At the peak of his fame Arthur Askey commanded a huge following and was certainly one of the country's leading comedy acts. However, it is unlikely that his material would appeal to a modern audience and many seeing this diminutive (he was just 5' 3”) figure perform his famous ‘busy bee’ routine would presume it had been devised for children's entertainment. And not very sophisticated children at that. Click here to see it on YouTube. It shows how fashions change. There is always the outside chance too that one might become a devotee.
Arthur Askey was born in ‘The Holy Land’ Liverpool on 6 June 1900. This was the area of streets off Park Road, Toxteth which bore the names of people from the bible. His abode was 29 Moses Street but when he was just 6 months old the family moved ‘up in the world’ to 90 Rosslyn Street, not far away but sufficient to say they now lived in Aigburth. In 1911 the family moved again, a full two streets away to 58 Sandhurst Street, a home which his father purchased for £300. He was educated at St Michael's School and the Liverpool Institute and on leaving school worked for Liverpool Corporation in the education office.
Askey developed an early passion for the concert party style entertainment which could be seen locally at the Olympian Gardens in Rock Ferry and on his holidays at Rhyl and the Isle of Man. Before long he had formed his own troupe, The Filberts, and his success in amateur performances soon brought him professional work. He departed the education offices to become a full-time entertainer and shortly after his marriage in 1925 he moved to London. For most of the next dozen years Askey derived the bulk of his income from after-dinner entertaining, a not inconsiderable earner as he would often do two or three a night and charge up to 5 guineas.
His transformation to national star came in 1938 when he was taken on by the BBC for their new radio show, Band Waggon , in which he co-starred with Richard Murdoch. The show was a huge success and ran until 1940 when Murdoch joined the RAF by which time Askey was firmly established as a pioneer of the art of radio comedy. During the war years he also pursued a successful film career including Band Waggon (1940) based on the radio show.
continued to appear on radio, stage, TV and film well into the 1970s, becoming
familiar to an audience who might never have seen his own act as a panellist on
the ITV talent show New Faces . He
was awarded the OBE in 1969 and the CBE in 1981. In 1975 he published an
autobiography entitled Before Your Very Eyes.
Following a heart attack in 1978 his health failed and he died in London in
1982. He is buried in Putney Vale Cemetery.
Askey appeared twice on Desert Island Discs. 1980 and 1968 (click date to gear on BBC Sounds). He also appeared twice on the TV Show This Is Your Life a clip of which can be found on You Tube.
The back of the autographed photo shown above bears an interesting 'wartime' note from Askey.
There is a host of material on the internet regarding Arthur Askey. A biography entitled I Thank You: The Arthur Askey Story by Anthony Slide was published in 2020 but I have as yet not read it. Askey's autobiography Before Your Very Eyes [1975 Woburn Press] is a pleasant enough read with his early days in Liverpool covered in reasonable depth.
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