June 6 1900 to November 16 1982

by Peter Tatchell (copyright 2010) 

At five foot two, Arthur Askey may have been short of stature, but he was large in longevity in the world of British show business and had a career that was plentiful in accomplishments … starring in the BBC’s first radio comedy series, appearing in movies for two decades, a leading performer on the West End stage, a top line entertainer on television and, along the way, a successful recording artist who released dozens of novelty songs and comedy sketches.

For over fifty years, his happy-go-lucky style never seemed to take anything too seriously, as he constantly sent up himself and the occasion with a procession of adlibs that quickly broke down the barrier between performer and audience. “Big-Hearted” Arthur was the master of the catch-phrase, his appearances peppered with “Hello playmates”, “Aay thang yew”, “Before your very eyes”, “Doesn’t it make you want to spit!” and many others.

Born in Liverpool at the turn of the century, Arthur abandoned a “hum drum” office job for the bright lights of concert party while in his twenties. By the 1930s his cheerful patter and silly little songs (The Bee was his theme tune) were also being heard on BBC radio and in 1935 Askey had a regular part in an occasional series of nautical nonsense called Eight Bells. Two years later Pathe signed him to star in several 1-reel shorts and it wouldn’t be long before Arthur would graduate to become a fully-fledged movie star.

The catalyst was the BBC’s new weekly variety hour called Band Waggon which premiered in January 1938. With Askey as the show’s “resident comedian”, the venture was notable in being granted a regular weekly timeslot (on Wednesday nights), an uncommon practice for the broadcaster, which invariably aired episodes at different times and on different days as a series progressed.

Band Waggon’s early scripts were fairly uninspired and things didn’t look optimistic for a lengthy run. Facing imminent cancellation, the team recruited a foil for Arthur in the person of newcomer Richard Murdoch and, with nothing to lose, the pair began injecting a more flippant approach to the proceedings. The show quickly found its mark and by the end of an 18-week season had become a huge success with listeners across the nation.

Arthur and Dickie (or “Big” and “Stinker” as they began calling themselves) were back with a second season later in the year and were soon signed for stage and movie adaptations of the programme. Arthur’s gramophone company H.M.V. also arranged for the pair to perform a handful of sketches for 78rpm release and issued a 3-disc recording of highlights of the show’s final broadcast in March 1939.

But Band Waggon wasn’t quite ready to end, as fate would have it. Six months later, the Second World War began and the team was hastily reassembled for a third series to help promote the nation’s morale. Soon after that ‘final’ final run, Askey and Murdoch headed for France to entertain troops in the weeks leading up to the Nazi invasion (with newsreel footage and another record release preserving part of a performance).

Back in Britain, the pair was back in front of the movie cameras for three more features (including versions of the evergreens Charley’s Aunt and The Ghost Train) before Richard Murdoch enlisted in the R.A.F. and headed off to create the radio classic Much-Binding-in-the-Marsh.

Arthur was now working solo again, on the big screen with more Gainsborough pictures and (from August 1941) in a radio series for the BBC’s newly set up Forces Network. Throughout the 1940s he broadcast in numerous comedy series and variety specials (often at Christmas), as well as starring in several stage productions and pantomimes. In 1946 Arthur made his first Royal Variety appearance and was invited back many times over the years.

In 1949 Askey agreed to take his latest West End success The Love Racket to far off Australia for a twelve-month tour and while there appeared on A.B.C. radio in his own half-hour comedy series, which ran for two seasons.

Soon after his return to Britain, Arthur was in front of the new-fangled BBC television cameras and soon made the medium his own, appearing in numerous series over the next dozen years. And when commercial TV began in the mid-1950s, he and Dickie Murdoch revived their partnership by adapting the Band Waggon format to a visual setting in a series called Living It Up.

His huge success on the small screen brought Arthur back to the big screen as well, with starring roles in a number of features for British Lion (including Ramsbottom Rides Again and Make Mine a Million, both with Sidney James). And while all this was happening, BBC radio starred Askey in several seasons of shows.

By the 60s, Arthur’s career was finally slowing down with pantomimes and live appearances taking up most of his time. In 1970 he joined Jimmy Edwards and Ted Ray as a regular panellist on the long-running Does the Team Think? (Askey had been on a few editions in the late-1950s as well) and stayed with the show until it ended in 1976.

