When it comes to great ventriloquists, you can forget Keith Harris and his duck Orville – and even Roger De Courcey and Nookie Bear.
Ray Alan and Lord Charles don’t get a look-in either.
For two of the most brilliant practitioners of the craft came from right here in Oldham.
They were so good that legendary TV host Ed Sullivan invited them back to the USA to star in his show year after year.
And one became so famous that the Beatles were booked to appear on his music show in the 1960s!
The local ventriloquists were Terry Hall and Arthur Worsley. But perhaps they were better known for their alter egos – Lenny the Lion and Charlie Brown.
Lenny the Lion was probably the first non-human dummy used in a vent act. His catchphrase ‘Aw, don’t embawass me’ was widely heard on radio and TV in the 1950s and 60s.
Hall and Lenny made their first TV appearance on the BBC variety show Dress Rehearsal in 1956. The programme also marked the debut of another Oldham entertainer, Eric Sykes.
One year later, the Lenny the Lion show was prime-time TV. The programme was broadcast from 1957 to 1960, swiftly followed by Lenny’s Den in 1961.
The music show Pops and Lenny, which ran from 1962 to 1963, saw the Beatles make one of their very first TV appearances. They performed the singles Please, Please Me and From Me to You.
Not to miss out, Hall released his own single, Lenny’s Bath Time, in 1963. The ‘B’ side was entitled Lenny Has a Cold!
Born in Chadderton in November 1926, Hall attended St Patrick’s School in Oldham and De La Salle College in Pendleton. Show business was in his blood as his parents ran a working men’s club.
Lenny was not Hall’s original dummy. The ventriloquist won his first talent show at the age of 15 with a boy doll called Mickey Finn.
Lenny arrived in 1954 after Hall gained inspiration from a visit to Blackpool Zoo during a summer season at the seaside town.
Initially the dummy had a fearsome set of teeth, but singer Anne Shelton said they were far too scary for young children. Hall created the bashful Lenny as a result.
Hall’s career carried on into the 1970s with appearances on children’s programmes like Crackerjack, but he never scaled the heights of the 1950s and 60s again.
Throughout his life, Hall was a passionate Oldham Athletic supporter. He died in Coventry in 2007 at the age of 80.
Hall first appeared on the Ed Sullivan show in 1958 – but he was eclipsed by fellow Oldham ventriloquist Arthur Worsley and his dummy Charlie Brown.
Sullivan described Worsley as the greatest ventriloquist in the world and booked him to appear on his TV show for ten years in a row!
In January 1957, Worsley featured on what would become Elvis Presley’s final appearance on the show. There were more than 50 million viewers.
Worsley’s technique was remarkable. He never spoke, instead letting his dummy Charlie Brown do all the talking. He’d often shout the words ‘bottle of beer’ to show off his technique as the letter ‘b’ was notoriously difficult to say without moving the lips.
Born in Failsworth in October 1920, Worsley made his first stage appearance aged 11 at the Casino in Rusholme.
He found international fame in the 1950s, playing the London Palladium and leading theatres in Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and the USA.
Like Hall, Worsley made many TV appearances – including working with Morecambe and Wise. Charlie Brown’s retort of ‘Look at me, son, when I’m talking to you’ became a household phrase.
Worsley retired from the stage in 1983 and never performed with Charlie Brown again. He died in Blackpool in 2001, aged 80.
Worsley and Hall were only really matched in the 1950s by Peter Brough and his smartly dressed dummy Archie.
The duo had established a huge radio following in the 1940s with their programme Educating Archie, which transferred to TV in 1956. Oddly enough, the main writer was Eric Sykes.
*Readers can revel in the past 150 years with a brilliant anniversary book from the M.E.N. and local publishers iNostalgia.
The Changing Face of Manchester: Second Edition is packed with past images of Manchester contrasted with modern photos of how the same scenes look now.
The book retails at £14.99, but M.E.N. readers can order it for the reduced price of £9.99 plus postage and packing.
Just go to inostalgia.co.uk to place your order or telephone the order hotline on 01928 503777.