Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Goodbye My Darlings...

Sad to read this morning of the death of a significant entertainer.

Not James Brown but a diminutive little chap called Charlie Drake.

Drake, born Charles Springall in the London borough of Elephant And Castle in 1925, stood just 5 feet, one inch tall but for two or three decades he was a relative giant of British comedy, carving out a niche as a hapless common man, best typified in his TV series The Worker (1965).

He also had an incredible talent for slapstick, performing his own stunts and paving the way for the likes of Michael Crawford in Some Mothers Do 'Ave 'Em. Such physical comedy was not without its risks, however:

Filming of the Charlie Drake Show by the BBC was cut short, however, by a serious accident that occurred in 1961, during a live transmission. Drake had arranged for a bookcase to be set up in such a way that it would fall apart during a slapstick sketch in which he was pulled through it. It was later discovered that an over-enthusiastic workman had "mended" the bookcase before the broadcast. The actors working with him, unaware of what had happened, proceeded with the rest of the sketch which required that they pick him up and throw him through an open window. Drake fractured his skull and was unconscious for three days. It was two years before he returned to the screen.
A London Telegraph obit adds:

During his career he broke several ribs and fingers; his right leg and left arm; and he cracked most of the bones in his neck and skull.
But Drake's manager for 37 years, Laurie Mansfield, called him:

"...perhaps the last of the great slapstick comedians, who combined both verbal humour with knockabout comedy. His timing was acknowledged by everybody as being the very very best..."
However, he also admitted Drake was a difficult man to work with:

"He was probably the most stubborn man I ever met. He knew what he wanted and would not accept compromise on getting what he wanted."
It led to Drake having run-ins with Actors Equity in the UK , causing a protracted dispute that cost him 100,000 pounds, and dimmed his rising star in the US when he:

...walked out of America's Ed Sullivan Show and never worked in the country again, because producers would not allow him to do a (slapstick) routine the way he wanted...
Drake, who also released a string of comedy records including the gloriously (now) politically incorrect My Boomerang Won't Come Back, switched from comedy to straight acting later in his career and retired in 1995 following a stroke. He passed away Christmas Eve.

Drake's co-star in The Worker was later Benny Hill Show sidekick Henry McGee who also died this year.

At this rate, we'll soon be out of comedians who could make people laugh with a look, a catchphrase (Drake's was a cheeky 'Hello my darlings!') or just plain genuinely funny writing - and not a single four-letter word within earshot.

Thanks Charlie, it was nice knowing you.

-- Nick

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