A year earlier he’d penned his autobiography Before Your Very Eyes and as an elder statesman of show business had become a regular judge on the ITV talent show New Faces.

Incredibly Arthur had not yet finished with the medium responsible for his initial success … in 1981 he was back starring in a series of one hour variety programmes for BBC Radio, with a second season airing the following year.

It was a final hurrah for one of Britain’s best-loved comedians. Health problems appeared soon after, and Arthur Askey died later that year, aged 82. 



Pathe Pictorial #115: The Bee (1937 Pathe short)
Calling All Stars (1937 British Lion)
Pathe Pictorial #?: The Moth (1937 Pathe short)
Pathe Pictorial #?: Chirrup (1938 Pathe short)
Band Waggon (1939 Gainsborough)
Charley’s (Big Hearted) Aunt (1940 Gainsborough)
The Ghost Train (1941 Gainsborough)
I Thank You (1941 Gainsborough)
Back Room Boy (1942 Gainsborough)
King Arthur Was A Gentleman (1942 Gainsborough)
The Nose Has It (1942 short)
Miss London Ltd. (1943 Gainsborough)
Bees In Paradise (1944 Gainsborough)
The Love Match (1954 British Lion)
Ramsbottom Rides Again (1955 British Lion)
Skilful Soccer (1956 short)
Make Mine A Million (1958 British Lion)
Friends And Neighbours (1959 British Lion)
The Alf Garnett Saga (1972 Columbia/Associated-London)
End Of Term (1977 short)



Eight Bells
BBC from April 16 1935 (occasional series) 

Band Waggon
Series 1: BBC National Network January 5 to May 4 1938 (5 x 45 min and 13 x 60 min)
Series 2: BBC National Network October 5 1938 to March 15 1939 (24 x 60 min)
Series 3: BBC National Network September 16 to December 2 1939 (not Nov 11) (11 x 60 min)
(plus revivals on November 13 1947, January 15 and March 26 1951, December 28 1972)
See laughterlog’s BAND WAGGON file in the RADIO section for further details

E.N.S.A. Concerts
BBC Forces Network April 25 1940 (60 min) 

Grand Variety Gala from the London Palladium
BBC Forces Network May 5 1940 (2 hours)

Christmas Star Variety
BBC Home and Forces Networks December 25 1940 (60 min)

King Pins of Comedy
BBC Forces Network February 3 1941 (15 min)

Big’s Broadcast
BBC Forces Network August 1 to September 19 1941 (8 x 30 min)

Big Time
BBC Forces Network February 15 to March 22 1942 (6 x 45 min)

Christmas Night at Eight
BBC Home Service December 25 1944 (60 min)

Victory Night at Eight
BBC Home Service May 14 1945 (60 min)

Forever Arthur
BBC Light Programme April 22 to September 2 1946 (20 x 30 min)

Christmas Crackers
BBC Light Programme December 24 1946 (75 min)

Arthur Askey’s Christmas Party
BBC Home Service December 25 1946 (30 min)

Arthur’s Big-Hearted Jubilee
BBC Light Programme November 11 1947 (30 min)

Arthur Askey’s Christmas Party
BBC Home Service December 25 1947 (30 min)

Arthur’s Blank Holiday
BBC Light Programme March 29 1948 (30 min)

Arthur’s Wonderland Christmas
BBC Light Programme December 26 1948 (30 min)

Pantomania (or Little Big Jack-In-Boots and his Magic Bottle)
BBC Home Service December 27 1948 (60 min)

BBC Light Programme January 20 to April 7 1949 (12 x 30 min)

Arthur’s Upside Down Christmas
BBC Home Service December 24 1949 (30 min)

The National Radio Awards
BBC Light Programme January 12 1950 (60 min)

The Arthur Askey Show
ABC Radio (3AR Melbourne, Australia)
Series 1: January 1 and February 12 to March 19 1950 (7 x 30 min)
Series 2: July 16 to September 17 1950 (10 x 30 min)

Arthur’s Return
BBC Home Service December 27 1950 (30 min)

Music Hall
BBC Home Service September 29 to November 3 1951 (6 x 60 min)

