Today is the birthday of Fred Russell (Thomas Frederick Parnell, 1862-1957) often known as the Father of modern ventriloquism (he is often said to have been the first to use a dummy on the knee, but it seems to me I have seen pictures of countless vents doing so prior to him and have indeed written about them here).
Russell was originally a London journalist and newspaper editor, dabbling in ventriloquism as a hobby, He became a professional on the music hall stage in 1886. His wisecracking partner “Coster Joe” was a definite pre-cursor to the likes Charlie McCarthy. He also published one of the first books about ventriloquism in 1910 Ventriloquism and Its Kindred Arts. He toured throughout the world for decades (including American vaudeville), even into the early television age, performing into his 90s. Russell was one of the founders of the British variety guild known as the Water Rats, inspiration for the American White Rats. He was made an Officer of the British Empire in 1948. Fred Russell’s son was music hall impresario Val Parnell, original producer of Sunday Night at the London Palladium.
To find out more about vaudeville past and present, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.