Fred Russell (ventriloquist)

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Blue plaque, Putney, London

Thomas Frederick Parnell OBE (29 September 1862 – 14 October 1957), known professionally as Fred Russell, was an English ventriloquist. Usually credited as being the first to use a knee-sitting figure, he is known as "The Father of Modern Ventriloquism".


Russell was born in London, and began his career as a journalist, but from 1882 began performing his hobby of ventriloquism in public. In 1886, when he was editor of the Hackney and Kingsland Gazette, he was offered a professional engagement at London's Palace Theatre and took up his stage career permanently. His act, based on the cheeky-boy dummy "Coster Joe", broke from the prevailing format of a family of dummies, establishing a precedent for performers such as Edgar Bergen and Paul Winchell.

According to The Times obituary, he changed his name because of the political flavour of "Parnell".

In 1910, Russell published a book on his craft entitled Ventriloquism and Kindred Arts. His act remained popular for several decades, involving prolonged tours of Britain, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, as well as visits to the United States and Ceylon. In 1938 he appeared at the Royal Command Performance. He was active in promoting the variety show genre and was an early and leading member of the Grand Order of Water Rats. He was a founder of the Variety Artistes' Federation. In 1948 he was awarded an OBE for his long services to the profession.

He continued to perform late in life, giving televised music hall performances in 1952, billed as "the oldest ventriloquist in the world". He died in Wembley, aged 95.

Blue plaque[edit]

Fred Russell lived in Kenilworth Court in Putney, London, from 1914 to 1926. A blue plaque by the entrance of Kenilworth Court commemorates him.


  • Obituary, The Times, Tuesday, Oct 15, 1957; pg. 14

External links[edit]