Oliver Wakefield

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Oliver Wakefield (born 29 May 1909, Mahlabitini, Zululand, South Africa; d. 30 June 1956, New York, USA), was a popular British actor and comedian active from the 1930s until his death in 1956. Often billed as "The Voice of Inexperience", Wakefield is best known for his idiosyncratic satirical monologues.

Wakefield was educated in South Africa, then travelled to England, where he began acting with a Shakespearean repertory company. He then attended the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts for further study, where he developed his distinctive style of humorous monologue. Wakefield created the stage persona of a nervous upper class young man, customarily dressed in full dinner suit and habitually carrying a cigarette. He developed a distinctive stuttering mode of speech featuring tortuous syntax, malapropisms, spoonerisms, dropped words and unfinished sentences which he used to disguise his satirical observations, wry sarcasm and clever double entendres. In his early career he was clean-shaven but later grew a handlebar moustache.

He quickly established himself in nightclubs and music hall and became the first Resident Comedian on the BBC, as well as making pioneering appearances in the early days of British TV.[1][2] He also became established in the United States and appeared in the variety movie short On the Air and Off (1933) (USA short, filmed at Biograph Studios, Bronx, New York City) (Universal Pictures)[3] and made one of his first American stage appearances in the Ziegfeld Follies of 1934,[4] which also featured Eve Arden.

Wakefield appeared in several British Pathé newsreels in the late 1930s.[5] In 1937 he starred in the 20th Century Fox film There Was Young Man, followed by featured roles in several British films between 1938 and 1942 including The Peterville Diamond (1942), playing a gentleman jewel thief (whose partner-in-crime was played by future Doctor Who star William Hartnell). He made regular appearances at the Savoy Theatre, the Berkeley, the Ritz, Cafe de Paris, Churchill's and other leading London venues. He was booked to open at the Rainbow Room in New York three weeks after the outbreak of World War II, but chose to remain in England, where he served in the R.A.F.[6]

After the war, Wakefield returned to show business. He toured Australia, performing for a year in Melbourne and Sydney, followed by a 52-week radio series for the Australian Broadcasting Commission. Moving to the United States in 1952, he performed at the Blue Angel in New York, followed by engagements at Number One Fifth Avenue, Ruban Bleu and Bon Soir and TV appearances on All Star Revue, the Kate Smith show, The Steve Allen Show and many others. His last Broadway appearance was in the Broadway revue, Two's Company at the Alvin Theatre in New York in 1952, which starred Bette Davis. In Canada he appeared frequently on the Canadian Broadcasting Service on the Frigidair TV Show, played a fourteen-week engagement at Montreal club Ruby Foos and hosted his own TV panel Show Make a Match.[7]

Wakefield died from a heart attack at his Rye, New York home at 351 Park Avenue,[8] aged 47.

Selected filmography[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ IMDb - Oliver Wakefield
  2. ^ Radio Times Television Supplement, 21 May 1937
  3. ^ IMDb On the Air and Off:http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0175004/?ref_=nm_flmg_slf_14
  4. ^ BroadwayWorld.com - Ziegfeld Follies of 1934
  5. ^ British Pathé
  6. ^ IMDb - Oliver Wakefield
  7. ^ IMDb - Oliver Wakefield
  8. ^ New York Times, 2 July 1956