by Mark McKay (reprinted from LAUGH Magazine #24, 2005)
Radio in the 1940s seemed to venture into some ludicrously inappropriate areas, with broadcasts of darts, ballroom dancing, chess, … even ventriloquism. However, this very visual art proved extremely popular on the wireless on both sides of the Atlantic, most significantly due to Edgar Bergen in the US and Peter Brough in Britain.
Peter’s father, Arthur Brough (no relation to the Are You Being Served? actor of the same name), was also a music hall ventriloquist – his last performance was with his dummy Hugo Fitch in the Ealing film classic, Dead of Night. As well as following in the old man’s footsteps on the stage, Brough Jr. also went on to join him in the textile business. Together they started an agency representing Scottish mills and the local Highland weavers and crofters.
Invalided out of his army ‘Stars in Battledress’ unit, Peter began to reshape his vent act and came up with a new character for his dummy – that of a fourteen year old boy. A 1943 Pathe short shows the dapper young Brough performing with a small disembodied boy’s head on a stick. The doll’s voice and appearance are nearly there, but not the name. That was supplied by the famous ITMA scriptwriter, Ted Kavanagh, who christened him Archie Andrews*.
Peter Brough and Archie Andrews made their first BBC broadcast in Music Hall and were later awarded their own regular spot in the forces entertainment, Navy Mixture. Following a minor series with ‘the voice of them all’, impressionist Peter Cavanagh, and assorted one-offs in Variety Bandbox and Workers’ Playtime, Archie was finally given his own primetime series in 1950.
The show was loosely based around the private tutelage of Master A. Andrews and hence titled Educating Archie. A talented cast of newcomers was assembled, including Hattie Jacques, Max Bygraves, thirteen year-old singing sensation Julie Andrews, and as tutor, fruity-voiced silly-ass Robert Moreton. The scripts were furnished by Sid Colin, already responsible for popular programmes like Ignorance Is Bltss and Hi, Gang! 1949, and a young man who had been writing material for Frankie Howerd, Eric Sykes.
Educating Archie proved an immediate success and by the end of the year was voted the most outstanding variety series at the National Radio Awards (an achievement repeated two years later). Originally commissioned for six episodes, it went on to run for a decade with numerous cast changes, reading like a veritable ‘who’s who’ of British comedy. Tony Hancock, Harry Secombe, Ronald Shiner, James Robertson Justice, Bruce Forsyth and Sid James all played tutor to Archie, while additional characters were provided by Bernard Miles, Warren Mitchell, Ken Platt, Graham Stark and Bernard Bresslaw.
Two supporting actors deserve special mention… Beryl Reid, who made a great impression as cheeky schoolgirl Monica (invariably dressed for the role in gymslip and boater) and later as the wonderfully unflappable Marlene from the Midlands, and Dick Emery, who portrayed the servile Grimble and Mr. Monty the spiv, demonstrating an individual gift for comic characterisations later given free reign in his TV series.
The 1954 series (renamed Archie’s The Boy!) introduced Benny Hill and dropped the concept of a tutor, with no discernible ill effects. Eric Sykes had departed following a disagreement concerning Beryl Reid, and subsequent scripts were produced by Ronald Wolfe and Ronald Chesney (who went on to pen hit TV shows like The Rag Trade and On The Buses) and comic hero, Marty Feldman.
Meanwhile Archie was also delighting theatre audiences, either as an act on a variety bill, or in his own Archie Andrews’ Christmas Party shows. The royal family were all keen fans of the mischievous schoolboy and Brough made regular visits to Windsor Castle and Buckingham Palace, often as organiser of the Household party concert. It was after one of these performances that King George VI removed Archie’s head to examine his workings, causing the dummy to quip, ‘Sir, I’m the only fellow you’ve ever beheaded in your reign’.
Although initially conceived as an adult entertainment, Educating Archie‘s appeal to children was obvious and shrewd businessman Brough was quick to capitalise on this, with a range of tie-in merchandise. As well as kids’ books and records, Archie lent his name and likeness to jigsaw puzzles, key rings, items of clothing, dolls, ice cream, lollies and even soap!
In 1957 Peter took a trip down under, where his radio show had been regularly transmitted by the Australian Broadcasting Commission for the past few years. Archie and Brough topped the bill in the Tivoli theatre circuit’s Calypso Capers, and recorded a special series for the ABC with support from local performers.
The following year, back in Britain, Educating Archie transferred to television in an ambitious telerecorded series made for Associated-Rediffusion. The star received a radical makeover, resulting in more cartoon-like features, consistent with the public’s perception of a cheeky schoolboy. Technical innovations enabled him to talk without visible aid and even to walk about unhindered. Dick Emery appeared as Mr. Monty and the gardener, Freddie Sales as a next-door neighbour and the wonderful Irene Handl played Mrs. Twissle, the housekeeper.
Brough quit showbusiness in 1961, following the death of his father. He felt obliged to take over the running of the family textile and menswear business, which would leave him little time for performing. Occasionally he could be encouraged to bring Archie out of retirement for the odd special appearance, but eventually Father Time caught up with him.
Peter spent his last years in an actors home and passed away on 3rd June 1999. Poor Archie hasn’t uttered a word since.
* It is not known whether Kavanagh was influenced by Archibald “Archie” Andrews, the American comic strip teenager, who had made his first appearance in print a couple of years earlier, and by this time was featuring in his own US radio series.
Peter Brough & Archie Andrews appeared in a regular segment, Archie Takes The Helm on the BBC General Forces Programme from 4 May 1944 to 25 January 1945.
