|Birth name||Arthur Bowden Askey|
6 June 1900|
Dingle, Liverpool, Lancashire, England
16 November 1982 (aged 82)|
St Thomas's Hospital, London, England
|Genres||Stand-up, comedic acting|
|Spouse||Elizabeth May Swash (m.1925–1974)|
|Parent(s)||Samuel and Betsy Askey, née Bowden|
Arthur Bowden Askey, CBE (6 June 1900 – 16 November 1982) was an English comedian and actor. Askey's humour owed much to the playfulness of the characters he portrayed, his improvisation, and his use of catchphrases, which included "Hello playmates!", "I thank you" (pronounced "Ay-Thang-Yaw"), and "Before your very eyes".
Early life and education
Askey was born at 29 Moses Street, Dingle, Liverpool, the eldest child and only son of Samuel Askey (d. 1958), secretary of the firm Sugar Products of Liverpool, and his wife, Betsy Bowden (d. 1949), of Knutsford, Cheshire. Six months after his birth the family moved to 90 Rosslyn Street, Liverpool. It was here that a sister, Irene Dorothy, was born in 1908 (according to the 1911 UK Census).
Askey was educated at St. Michael's Council School (1905–11) and the Liverpool Institute for Boys (1911–16). He was small in stature at 5' 2" (1.58 m), with a breezy, smiling personality, and wore distinctive horn-rimmed glasses.
He served in the armed forces in World War I and performed in army entertainments. After working as a clerk for Liverpool Corporation, Education Department, he was in a touring concert party and the music halls, but he rose to stardom in 1938 through his role in the first regular radio comedy series, Band Waggon on the BBC.
Band Waggon began as a variety show, but had been unsuccessful until Askey and his partner, Richard Murdoch, took on a larger role in the writing. During the broadcasting of Band Waggon they attempted to advertise a scouring powder with the chant of "Askeytoff will take it off" with the result that an announcer came on and shut the show down as advertising was strictly prohibited on the BBC.
During the Second World War Askey starred in several Gainsborough Pictures comedy films, including Band Waggon (1940), based on the radio show; Charley's (Big-Hearted) Aunt (1940); The Ghost Train (1941); I Thank You (1941); Back Room Boy (1942); King Arthur Was a Gentleman (1942); Miss London Ltd. (1943) and Bees in Paradise (1944) and Make Mine a Million (1959). His last film was Rosie Dixon - Night Nurse (1978), starring Debbie Ash.
In the early 1930s Askey appeared on an early form of BBC television—the spinning disc invented by John Logie Baird that scanned vertically and had only thirty lines. Askey had to be heavily made up for his face to be recognisable at such low resolution. When television became electronic, with 405 horizontal lines, Askey was a regular performer in variety shows.
When television returned after World War II, he made the transition well. His first TV series was Before Your Very Eyes! (1952), named after his catchphrase. On 3 May 1956 Askey presented Meet The People, a launch night programme for Granada Television. In 1957 writers Sid Colin and Talbot Rothwell revived the Band Waggon format for Living It Up, a series that reunited Askey and Murdoch after 18 years. He continued to appear frequently on television in the 1970s, notably as a panellist on the ITV talent show New Faces, where his usually sympathetic comments would offset the harsher judgments of fellow judges Tony Hatch and Mickie Most. He also appeared on the comedy panel game Jokers Wild. He made many TV appearances in variety, not least BBC TV's long running show, The Good Old Days.
During the 1950s and 60s, he appeared in many sitcoms, including Love and Kisses, Arthur's Treasured Volumes and The Arthur Askey Show. He was the subject of This Is Your Life on two occasions, in December 1959 when he was surprised by Eamonn Andrews, and in December 1974, when Andrews, dressed as Humpty Dumpty, surprised him on a television show while discussing the art of pantomime.
His recording career included "The Bee Song", which was an integral part of his stage and television act for many years, "The Thing-Ummy Bob" and his theme tune, "Big-Hearted Arthur" (which was also his nickname). In 1941 a song he intended to record, "It's Really Nice to See You Mr Hess"[Note 1] (after Hitler's deputy Rudolf Hess fled to Scotland), was banned by the War Office. A collection of Askey's wartime recordings appear on the CD album Band Waggon/Big Hearted Arthur Goes To War.
