Sandy Powell (comedian)
Sandy Powell MBE (30 January 1900 – 26 June 1982) was an English comedian best known for his radio work of the 1930s and for his catchphrase Can You Hear Me, Mother?. He first said this in a theatre in Coventry. Fifty years later, deciding he needed a rest from the business (he planned a cruise around the world with his wife), he again said it in a Coventry theatre, for the last time.
Born Albert Arthur Powell in Rotherham, South Yorkshire, England in 1900, he attended White's school in Masbrough where he helped his mother (stage name of Lily le Maine) to put on a marionette show. At age nine, she put him in a velvet suit with a lace collar and he went on stage and sang. After he left school he became a music hall entertainer, often wearing a kilt in the guise of a Scottish comedian. During this part of his career he was associated with the singer Gracie Fields, and released several records where he collaborated with her.
Stage and recording
He made a total of eighty five 78rpm records between 1929 and 1942, mostly double-sided sketches with him in various occupations. He sold seven and a half million records, earning a penny a side, so over £60,000. The first, The Lost Policeman on the cheap Broadcast label, sold almost half a million copies (he had turned down a flat fee of £60 for this), and his subsequent recordings for Broadcast and Rex were extremely popular. He said in a 1982 interview that he used his stage work to advertise the records, rather than the other way about, though it was later said of him that his records introduced him so wherever he went to put on a show, they already knew him..
Sandy had a stooge in his act during the 1930s, the boy soprano, Jimmy Fletcher, father of the actor Gerard Fletcher, of Emmerdale, Coronation Street and other TV. From 1930 he took his own revue, Sandy Powell's Road Show, on tour – it ran for ten years and was extremely popular despite having only a handful of performers and two backdrops.
Radio and film
In the 1930s he began to work on the radio, always introducing his show with catchphrase Can You Hear Me, Mother? Powell said that the catchphrase originated on an occasion when he had dropped his script and was killing time at the microphone while rearranging the pages. It is also attributed to his mother's coercion and her hardness of hearing, during his early career. At his next booking, the theatre manager asked him to say it again as everyone was saying it now. He also appeared in a number of films during the 1930s, usually as himself. In 1939 he was voted the fifth most popular British star at the local box office.
A popular figure, he worked continually on radio, television and pantomime through the 1940s and 1950s. Aged 21 at the time, Pat Phoenix was brought in to play Sandy's wife and played four parts in the film. After that he want onto a variety tour and she came with him as his wife, earning £12 a week. He performed with his Starlight company in the Eastbourne Pier theatre for over fifteen seasons in the 1950s and 1960s, earning himself the sobriquet 'Mr Eastbourne', and he was still performing occasionally up to his death in 1982. Part of his act was a comedy ventriloquism act, where the dummy would fall apart. After being on stage for a few weeks with a series of awful ventriloquists, he bought a dummy himself and did his own act as a ventriloquist. When Pat Phoenix as his wife who "fed him lines" asked if the dummy could say something, he said; "if he could say it, the dummy could say it."
For a day or two, he thought he had bad indigestion but it was worse than he realised and he died of a heart attack on 26 June 1982.
Selected film credits
- Cup-tie Honeymoon (1948)
- Home from Home (1939)
- I've Got a Horse (1938)
- It's a Grand Old World (1937)
- Can You Hear Me, Mother? (1935)
- Sandy the Fireman (1930)
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- British Music Hall on Record by Brian Rust (1979)
- Kindly Leave The Stage (1985) by Roger Wilmut
- "POPULAR PLAYERS.". The West Australian (Perth: National Library of Australia). 24 February 1939. p. 3. Retrieved 24 April 2012.
- Radio Show: "How Tickled Am I?" Sandy Powell edition.