Arthur’s Inn
BBC Light Programme June 17 to September 2 1952 (12 x 30 min)

The Hundredth Boat Race
BBC Home Service April 2 1954 (45 min)

Hello Playmates
Series 1: BBC Home Service May 31 to July 19 1954 (6 x 30 min)
Series 2: BBC Home Service December 16 1954 to March 31 1955 (13 x 30 min)
also August 1 and December 26 1955, December 25 1957, May 26 and August 4 1958

The Laughtermakers
BBC Home Service January 18 1957 (30 min)

Askey Galore
BBC Home Service January 30 to April 17 1957 (12 x 30 min)

Hail Pantomime
BBC Home Service December 26 1957 (30 min)

The Arthur Askey Show
BBC Light Programme September 30 to December 23 1958 (13 x 30 min)

The Arthur Askey Story
BBC Home Service April 2 1959 (60 min)

Does The Team Think?
BBC Light Programme/Radio 4 (1957 to 1976) (30 min)
After appearing in 10 editions in the early years of this long-running series, Arthur became a regular participant in the 1970s (series 16 to 20)
See laughterlog’s DOES THE TEAM THINK? file in the RADIO section for full details

Star Parade: Arthur Askey Time
BBC Light Programme May 2 1963 (30 min)

Comedy Parade: Askey Rides Again
BBC Light programme September 3 1964 (30 min)

Arthur’s 70th Birthday
BBC Radio 4 June 6 1970 (60 min)

Before Your Very Eyes (book reading)
BBC Radio 4 June 30 to July 11 1975 (Mon – Fri) (10 x 25 min)

It’s a Funny Business
BBC Radio 2 April 11 1978 (30 min)

Askey and Murdoch’s Hall Of Fame
BBC Radio 4 December 26 1978 (60 min)

Puss in Boots
BBC Radio 2 December 25 1979 (60 min)

Askey’s Hall Of Fame
BBC Radio 4 June 22 to July 27 and October 13 to November 3 1980 (10 x 10 min)

The Arthur Askey Variety Show
Series 1: BBC Radio 2 April 7 to May 12 1981 (6 x 60 min)
Series 2: BBC Radio 2 March 30 to May 4 1982 (6 x 60 min)


Big-Hearted Arthur
BBC Radio 2 December 9 1982 (60 min)


Arthur Askey
BBC August 10 and September 7 1951, and March 17 1955 (3 x 15 min)

Before Your Very Eyes
Series 1: BBC April 6 to May 4 1952 fortnightly (3 x 15 min)
Series 2: BBC February 18 to April 29 1953 fortnightly (6 x 30 min)
Series 3: BBC February 18 to April 15 1955 fortnightly (5 x 30 min)
Series 4: ITV February 10 to April 20 1956 fortnightly (6 x 25 min)
Series 5: ITV October 26 to December 7 1956 fortnightly (4 x 25 min)
Series 6: ITV November 18 to December 16 1957 fortnightly (3 x 25 min)
special: ITV April 21 1958 (1 x 25 min) (a second programme, scheduled for May 5, was cancelled owing to illness)

Love And Kisses
ITV November 4 to December 2 1955 (5 x 25 min)

Arthur’s Anniversary
ITV March 15 1957

Living It Up
Series 1: ITV April 12 to May 10 1957 fortnightly (3 x 25 min)
Series 2: ITV October 27 to December 1 1958 (6 x 25 min)

The Arthur Askey Show
ITV February 28, September 12, October 24 and December 5 1959, July 23 and September 3 1960 (6 x 60 min)

Arthur’s Treasured Volumes
ITV May 2 to June 6 1960 (6 x 25 min)
A Blow in Anger
The History of Mr. Lacey
The Command Performer
Pillbeam of Twickenham
A Slight Case of Deception
The Curse of the Bellfoots

The Arthur Askey Show
ITV March 11 to April 22 1961 (not Apr 1) (6 x 25 min)
The Great Pilbeamo
The Movie Mogul
Pilbeam the Journalist
The Rhino’s Night Out
A Musical Evening
The Sinister Neighbour

Raise Your Glasses
BBC October 14 to December 16 1962 fortnightly (5 x 45 min)
also a segment in Christmas Night with the Stars: December 25 1962

