Keith Harris (ventriloquist)
21 September 1947 |
Lyndhurst, Hampshire, England
Keith Shenton Harris (born 21 September 1947, Lyndhurst, Hampshire) is an English ventriloquist, who is known for his television show (which ran between 1982–1990), audio recordings, and club appearances with his puppets Orville the Duck and Cuddles the Monkey. He had a UK Top 10 hit single in 1982 with "Orville's Song".
Early life and career
Harris grew up in Chester and North Baddesley (near Southampton), and started creating ventriloquism characters as a teenager. He then appeared in summer seasons at holiday resorts before appearing on television in Let's Laugh. He then became a popular act on television variety shows, was the host of the Black and White Minstrel Show, and was given his own show called Cuddles and Company. Also Keith worked at a local barbers and pursued his dream of becoming a ventriloquist
His TV show was later axed, and he came close to bankruptcy in the years that followed. In recent years, he has appeared as a guest star in a number of TV shows including Harry Hill, Never Mind the Buzzcocks, Trisha, Banzai, and The Weakest Link. This, combined with work entertaining in the clubs, in pantomime and at holiday camps around the country, as well as starring in a commercial for Surf soap powder, enabled him to become solvent again. In 2002, Harris was the subject of a Louis Theroux documentary called When Louis Met... Keith Harris. Harris later said that they had become friends during the course of filming, although they lost contact when Theroux went back to the US for his next projects. In 2004, Harris and Orville performed at Bolton's Albert Hall in the pantomime Goldilocks and the Three Bears.
Harris made a short appearance on the sketch comedy series Little Britain as himself, with Orville, as part of a group of entertainers waiting to meet the Royal Family. In the sketch, the entertainers are interrupted by a man with a sock puppet who claims that he is Keith Harris and his sock is Orville. The real Harris is annoyed at this, and the fake Harris, after a few attempts at claiming to be other people, is thrown out. The sketch did not make the TV version of the show, but is included in the deleted scenes portion of the DVD.
In 2005, Harris was among the all-star line up in Peter Kay and Tony Christie's music video, "Is This the Way to Amarillo". Fellow children's entertainer Geoffrey Hayes, who also had financial troubles after his own show failed to be re-commissioned, also appeared in the video.
In later years he has added self-mockery to his act, and often appears on mainstream (as opposed to children's) television, realising that many of his child viewers will now be grown up.
From 2005 to 2008, Harris had his own pantomime company, Keith Harris Productions Ltd., from which he wrote and appeared in his own pantomimes. He undertook an annual pantomime at Ferneham Hall, Fareham, Hampshire. Harris's company was bought out in 2009 by Jordan Productions Ltd. In 2009 Harris joined another production company and appeared in Peter Pan alongside Orville and Cuddles at the New Theatre in Hull.
In May 2006, Harris made a pilot called Judge Orville for Bravo. In a parody of popular shows such as Judge Judy and The People's Court, Orville was dressed in judge's garb and made pronouncements on fictional disputes. The show was not made into a series.
In February 2007, Harris refused to appear on the second series of Ricky Gervais's television series Extras. He said, "[Gervais] wanted me to be a racist bigot ... I read the script and thought, this isn't clever writing, it's pure filth. I turned it down. I'm not desperate." When asked about Harris' refusal on Friday Night with Jonathan Ross, Gervais claimed that Harris simply "didn't get it". Keith Chegwin, who assumed the role offered to Harris, said: "The people who didn't get it probably think Johnny Depp really is a pirate."
Harris now lives with his fourth wife, Sarah, and his two youngest children, Shenton and Kitty, in Poulton-le-Fylde near Blackpool, where he previously owned a nightclub. He was formerly married to singer Jacqui Scott, a winner of a BBC talent show in 1979 who entered the 1980 A Song For Europe contest with her own composition. They had one child. Harris is a fan of Chester City F.C., and has entertained fans at the Chester City Social Club. In April 2014, at a show he was giving in Prestatyn, Harris announced that he had been secretly battling cancer, and that he had beaten it, despite being told by doctors he only had 'months' to live.
- "Orville's Song" (1982) - UK No. 4
- "Come to my Party" (1983) - UK No. 44
- "White Christmas" (1985) - UK No. 40
- Roberts, David (2006). British Hit Singles & Albums (19th ed.). London: Guinness World Records Limited. p. 244. ISBN 1-904994-10-5.
- "Sunday Mirror: My Pap Pics Keith Harris". Findarticles.com. 2005-07-10. Retrieved 2009-06-05.
- "Ricky Gervais - Ventriloquist Shocked By Ricky's 'Racist' Script - Contactmusic News". Contactmusic.com. 2006-09-04. Retrieved 2009-06-05.
- Friday Night with Jonathan Ross, BBC One, 8 September 2006
- "icLiverpool - Cheggers: I'm not really that foul-mouthed bigot". Icliverpool.icnetwork.co.uk. 2006-09-15. Retrieved 2009-06-05.