songs. His endeavour paid off and Charlie won a place in the choirboy chorus backing the star in his grand finale, "Any Old Iron". His was also given a six-day booking for half a crown (12 1/2p).

Charlie was a good singer and became a regular winner at the the Elephant and Castle Picture Palace amateur talent contest. Unbeknown to the audience young Charles quietly paid the manager five bob (25p) in return for winning the ten-shilling (50p) first prize. He left Paragon Row Seniors School, aged 14 and was employed in a variety of jobs including a butcher's assistant, bakery worker and plumber's mate. In every case he was sacked for being cheeky. During the war, Charlie (now 18) tried to join the Navy but was considered too small, instead he volunteered for the Royal Air Force and became a rear gunner. He spent most of his service time in India and impressed his friends with his mastery of boxing and jujitsu. While training in Northern Ireland he befriended Jack Edwardes and enjoyed amateur dramatics. After the War, when he was demobbed Charlie worked as a window cleaner and door to salesman selling brushes door to door. He wanted to become a comedian and also worked the pubs with a friend called Sidney Cant.

He changed his stage name to Charlie Smart and won a provincial variety tour opening the show wearing a white trilby and a brown-and-red check suit. When it was pointed out there was another Charlie Smart in show business. Unable to pass the auditions in many of the premier show spots in London he settled for a Redcoat at Butlin’s Holiday Filey camp in 1953. Jack Edwardes was the entertainments manager and booked himself and Charlie as the comedy duo for an 18 week stint. The act was based on the clumsy, yet inspirational comedy style of Laurel & Hardy and with their very different statures: Charlie was 5 ft 1 inches (155 cm), and Jack Edwards 6ft 4in (193.04 cms) the slapstick duo called themselves Mick & Montmorency (Jack and Charlie respectively. Charlie enjoyed the high life but was eventually sacked for stealing money from the bingo take, by Billy Butlin himself. Butlin had been alerted to the thefts earlier, but had kept Charlie on as he was the only Redcoat to teach ju-jitsu to the campers and he was a good bouncer when they was a punch up at the dances. .

Now married and determined to make a go of show business they registered with the agent, Phyllis Rounce. She immediately recognised them a pair and got them a date at the Stage Door Canteen. The odd couple worked well together and had a hilarious table tennis act which made the services audience roar with laughter. They appeared in the talent show Showcase (BBC) in 1954 and when Michael Westmore (TV Producer) saw them he thought they would be ideal for the BBC Television children’s programme ‘Jigsaw’.
Billy Butlin

In 1955, they became ITV’s first comedy with a 22 episode series. At first the program was called ‘Mick & Montmorency,’ but quickly was rebranded as ‘Jobstoppers.’ Then, after 34 episodes, the show’s title reverted back to ‘Mick & Montmorency’. The show began with "Hello, my darlin's!" and concluded with the cry of "It's teeee-time!" These catch-phrases caught among the young viewers and slipped into common vernacular. Each episode ended with Montmorency doing something silly and Mick getting the end result. Mick would then say to Montmorency “One of these days I’m going to lose my paddi-whack with you”. Charlie’s catchphrase was “Mick not to touch Mont!” The final series ran from 1956 to 1957 before it became part of another children’s series ‘Jolly Good Time’. Mick & Montmorency were so successful they soon had their full page strip drawn by Reg Parlett in the magazine, TV Fun .

By the end of the final series Charlie parted company with Jack. Now Charlie Drake (his mother’s maiden name), he wanted to broaden his outlook from children’s TV and develop his comedy for a more adult audience. Charlie was invited to appear in a half-hour pilot program called Laughter in Store (1957) by Ronnie Waldman (Head of Light Entertainment at BBC Television), This proved a great success and a series of six programs entitled Drake's Progress with a supporting cast of Irene Handl, Warren Mitchell and Willoughby Goddard (Landburger Gessler in The Adventures of William Tell) followed. A second series was planned with scriptwriters Sid Green and Dick Hills (Morcambe and Wise Show). Charlie demanded to write his own scripts and after a showdown with Ronnie Waldman, Green and Hills, were sacked. Despite proving to be the most original TV slapstick comedian since the silent film era, Charlie Drake proved difficult to work with. However, his popularity ensured two more comedy series. Charlie Drake In... (1958-60), and The Charlie Drake Show (1960-61).
Irene Handl
In 1958, Charlie’s career took a different direction when recorded a version of Bobby Darin’s "Splish Splash," it became a Top Ten hit in the UK. The B Side was "Hello My Darlings" and both were produced by Sir George Martin. Whilst the latter had become a well-known catchphrase among children, the tag had different connotations when the entendre was uttered at big bosomed girls. Something Charlie had picked up as he moved from child to adult entertainment.

His television persona meant Charlie Drake was welcomed on stage and in pantomime. In 1958, he appeared at the London Palladium with Bruce Forsyth and Bernard "I Only Arsked" Bresslaw (The Army Game) in Sleeping Beauty but before he would appear he insisted his No 1 dressing room was redecorated to the manner of his status. In 1960, he was back in the Top Twenty with his version of Larry Verne's "Mr. Custer" ( No. 12). In the same year, he starred in his first big movie, Sands of the Desert (1960) directed by John Paddy Carstairs and by the end of the year he was a box office celebrity

1961, held mixed fortunes for the comedian. He starred in Petticoat Pirates directed by David Macdonald and had another hit record with "My Boomerang Won't Come Back" (again produced by Sir George Martin). The song initially ran into some problems with the lyrics and had to be re-recorded before the BBC would play it. Then long after it became a Number 1 hit in Australia it was later banned from the ABC in 2015 because of cultural insensitivity. The song sold well in the US and reached Number 21 in the Billboard Hot 100; and Canada (Number 3).