No Strings
ITV (North) January 29 1967 (25 min)


(* signifies Richard Murdoch also appears)

The Bee Song/Chirrup
H.M.V. 78rpm BD 552 (Apr 28 1938)

I Pulled Myself Together/Ding Dong Bell
H.M.V. 78rpm BD 619 (Dec 2 1938)

Have A Bit Of Pity On The Crooner/Woof! Yap! Bow-Wow-Wow!
H.M.V. 78rpm BD 650 (Dec 2 1938)

The Cuckoo/All To Specification
H.M.V. 78rpm BD 656 (Jan 12 1939)

* Band Waggon (6 parts)
H.M.V. 3x78rpm BD 693/5 (Mar 15 1939)
live recording taken from the final broadcast of the 2nd season

The Worm/Knitting
H.M.V. 78rpm BD 739 (Jan 12 & Jul 20 1939)

(We’re Gonna Hang Out) The Washing On The Siegfried Line/Adolph
H.M.V. 78rpm BD 756 (Sep 27 1939)

How Ashamed I Was/Kiss Me Goodnight Sergeant-Major
H.M.V. 78rpm BD 757 (Sep 27 1939)

Oh! Ain’t It Grand To Be In The Navy?/Down At The Hole In The Wall
H.M.V. 78rpm BD 765 (Nov 8 1939)

Crash, Bang! I Want To Go Home/Willow, Tit Willow
H.M.V. 78rpm BD 766 (Nov 8 1939)

* Blacking Out The Flat (2 parts)
H.M.V. 78rpm BD 764 (Nov 9 1939)

* Big And Stinker’s Parlour Games (2 parts)
H.M.V. 78rpm BD 784 (Nov 13 1939)

I’ll Remember/I’m Sending A Letter To Santa Claus
H.M.V. 78rpm BD 778 (Nov 28 1939)

Follow The White Line/F.D.R. Jones
H.M.V. 78rpm BD 781 (Nov 28 1939)

All Through A Glass Of Champagne/Please Leave My Butter Alone
H.M.V. 78rpm BD 798 (Jan 7 1940)

Good Morning/It’s A Hap-Hap-Happy Day
H.M.V. 78rpm BD 813 (Jan 7 1940)

Give A Little Whistle/Turn On The Old Music Box
H.M.V. 78rpm BD 825 (Feb 25 1940)

A Ballad/The Quest
H.M.V. 78rpm BD 832 (Feb 25 1940)

Two Little Doodle Bugs/C’est La Guerre
H.M.V. 78rpm BD 840 (Apr 14 1940)

* Big And Stinker Minding The Baby (2 parts)
H.M.V. 78rpm BD 841 (Apr 14 1940)

* The Proposal (2 parts)
H.M.V. 12″ 78rpm C 3173 (Apr 25 1940)
recorded live in France

The Seagull Song/* More Chestnut Corner
H.M.V. 78rpm BD 855 (Apr 25 1940)
recorded live in France

* Big And Stinker’s Moment Musical/Talking Shop
H.M.V. 78rpm BD 870 (Jul 21 1940)

Sarah, Sarah/She Was Very, Very Shy
H.M.V. 78rpm BD 861 (Aug 29 1940)

Fanny, Fanny/Get In Your Shelter
H.M.V. 78rpm BD 880 (Nov 4 1940)

Bless ‘Em All/Sweetheart Of The Fleet
H.M.V. 78rpm BD 891 (Dec 1 1940)

They’ve Blown All The Feathers Off The Nightingale (In Berkeley Square)/Early In The Morning
H.M.V. 78rpm BD 899 (Dec 1 1940)

When That Man Is Dead And Gone/Come And Have A Drink At The Victory Arms
H.M.V. 78rpm BD 919 (Mar 21 1941)

Alice In Wonderland: When The Wind Is In The East
H.M.V. 12″ 78rpm C 3244 (Apr 25 1941)

Marching With The Foreign Legion/I Love My Work
H.M.V. 78rpm BD 925 (May 23 1941)

The Stuttering Sergeant/Thanks For Dropping In, Mr. Hess
H.M.V. 78rpm BD 934 (May 23 1941)

The Channel Swimmer/The Fair Rosamond
H.M.V. 78rpm BD 942 (May 23 1941)