Script by Ted Kavanagh & Sid Colin
Two’s a Crowd
with Peter Brough & Archie Andrews, Peter Cavanagh
Script by Gene Crowley
BBC Light Programme, Thursdays, 19 February to 8 April 1948 (8 x 20mins)
with Peter Brough & Archie Andrews, Max Bygraves (series 1&3), Hattie Jacques (series 1-4), Robert Moreton (series 1), Ronald Chesney, Julie Andrews (series l-2), Peter Madden (series 1-5), Tony Hancock (series 2), Beryl Reid (series 3-7), Harry Secombe (series 3-4), Ronald Shiner (series 4), Bernard Miles (series 4), Benny Hill (series 5), Graham Stark (series 5-6), Shirley Eaton (series 5), James Robertson Justice (series 6), Ken Platt (series 6-7), Dick Emery (series 7-10), Alexander Gauge (series 7), Warren Mitchell (series 8-10), Pearl Carr (series 8), Bernard Bresslaw (series 9), Bruce Forsyth (series 10), Sid James (series 10).
Script by Eric Sykes (series 1-4), Sid Colin (series 1-2), Ronald Wolfe (series 4-10), Eddie Maguire (series 5), George Wadmore (series 6-8), Pat Dunlop (series 6-7), Ronald Chesney (series 9-10), Marty Feldman (9-10)
Series 1: BBC Light Programme, Tuesdays (except 1/22 on Monday), 6 June to 19 December 1950 (29 episodes)
Special: Archie Andrews’ Christmas Party
BBC Light Programme, Tuesday, 26 December 1950
Special: Archie Andrews’ Easter Party
BBC Light Programme, Monday, 26 March 1951
Series 2: BBC Light Programme, Fridays, 3 August 1951 to 25 January 1952 (26 episodes)
Special: Archie Andrews’ Party
BBC Light Programme, Wednesday, 26 December 1951
Series 3: BBC Light Programme, Thursdays, 18 September 1952 to 12 February 1953 & 21 May to 25 June 1953 (including Archie Andrews’ Christmas Party on 25 Dec 1952)
Series 4: BBC Light Programme, Thursdays, 15 October 1953 to 1 April 1954 (25 episodes)
Special: Archie in Goonland
BBC Home Service, Friday, 11 June 1954
Series 5 (retitled Archie’s The Boy!): BBC Light Programme, Thursdays, 11 November 1954 to 24 March 1 955 (20 episodes)
Series 6: BBC Light Programme, Fridays, 30 September 1955 to 10 February 1956 (20 episodes)
Special: At Home
BBC Light Programme, Monday, 21 May 1956
Series 7: BBC Light Programme, Wednesdays, 19 September 1956 to 13 March 1957 (26 episodes)
Series 8: BBC Light Programme, Wednesdays, 25 September 1957 to 19 March 1958 (26 episodes)
Series 9: BBC Light Programme, Sundays, 28 September 1958 to 22 March 1959 (26 episodes)
Series 10: BBC Light Programme, Wednesdays, 7 October 1959 to 17 February 1960 (20 episodes)
The following episodes are known to survive: 1/22, 2/12, 3/13, 4/18, 4/25, 5/1, 5/?, 5/20, 7/3, 7/?, 7l?, 7/?, 7/?, 7/20, B/3, 8/14, 9/23 (hopefully a significant number of the episodes issued by the Transcription Service may also exist.)
Archie in Australia
with Peter Brough & Archie Andrews, Ray Barrett, Wendy Blacklock, Ronald Chesney, Reg Goldsworthy, Reg Quartly, June Salter
Script by Ronnie Wolfe & Hugh Stuckey
ABC, Tuesdays, 28 May to 10 September 1957 (16 episodes)
The last episode of this series survives and was broadcast on the BBC Light Programme on Wednesday, 18 September 1957
BBC-TV, Wednesday, 30 May 1956 (45 mins)
with Peter Brough & Archie Andrews, Irene Handl, Dick Emery, Freddie Sales
Script by Ronald Wolfe, Ronald Chesney, Marty Feldman
Series 1: Associated-Rediffusion, Fortnightly (later weekly) on Fridays, 26 September 1958 to 20 February 1959 (13 episodes)
Series 2: Associated-Rediffusion, Weekly on Fridays, 18 September to 25 December 1959 (15 episodes)
Jack And The Beanstalk (incl. “When We Grow Up“)
(with Peter Madden, Hattie Jacques & Julie Andrews)
Archie Andrews’ Little Stories
(No. 1 Nobby Nightingale, No. 2 The Robin’s Reward, etc.)
series of HMV 10″ 78rpm discs (1951)
Dummy Song/By The Light Of The Silvery Moon (with Max Bygraves)
HMV 78rpm B10444
The Red Robin Cantata/Lovely Dollar Lolly (with Max Bygraves)
HMV 78rpm B10491
Big Head/Say “Si Si” (with Max Bygraves)
HMV 78rpm B10546
Max Bygraves and Peter Brough & Archie Andrews
HMV 7”EP 7EG 806T
Jack And The Beanstalk/Ginger And The Bird’s Eggs/Herbert The Hedgehog And Freddy The Fieldmouse (with Peter Madden, Hattie Jacques & Julie Andrews)
HMV (Australia) 7″ EP TEGO-70005 (1957)
BBC LP REC 134M (1973)
features an extract from Educating Archie (episode 3/13)
BBC Radio Collection double cassette ZBBC 1135 (1994)
with episodes 1/22*, 3/13*, 4/18, 7/20 (*musical item cut)
by Peter Brough (Stanley Paul hbk 1955)
Archie Andrews Calling Books 1 to 5
(Macmillan hbks 1951-1952)
Archie Andrews Painting Book
(Edwyn A. Birks 1951)
Archie Andrews’ Annual Nos. 1 to 5
(Preview Publications/Andrew Dakers hbks early 1950s)
The New Archie Andrews’ Annual
(Thames hbk 1958)