Private Eye magazine in the 1970s regularly made the comment that he and the Queen Mother had "never been seen in the same room together", referring to the fact that they were about the same age and height and suggesting that the Queen Mother was Askey in drag.
The Fast Show
Paul Whitehouse’s character Arthur Atkinson, on the quick-fire BBC comedy programme The Fast Show, is a parody of Askey. Numerous fake Music Hall jokes are used in the sketches, which also illustrate a distaste for the character’s co-stars which borders on the narcissistic. Whether this is an intentional reflection on the character of Askey, and the perception of his clean and family-friendly image, is a matter of conjecture.
Askey carried on working until just before he was hospitalised in July 1982 due to poor circulation which resulted in gangrene and the amputation of both legs. He died in London's St Thomas's Hospital on 16 November 1982 and is buried in Putney Vale Cemetery.
|1937||Calling All Stars||Waiter|
|1940||Band Waggon||Arthur Askey||credited as Big Hearted Arthur|
|1940||Charley's (Big-Hearted) Aunt||Arthur Linden|
|1941||The Ghost Train||Tommy Gander|
|I Thank You||Arthur|
|1942||Back-Room Boy||Arthur Pilbeam|
|King Arthur Was a Gentleman||Arthur King|
|1943||Miss London Ltd.||Arthur Bowman|
|1944||Bees in Paradise||Arthur Tucker|
|1955||The Love Match||Bill Brown|
|1956||Ramsbottom Rides Again||Bill Ramsbottom|
|1959||Make Mine a Million||Arthur Ashton|
|Friends and Neighbours||Albert Grimshaw|
|1972||The Alf Garnett Saga||Himself|
|1978||Rosie Dixon - Night Nurse||Mr Arkwright|
|1953||The Love Match||Bill Brown||TV movie|
|1955||Love and Kisses||Bill Brown||5 episodes|
|1960||Arthur's Treasured Volumes||Various||6 episodes|
|1961||The Arthur Askey Show||Arthur Pilbeam||6 episodes|
- The song is alternatively known as "Thanks for Dropping in Mr Hess"
- Arthur Askey, Before Your Very Eyes (London: The Woburn Press, 1975), p. 22.
- The Bandwaggon Show Guide (http://www.britishcomedy.org.uk/comedy/bandwagon.htm)
- Murphy, 2005, p. 271
- Arthur Askey IMDB.|https://www.imdb.com/name/nm0039450/]
- Adrian Wright, West End Broadway: The Golden Age of the American Musical in London (Boydell Press, 2012), p. 23. (https://books.google.com/books?id=6-TvZ0O5NHQC&pg=PA23&lpg=PA23&dq=Follow+the+Girls+west+end&source=bl&ots=9UYIfRR-bN&sig=mZ4y7cnUwqtJDlSbgfZjQLBfeXU&hl=en&sa=X&ei=Ep0YVarYFc_18QXzz4Bo&ved=0CFIQ6AEwCQ#v=onepage&q=Follow%20the%20Girls%20west%20end&f=false)
- Craig Gerrard, The Foreign Office and Finland, 1938–1940
- Denis Gifford (5 March 1999). "Obituary: Anthea Askey". independent.co.uk. The Independent. Retrieved 7 September 2015.
- Arthur Askey New York Times Obituary. Retrieved 20 April 2014
- Arthur Askey (autobiography). Before Your Very Eyes (London: Woburn Press, 1975) ISBN 0-7130-0134-8
- Kurt Ganzl. The Encyclopedia of the Musical Theatre (New York: Shirmer Books, 2001) pp. 75 ISBN 0-02-864970-2
- Murphy, Robert. (2005). British Cinema and the Second World War. A&C Black
- Arthur Askey[permanent dead link] Britmovie British movie community
- Arthur Askey BFI
- The Radio Academy – Hall of Fame: Arthur Askey[permanent dead link]
- Arthur Askey's appearance on This Is Your Life
- TV Greats: Arthur Askey
- Star Archive: Arthur Askey (1900–1982)
- Arthur Askey on IMDb
- Askey and Band Waggon audiobook CD at CD41