Fed Up And Far From Home/Mister Brown Of London Town
H.M.V. 78rpm BD 951 (Aug 22 1941)

The Pixie/The Budgerigar
H.M.V. 78rpm BD 957 (Aug 22 1941)

You Mustn’t Forget The Girl You Left Behind/Hello To The Sun
H.M.V. 78rpm BD 976 (Oct 24 1941)

The Baa-Lamb/The Death-Watch Beetle
H.M.V. 78rpm BD 984 (Oct 24 1941)

What A Nice Lot Of Nazis They Are/The Thing-Ummy-Bob
H.M.V. 78rpm BD 989 (Jan 9 1942)

The Bunny Rabbit/The Frog
H.M.V. 78rpm BD 996 (Jan 9 1942)

The Ant/The ‘Flu Germ
H.M.V. 78rpm BD 1002 (Mar 15 1942)

It’s Spring Again/I Want A Banana
H.M.V. 78rpm BD 1004 (Apr 10 1942)

Arthur Askey At The Piano (2 parts)
H.M.V. 78rpm BD 1005 (May 8 1942)

Hold Your Hats On/Twenty-One Shillings A Day – Once A Week
H.M.V. 78rpm BD 1015 (Jul 30 1942)

King Wenceslas – A Christmas Play (4 parts)
H.M.V. 2×10″ 78rpm C 3640/1 (Sep 12 1947)

The Christening/Ev’ry Little Piggy’s Got A Curly Tail
H.M.V. 78rpm BD 1236 (Jan 24 1949)

Ta Ever So/Eat, Drink And Be Merry (duet with Julie Wilson)
Columbia 78rpm DB 3047 (Feb 27 1952)

Now Is The Moment (duet with Julie Wilson)/Julie Wilson vocal
Columbia 78rpm DX 1825 (Mar 10 1952)

The Zebra Song/The Seaside Band
Decca 78rpm F 9944 (May 21 1952)

Hello Playmates
Oriole LP MG 20017, Planet/Galaxy GG 010
(late-1950s recordings)
The Bee
The Penguin
The Worm
I’m A Little Wrong Note
Chirrup, Chirrup
The Pixie
The Seagull
The Winkle
The Band
The Christening
The Moth

Alice In Wonderland/Through The Looking Glass
E.M.I./Encore LP ENC 137 (1960s)
Arthur plays the Mad Hatter

Before Your Very Eyes
Decca/Argo LP ZDA 173
(1976 recordings)
All to Specification
The Bee Song
The Christening
Chirrup Chirrup
The Villain Still Pursued Her
The Seagull
The Moth Song
The Budgerigar
The Seaside Band
Fighting With the Foreign Legion
The Pixie
The Worm
A Ballad (I Love the Swallows Flying By)
The Death Watch Beetle
Big Hearted Arthur

78rpm reissues on EP

Hello Playmates
H.M.V. 7eg 8294 (1950s)
The Bee Song
The Worm


78rpm reissues on LP

Big Hearted Arthur Askey And His Silly Little Songs
E.M.I./Music For Pleasure MFP 1177 (late 1960s)
The Bee Song
The Worm
The Seagull Song
The Budgerigar
The Pixie
The Death Watch Beetle
The Baa Lamb
The Frog
The Bunny Rabbit
The Flu-Germ
The Ant

Memories of Band Waggon, Happidrome and Other Great Wireless Comedy Shows
E.M.I./World Records SH 388 (1980)
includes the 6-part H.M.V. 78rpm set of Band Waggon’s final second season broadcast

The Golden Age Of Arthur Askey
E.M.I. GX 2548 (198?)
The Bee Song
Only A Glass Of Champagne
Ding Dong Bell
All To Specification
Turn On The Old Music Box
The Proposal (2 parts)*
Sarah, Sarah
The Cuckoo
Give A Little Whistle
Talking Shop*
She Was Very, Very Shy
At The Piano
Now Is The Moment

78rpm reissues on cassette 

Hello Playmates
Comedy Club GAGMCO13
Band Waggon (6 parts)*
The Proposal (2 parts)*
The Bee Song
Have A Bit Of Pity On The Crooner
Woof! Yap! Bow-Wow-Wow
Follow The White Line
Big And Stinker Minding The Baby*
Talking Shop*
Big And Stinker’s Moment Musical*
More Chestnut Corner*
The Seagull Song
(We’re Gonna Hang Out) The Washing On The Siegfried Line 78rpm reissues on Compact Disc