Back on television with the Charlie Drake Show, all went well until the last show in the series which closed with Charlie Drake being thrown through a bookcase, then out of a window, and crashing through a door. All the episodes were filmed live so there was no margin for error. Drake had arranged for a bookcase to be set up in such a way that it would fall apart during a slapstick sketch. It was later discovered that an over-enthusiastic workman had "mended" the bookcase before the broadcast. The actors working with him, unaware of what had happened, proceeded with the rest of the sketch which required that they pick him up and throw him through an open window. Drake fractured his skull and was unconscious for three days. The series was cancelled and it was two years before he returned to the screen. From the time of the accident Charlie Drake suffered bouts of depression and due to his health at that time Charlie missed his first invited appearance at the Royal Variety Show. He was however a great favourite of the Queen Mother and would star in no less than nine Royal Shows.

Charlie starred in The Cracksman (1963) directed by Peter Graham Scott. And in the same year returned to ITV, where he was to remain for the rest of his comedy career, apart from one BBC series, The Charlie Drake Show (1967-68). The formula was always the same, with Charlie Drake trying his hand as a workman in overalls with a different job each week. The live slapstick climax was superb and never bettered until pre- filming became possible for Michael Crawford's Some Mothers Do Have 'Em. Throughout the series Charlie played a gymnast doing a single arm twist from a high ring while a commentator counted eventually into the thousands and by the end of the series, Charlie Drake's arm appeared to be 20 ft (6 m) long.

A compilation of sketches from the show won him the Charles Chaplin Award for Best Comedy at the 1968 Montreux Television Festival. The centre-piece was an extended sketch featuring an orchestra performing the 1812 Overture. Drake appeared to play all the instruments; as well as conducting to comedic effect. In the final scene as the player of a triangle waiting to play a single strike, misses his cue.

In 1965 he started The Worker (1965-70) for ATV/ITV. Charlie played a perpetually unemployed labourer who was dispatched to a new job, each episode , by the ever-frustrated clerk (Mr Pugh - pronounced Poo!) at the local labour exchange. Every job ended in disaster and usually with a burst of classic slapstick. Bookending these sequences were the encounters between Charlie and the clerk, "Mi'er Poo" (Henry McGee) and a series of running jokes for regular viewers.

The program became peak viewing and Charlie Drake sang the theme song. The series was briefly revived by London Weekend Television in 1978.

Charlie Drake was back on the silver screen with Mister Ten Per Cent (1967) directed by Peter Graham Scott . This would be his last feature film, but he did appear in six short films for the Children's Film Foundation called Professor Popper's Problems (1975), directed by Gerry O'Hara. Charlie Drake also made a cameo in the 1979 remake of Eric Sykes’s The Plank.

In 1967, Charlie appeared in a new comedy series, Who is Sylvia (ITV). This time the hapless hero was middle-aged bachelor Charles Rameses. in search of love and marriage. On each of the seven episodes, Charles showed up at the marriage bureau run by Mrs. Proudpiece (Kathleen Byron), in hopes of being matched to a suitable bride. And each week, those hopes were dashed, generally in a comedic fashion. Unfortunately, he seems destined to never find his Sylvia, despite the pair's best efforts and intentions.

After a successful run of Slapstick and Old Lace on an end of peer summer show in 1969, Charlie brought it to television in 1971. The series involved viewers in singalongs and madcap sketches in a music hall style but only had a short run. Charlie Drake’s appeal was beginning to slip.
Eric Sykes' The Plank 1979

Then in 1972 he was back in the UK Top 50 with "Puckwudgie" in 1972 ( No. 47)

In 1974, Charlie was billed to appear in Jack and the Beanstalk at the Alhambra, Bradford. Charlie hired a 22-year-old local girl for his pantomime, but she did not have an Equity card. The actors' union Equity objected and the management paid her to leave. Equity fined Drake £760, which he refused to pay. As a direct result the union blacklisted him at all theatres for 18 months. This cost Charlie approx., £100,000 in lost fees and sapped his popularity. By this time the Inland Revenue and it took 84 accountants and lawyers to sort out his affairs. Charlie popped up up in a reprised The Worker format on Bruce Forsyth's Big Night (ITV, 1978), but apart from the occasional comic guest appearance on television his career as a comedian was over.

In the 80, Charlie Drake turned to straight acting and appeared as Touchstone in Shakespeare's As You Like It (at the Ludlow Festival). His performance in Harold Pinter's The Caretaker at the Royal Exchange, Manchester (1983) won him a Drama Award. in the BBC TV serialisation of Charles Dickens's Bleak House (1985) his performance as the unscrupulous moneylender, Smallweed was very well received.
Charlie Drake in The Caretaker

Charlie appeared as was one of a party of Welshmen on a wife-hunting mission in BBC’s Filipina Dreamgirls, then later played Ubu Roi in Spike Milligan's variation of Alfred Jarry's play, directed by Charles Jarowitz. He appeared in Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment (1988); and in Samuel Beckett's Endgame (1992) he played Nagg. Charlie Drake played crime boss, Freddie Windsor in an episode of the ITV thriller series 99-1 in 1994. His final stage appearances were with Jim Davidson in Sinderella, (an adult adaptation of Cinderella) in 1995.

After Charlie Drake suffered a serious stroke in 1995, he eventually retired to Brinsworth House, a retirement home for actors and performers run by the Entertainment Artistes Benevolent Fund. Charlie Drake died in 2006.

Reused by Kind Permission from  Cameron K's Blog

Read 7165 times Last modified on Thursday, 03 November 2016 15:36
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Cameron K

Cameron K

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