Al Read

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Al Read
Born
Alfred Read

(1909-03-03)3 March 1909
Broughton, Salford, England
Died9 September 1987(1987-09-09) (aged 78)
OccupationComedian, businessman

Alfred "Al" Read (3 March 1909 – 9 September 1987) was a British radio comedian active throughout the 1950s and 1960s. Originally a businessman, he has been described as highly influential on British comedy.

Early life[edit]

Read was born in Broughton, Salford,[1] Lancashire. On leaving school he worked at the family meat processing firm, E. and H. Read Ltd, initially as a salesman before becoming a director in his early 20s. He always wanted to perform - on one occasion, when he was 18, he performed impressions of Maurice Chevalier in clubs in Bolton, before being found by his father and having to return to work as a meat products salesman. After his father died, he started running the family business, while continuing to take opportunities to entertain at local dinners and in clubs.[2]

Early business career[edit]

He became a prosperous and well-respected local businessman. In the Second World War his company won a lucrative contract with the NAAFI to supply sausages, enabling him to spend more time in the evenings as an after-dinner speaker. He honed his skills with carefully-observed characterisations ranging from drunks to "know-alls" and cheeky children. After moving to Lytham St Annes, he spent time playing golf, where he met many of the show business figures who performed in nearby Blackpool, and started active attempts to develop a second career as a comedian. In 1948, he paid a local theatre producer to let him perform in a show on the South Pier, but the performance was unsuccessful due to Read's stage fright, and he returned to his business interests.[2]

Comedy career[edit]

In early 1950, he hosted a dinner for business contacts in Manchester, and entertained them with some of his monologues and dialogues in which he played both voices. His humour was observational and was about Northern English working class people, often in a domestic situation. According to writer Graham McCann: "Most professional comedians, before Al Read, concentrated on telling gags and/or short but obviously contrived tall tales. Here, in stark contrast, was someone talking about the kind of experience that most people in the audience had endured, except he was exaggerating it just enough to make the listeners laugh not only at the protagonists but also at themselves." The response to Read was so good that it was overheard by another guest coincidentally staying at the same hotel, regional BBC Radio producer Bowker Andrews, who invited him to perform the routine on his radio show Variety Fanfare. Broadcast on 17 February 1950, it launched Read's comedy career.[2]

Read quickly became popular on regional and then national radio broadcasts, such as Variety Bandbox and Workers' Playtime. Unusually for the time, his humour reflected everyday life, situations and characters, widely recognisable and only slightly exaggerated for comic effect.[3] According to McCann: "His ability to flit back and forth between speakers and personalities was impressive in itself, but the seemingly effortless yet unfailingly precise rhythms of his speech, and the deftness of his key turns of phrase, were even more remarkable." McCann described him as "pioneering", with an "immense" influence on British comedy.[2]

In 1951, he was invited by bandleader Henry Hall to star in the summer season at Blackpool's Central Pier, and the King invited him to perform at Windsor Castle. He recorded monthly editions of his programme, The Al Read Show, in advance, allowing him to diverge from the usual radio variety show format. It featured guest performers including Jimmy Edwards and Pat Kirkwood.[4] The programme was one of the most popular radio comedy shows in the UK in the 1950s and 1960s. Up to 35 million people listened to it each week.[2] The introduction to his radio show was usually "Al Read: introducing us to ourselves"; and he himself described his work as "pictures of life". His catchphrases "Right, Monkey!" and "You'll be lucky - I say, you'll be lucky!", and "And he was strong", were well known.

In 1954 he appeared high on the bill at the Royal Variety Performance at the London Palladium, and in 1959 he appeared with comedian Jimmy Clitheroe in the Royal Northern Variety Performance, in the presence of the Queen Mother, at the Palace Theatre, Manchester. The American comedian Bob Newhart came to an arrangement with Read to adapt and perform some of his routines, with the result that some of the material originally written and developed by Read, such as "The Driving Instructor", became associated more with Newhart.[2]

In 1963 Read headed a variety format for ITV called Life and Al Read which was apparently unscripted and was broadcast live. In 1966 a BBC series called Al Read Says What a Life! was broadcast. However, Read's humour did not transfer very well to television, with a critic in The Stage commenting: "I'm only interested in what he has to say - I don't care what he looks like...". His final TV series, It's All In Life, in 1973, was also unsuccessful, and Read returned to radio for a final series in 1976.[2]

Later life[edit]

He retired from performance in the 1970s, while continuing to run his business interests from homes in Yorkshire and Spain. In 1984, a further series of radio shows, Such Is Life, was broadcast, drawing on privately recorded routines from earlier years as the BBC recordings had been destroyed. Read published an autobiography, It's All in the Book, the same year.[2]

Death[edit]

Read died in hospital in Northallerton, Yorkshire, in 1987, aged 78, following a series of strokes.[2]

The Al Read Show[edit]

Surviving editions held by the BBC Sound Archive:

First Broadcast Repeated Description
25 November 1954 4 July 2004
13 March 2005
30 April 2006
24 June 2007
6 January 2008
Dad! Dad! Is that Al Read? He's a classic comedy act, isn't he, Dad? Vintage humour from November 1954, isn't it, Dad?
25 January 1955 No repeat
15 November 1955 11 July 2004
20 March 2005
7 May 2006
1 July 2007
13 January 2008
The sausage maker from Salford turned king of the comedy catchphrase stars in this episode first broadcast in 1955.
6 February 1966 12 November 1998
18 July 2004
27 March 2005
14 May 2006
8 July 2007
20 January 2008
The sausage maker from Salford turned king of the comedy catchphrase stars in this episode, first broadcast in 1966, featuring his best-loved characters and timeless humour.
October 1995 26 November 1998
27 July 2004
3 April 2005
21 May 2006
15 July 2007
27 January 2008
Al Read with all you ever needed to know about health, courting, marriage, kids and football, from the northern comic's monologues of the 1950s.
October 1995 3 December 1998
1 August 2004
10 April 2005
28 May 2006
22 July 2007
3 February 2008
Ken Bruce introduces the Northern comic's monologues from the 1950s. Arriving home late, Al's efforts to relax are thwarted by his wife.
October 1995 10 December 1998
8 August 2004
17 April 2005
4 June 2006
29 July 2007
10 February 2008
Right Monkey! A collection of Al Read's 1950s monologues. Al lifts the lid off horse racing. Compiled in October 1995 by Mike Craig.
October 1995 17 December 1998
15 August 2004
24 April 2005
11 June 2006
5 August 2007
17 February 2008
Classic comedy from Salford's favourite son. Al Read looks at the very British institutions of hospitals, the post office and noisy neighbours. From December 1998.
October 1995 24 December 1998
22 August 2004
1 May 2005
18 June 2006
12 August 2007
24 February 2008
Al Read gives his views on the fire brigade, the joys of driving and the morning after the night before. From December 1998.

References[edit]

  1. ^ He was born in 1909 when Broughton was part of the County Borough of Salford (1844–1974 — "City" status from 1926)
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i Graham McCann, "Are you talking to me? How Al Read held up a mirror to Britain", Comedy.co.uk, 29 November 2020. Retrieved 28 December 2020
  3. ^ Roy Hudd and Philip Hindin, Roy Hudd's Cavalcade of Variety Acts, Robson Books, 1998, ISBN 1-86105-206-5, p.151
  4. ^ Denis Gifford, The Golden Age of Radio, B.T. Batsford Ltd, London, 1985, ISBN 0-7134-4235-2, p.10
  • Papillon Graphics Encyclopaedia of Greater Manchester, 2002
  • BBC.co.uk Guide to Comedy
  • [1] Episode guide

External links[edit]