Huzzah for Ray Alan and Lord Charles!

An introduction here to my fellow Americans to British ventriloquist Ray Alan (1930-2010).

Alan was a native of the London borough of Lewisham, where he began performing as a child in talent shows. At 13 he began working at the Lewisham Hippodrome, first as an usher, then performing a magic act. Over time he enhanced his shows with ventriloquial routines and songs on the ukulele. In 1954 he performed on a music hall bill with Laurel and Hardy on the same final tour dramatized in the movie Stan and Ollie. (Check out his memories here).

He began appearing on television variety with a 1961 appearance on The Good Old Days (I am guaranteed to write about this unique TV variety show someday soon. There really has been nothing in America quite like it.) Alan’s primary dummy partner was Lord Charles (a supercilious, often drunken, aristocrat with a monocle). The character debuted before the advent of Prince Charles — the act must have seemed uncomfortably like TARGETED satire once he came on the scene. One of Alan’s most original bits had Lord Charles breaking out his OWN ventriloquism routine, with a tinier dummy in HIS lap! IN 1963 and 1964 Alan got his own kids show Tich and Quackers, providing the voices and characters for both puppets, a boy and his duck. He was a very funny guy, a mainstay of British entertainment for decades.

Alan also wrote for a number of British TV shows, including The Two Ronnies. In his final years, when his health began to fail, he published four mystery novels.

For more on variety entertainment, please see No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous.