PERFORMERS: CHARLIE DRAKE

Born: June 19 1925
Died: December 23 2006 

by PETER TATCHELL (copyright 2011)

He was one of British television’s greatest slapstick comedians and his popularity led to a series of hit records and some big screen comedies in the 1960s.

Born Charles Springall in south London in 1925, Charlie used his mother’s maiden name when he started out as a singer in the late 1940s. At just over five foot tall with a dumpy physique and a cherubic face, Drake soon switched to comedy and partnered the considerably taller Jack Edwardes (6’ 4”) in a double act called Mick and Montmorency (with Edwardes playing Mick).

Throughout the fifties, the pair performed a series of segments on British television in children’s timeslots (originally on the B.B.C. then for commercial TV’s Associated-Rediffusion) before splitting up.

Along the way, the B.B.C. had given Charlie his own solo series and in 1958 Parlophone records released a novelty song based on his catchphrase Hello My Darlings. It reached #7 in the charts and led to a number of other releases, including the mega-hit My Boomerang Won’t Come Back, which also proved enormously popular in Australia and the U.S.

Following his continued success on television, in 1960 Drake turned his attention to the big screen, starring in the movie Sands of the Desert and a follow-up Petticoat Pirates

Charlie’s penchant for performing knockabout stunts almost ended in tragedy in October 1961, when he was knocked unconscious during an episode of his BBC series that was being transmitted live. Rushed to hospital with a fractured skull, Drake survived but decided to spend some time off while he considered his future.

Two years later Charlie was back with a new series on commercial television (this time for A.T.V.) and a film called The Cracksman. Christmas 1963 saw him topping the bill at the London Palladium in a space-age musical called The Man in the Moon.

By 1965 Charlie Drake had reached the peak of his career … cast as a trouble-prone and frequently unemployed labourer in The Worker. The format of the sitcom allowed him all manner of occupations, plenty of stunts and regular interaction with the man behind the counter at the Labour Exchange. Though initially played by Percy Herbert, by the second season Henry McGee took over as his exasperated nemesis and gained a role that would prove career changing. Within a handful of years, Benny Hill would cast him as his chief straight man and for the next twenty years McGee’s face would become familiar to millions of people on three continents.

Drake would eventually appear in four seasons of The Worker (and later in a batch of short segments when he and McGee revived the character in the late 1970s).

But in 1967 Charlie came up with a new sitcom format Who is Sylvia?, a feature film Mister Ten Per Cent (with a plot not a million miles away from Mel Brooks The Producers) and by years end, a series of colour specials on BBC2.    

By the 1970s, he and McGee followed the colour seasons of The Worker with a sketch programme Slapstick and Old Lace and a one hour special for Thames Television a year later. Drake then encountered some union trouble with a stage show and took some time off.

Charlie’s career had reached a turning point. By the 1980s he decided to desert comedy for the world of drama and surprised many with accomplished performances in stage versions of Shakespeare’s As You Like It and Harold Pinter’s The Caretaker. Drake also took part in BBC productions of Bleak House and Filipina Dreamgirls. He also found time to be seen in several of his friend Eric Sykes “silent” comedies for Thames TV.

Then in the mid-1990s, Jim Davidson talked him into playing the Baron in his adult pantomime SINderella. And Charlie all but stole the show night after night (happily a video recording was made of a performance).

It was to be his last major role and he suffered the first of a series of strokes soon after. At Christmas 2001 Drake took part in an Arena profile of him on BBC2 and three years later his voice could be heard (off-stage) in Davidson’s sequel SINderella 2.

Charlie Drake died two days before Christmas in 2006.

Television

Charlie Drake and Jack Edwardes
series 1: BBC fortnightly October 29 to December 12 1952 (4 x 10 min)
series 2: BBC fortnightly January 15 to June 18 1955 (12 x 10 min)

Mick and Montmorency (aka Jobstoppers) (15 to 20 min segments)
series 1: ITV (Associated-Rediffusion) September 30 1955 to February 21 1956 (22 eps)
series 2: ITV (Associated-Rediffusion) April 10 to July 31 1956 (17)
series 3: ITV (Associated-Rediffusion) September 21 1956 to June 19 1957 (33)
series 4: ITV (Associated-Rediffusion) September 13 to December 5 1957 (13)
series 5: ITV (Associated-Rediffusion) fortnightly March 14 to May 22 1958 (6)

Laughter in Store
BBC January 3 1957

Drake’s Progress
series 1: BBC fortnightly May 6 to July 15 1957 (6 eps)
series 2: BBC March 31 to May 5 1958 (6 eps)

The Charlie Drake Show
ITV (ATV) August 31 1958 (60 min)

Charlie Drake in …
series 1: BBC November 11 to December 9 1958 (5 eps)
series 2: BBC April 7 to May 5 1959 (5 eps)
series 3: BBC November 18 to December 30 1959 (7 eps)
series 4: BBC July 7 to August 4 1960 (4 eps)
(also segments in Christmas Night with the Stars 1958 and 1959, and a 45 min compilation on December 26 1960)

The Charlie Drake Show
series 1: BBC November 25 to December 30 1960 (5 eps)
series 2: BBC March 23 to April 27 1961 (6 eps)
series 3: BBC October 24 1961 (series abandoned owing to accident)

The Charlie Drake Show
ITV (ATV) September 28 to November 2 1963 (6 eps)

The Worker
series 1: ITV (ATV) February 27 to April 3 1965 (6 eps)
The Machinery of Organisation
Out of the Mouths of Casual Labourers
The Mechanics of Piecework
No Automation without Representation
A Democratic Democratism
And Never the Twine Shall Meet
series 2: ITV (ATV) October 2 to November 13 1965 (7 eps)
A Host of Golden Casual Labourers
Eight and Thruppence
Little Tom
A-Punting We Will Go
Through  a Glass Darkly
The Man Who Moved His Head
I Just Don’t Want to Get Involved

series 3: ITV (ATV) December 29 1969 to January 26 1970 (5 eps)
Hallo Cobbler
You Have Enjoyed the Sweets, Now You Must Suffer the Sours*
The Siege of Kidney Street*
Now is the Time for all Left Legs*
When Adam Delved and Eve Span …*

series 4: ITV (ATV) August 6 to September 17 1970 (7 eps)
A Change is as Good as a Rest*
Breed in for Speed, Breed out for Stamina*
Cough*
The Sorcerer’s Apprentice*
Ma Chandelle est Mort*
I Babble, Babble as I Flow to Join the Brimming River*
No Room at the Inn for the Odd Couple up the Staircase*
(also segments in All-Star Comedy Carnival December 25 1970
and Bruce Forsyth’s Big Night: October 7 to November 18, December 16, 17 and 24 1978)  
* survives only as a b/w telerecording

Who is Sylvia?
ITV (ATV) February 11 to March 25 1967 (7 eps)
The Great Lover
A Pool of Blood and a Red Carnation
The Three Dreaded Faces of Eve
I am the Queen, All Bow Down
The Man from C.L.U.N.K.
The Man Who Couldn’t Hold His Peace (* believed lost)
Our Lovers Meet

The Charlie Drake Show
BBC2 fortnightly December 10 1967 to April 28 1968 (10 x 45 min)
(also a 35 min Montreux compilation on April 14 1968)

Slapstick and Old Lace
ITV (ATV) March 4 to April 15 1971 (7 eps)

The Charlie Drake Comedy Hour
ITV (Thames) September 20 1972 (60 min)

and in the Eric Sykes silent specials:

The Plank
ITV (Thames) 17 December 1979 (30 mins)

Rhubarb Rhubarb!
ITV (Thames) 15 December 1980 (30 mins)

Mr. H is Late
ITV (Thames) 15 February 1988 (30 mins)

and the celebration:

Arena: Drake’s Progress
BBC2 December 25 2001 (50 min)