78rpm reissues on CD

Band Waggon
Pearl/Flapper PAST CD 9729 (1991)
Band Waggon (6 parts)*
(We’re Gonna Hang Out) The Washing on the Siegfried Line
Big and Stinker’s Moment Musical*
The Worm
Big and Stinker’s Parlour Games*
The Seagull Song
The Proposal (2 parts)*
Kiss Me Goodnight, Sergeant-Major
How Ashamed I Was
The Bee Song

The Best of Arthur Askey
Empress RAJCD 885 (1997)
The Bee Song
Have a Bit of Pity on the Crooner
Knitting Chirrup
Two Little Doodlebugs
The Worm
C’est La Guerre
The Guest
I Pulled Myself Together
Ding Dong Bell
A Ballad
She Was Very Shy
Sarah, Sarah
Follow the White Line
F.D.R. Jones
The Seagull Song
Minding the Baby (2 parts)*
The Thing-Ummy-Bob
Band Waggon (6 parts)*

Hello Playmates
E.M.I./Music For Pleasure 7243 8 57205 2 9 (1997)
reissue of LP The Golden Age of Arthur Askey

Big Hearted Arthur Askey
Living Era CD AJA 5444 (2002)
The Bee Song
I Pulled Myself Together|
Ding Dong Dell
The Cuckoo
All to Specification
The Worm
(We’re Gonna Hang Out) The Washing on the Siegfried Line
How Ashamed I Was
Kiss Me Goodnight, Sergeant Major
Big and Stinker’s Parlour Games
The Seagull Song
More Chestnut Corner
Sarah, Sarah
She Was Very, Very Shy
Early In the Morning
The Channel Swimmer
The Pixie
It’s Spring Again
I Want a Banana
The Christening
Ev’ry Little Piggy’s Got A Curly Tail
A Ballad
Follow the White Line

Big Hearted Arthur
Castle/Pulse CD PLSCD 734 (2005)
The Bee Song
All to Specification
Hold Your Hats On
The Worm
Twenty One Shillings A Day Once A Week
The Cuckoo
Hello to the Sun
Follow the White Line
The Pixie
You Mustn’t Forget the Girl You Left Behind
F.D.R. Jones
Get In Your Shelter
Have a Bit of Pity on the Crooner
The Budgerigar
The Thing-Ummy-Bob
Come and Have a Drink at the ‘Victory Arms’
Fanny, Fanny
When That Man Is Dead and Gone

Band Waggon & Big Hearted Arthur Goes To War
CD41 CD 012 (2006)
Band Waggon – The Final Broadcast (parts 1 to 6)
The Bee Song
Chestnut Corner (1939)
It’s A Hap-Hap-Happy Day
The Proposal
Big and Stinker’s Parlour Games
Big and Stinker’s Moment Musical
(We’re Gonna Hang Out) The Washing on the Siegfried Line
What a Nice Lot Of Nazis
I Want a Banana
Get In Your Shelter
The Thing-Ummy-Bob
Kiss Me Goodnight, Sergeant Major
Thanks for Dropping In, Mr. Hess
When That Man Is Dead and Gone

The Best of Arthur Askey – The Bee Song
Delta 26600 (2008)
(same tracks as Living Era CD Big Hearted Arthur Askey)
The Pixie
Follow the White Line
I Want a Banana
Sarah! Sarah!
A Ballad
The Bee Song
It’s Spring Again
Early in the Morning
Ev’ry Little Piggy’s Got a Curly Tail
Ding Dong Dell
More Chestnut Corner
She was Very, Very Shy
Big and Stinker’s Parlour Games
All to Specification
How Ashamed I Was
The Christening
The Worm
(We’re Gonna Hang Out the Washing on) the Siegfried Line
Kiss Me Goodnight, Sergeant Major
I Pulled Myself Together
The Seagull Song
The Cuckoo
The Channel Swimmer 



Before Your Very Eyes
by Arthur Askey (Woburn Press, 1975)


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