MARCH 2020 - STAGECRAFT
The eagerly-awaited visit of Freddie Davies attracted a pleasing turnout of members, along with guests from St Silas and St Francis and magicians from as far away as Carlisle.
Freddie explained his early associations with Blackburn, his first ad in the character of the lisping Samuel Tweet being for Thwaites stout.
Beginning with a resume of his life in show business, Freddie mentioned his apprenticeship at Butlins with Leslie Melville (aka Percy Piecrust), who we were delighted to have with us from Blackpool.
Coincidentally, Freddie had begun his performing life with a silent Chinese conjuring act, and his very first television appearance (just prep-dating Opportunity Knocks) was as a sleight-of-hand magician. He performed some nifty moves with thimbles in memory of this.
The big break for ‘Parrotface’, of course, came with Opportunity Knocks in August 1964, when he became a household name, literally overnight. He embarked upon a career in show-business which was to encompass directing, producing and being an agent as well as performing on stage and screen. He was a regular favourite in pantomime and on cruise ships, and appeared in all the UK’s major theatres, including the London Palladium. He had his own children’s television programme, appeared in character parts in several others and was even a comic book character as his alter ego. Among his self-proclaimed fans were Judy Garland, Cliff Richard and Carry Grant, who brought his daughter to see the show and humbly requested an autograph. Roles in the legitimate theatre included the inspector in an ill-fated Agatha Christie drama and a much more successful part with the Royal Shakespeare Company in Adrian Noble’s production of The Secret Garden, which allowed the unheard-of luxury of a ten-week rehearsal period. Freddie was even able to introduce a touch of magic into the play, explaining the workings of a gimmicked gardening fork which allowed a robin to apparently fly away.
A significant segment of the afternoon dealt with Stagecraft, Freddie commenting that he was working that day ‘under laboratory conditions’, with an excellent stage and technical facilities. He stressed the importance of the basics – being seen and heard and standing still in the centre of the stage. He demonstrated how to enter and how to take a bow, and warned against the error of going down into the audience in the mistaken belief that this brought you closer. In fact, the opposite was true and contact was lost.
Freddie was greatly influenced by his grandfather, Jack Herbert, and is justifiably proud of the film Funny Bones, based upon his act. In this quirky tale, a failed American comic comes over to trace his family’s roots in Blackpool, hoping to find inspiration. The star-studded cast list includes Jerry Lewis, Oliver Reed, George Carl, Lee Evans and Leslie Caron. Freddie showed excerpts from the film, along with his first appearance on Opportunity Knocks – miraculously the only programme which survives from the series. We also learned how to trip up the stairs!
Although Freddie rejected the notion that this was a ‘masterclass’ he did, indeed, illustrate his mastery of the art of comedy and performance in general, and gave generously of his time and advice. It was a memorable afternoon.