Movies

1954    The Golden Link (bit part)

1960    Sands of the Desert

1961    Petticoat Pirates

1963    The Cracksman

1967    Mister Ten Per Cent

Recordings

Hello My Darlings / Splish Splash
Parlophone 78rpm/45rpm (45)R 4461 (1958)

Itchy Twitchy Feeling / Volare
Parlophone 78rpm/45rpm (45)R 4478 (1958)

Hello My Darlings
Parlophone EP GEP 8720
Itchy Twitchy Feeling
Hello My Darlings
Splish Splash
Volare

tom thumb’s Tune / Goggle Eye Ghee
Parlophone 78rpm/45rpm (45)R ???? (1958)

Sea Cruise / Starkle Starkle Little Twink
Parlophone 78rpm/45rpm (45)R 4552 (1959)

Naughty / Old Mr. Shadow
Parlophone 45rpm 45R 4675 (1960)

Glow Worm / Mr. Custer
Parlophone 45rpm 45R 4701 (1960)

Naughty Charlie Drake
Parlophone EP GEP 8812
Naughty
Starkle Starkle Little Twink
Old Mr. Shadow
Google Eye Ghee

My Boomerang Won’t Come Back / She’s My Girl
Parlophone 45rpm 45R 4824 (1961)

Drake’s Progress / Tanglefoot
Parlophone 45rpm 45R 4875 (1962)

I Bent My Assegai / Sweet Freddy Green
Parlophone 45rpm 45R 4918 (1962)

I’ve Lost the End of My Yodel / I Can, Can’t I?
Parlophone 45rpm R ???? (1963)

I’m Too Heavy for the Light Brigade / The Reluctant Tight-Rope Walker
Parlophone 45rpm R 5143 (1964)

Charles Drake 007 / Bumpanology (Bump Head Blues)
Parlophone 45rpm R 5209 (1964)

Only a Working Man / I’m a Boy
Parlophone 45rpm R 5253 (1965)

Hits from The Man in the Moon
Parlophone EP GEP 8903 (1964)
You Can Do It
So This is the Moon
That’s Kissing
The Boston Crab
(plus two tracks by The Mike Sammes Singers)

Don’t Trim My Wick / Birds
Parlophone 45rpm R 5414 (1966)

Who is Sylvia? / I Wanna Be a Group
Pye 45rpm 7N 17269 (1967)

Hello My Darlings
Music for Pleasure LP MFP 1310
reissue of Parlophone tracks:
Hello My Darlings
I Lost the End of My Yodel
Starkle Starkle Little Twink
Don’t Trim My Wick
Splish Splash
Charles Drake 007
My Boomerang Won’t Come Back
I’m Too Heavy for the Light Brigade
Naughty
Mr. Custer
I Bent My Assegai
Volare

Puckwudgie / Toffee and Tears
Columbia 45rpm DB 8829 (1972)

‘Ello Erf / All Together in the No-Feet Dance
Columbia 45rpm DB 8927

Someone Opened the Watergate / Hello Earth
EMI 45rpm EMI 2079

You Never Know / I’m Big Enough for Me
Charisma 45rpm CB 270 (1976)

Superpunk / Someone
Soldoon/Pye 45rpm SDR 024 (1976)

DVDs 

The Worker
Network 5dvd set 7952674 (2007)
includes all episodes of series 1 to 4
plus the 3 surviving segments from Bruce Forsyth’s Big Night:
Self Inflicted Compensation (October 21 1978)
Bitter Bit (October 28 1978)
Big Apple (November 4 1978)

Eric Sykes
DVD
contains the three Thames silent comedies featuring Charlie Drake:
The Plank
Rhubarb, Rhubarb
Mr. H. is Late

Sinderella (1995)
Universal dvd

Sinderella 2 Live – Comes Again
Universal dvd 8226520 (2004)

Book

DRAKE’S PROGRESS
by Charlie Drake (Robson, London. 1986)

 

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