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Richard E. Grant
In 1944, while ventriloquist Edgar Bergen and his dummy Charlie McCarthy (a smart-aleck schoolboy) were starring on American radio, Britons were tuning their home wireless sets to another smart-aleck schoolboy who was also a ventriloquist's dummy: Archie Andrews. (No relation to the American comic-book character of the same name.) The immensely popular Archie starred in his own radio programme 'Educating Archie' which ran until 1960, abetted by ventriloquist Peter Borough. Unlike his counterpart Edgar Bergen, Borough tended to stay in the background, preferring to let Archie bounce his wisecracks off a rotating series of comedians (including Tony Hancock) and guest stars. Eventually Archie made the transition to television, in a series titled 'Here's Archie' (because audiences were finally getting a look at him). In 1958, the format of the earlier radio show was adapted for television.
'Educating Archie' (TV version) ran on ITV from September 1958 until Christmas 1959. The first 13 episodes were transmitted fortnightly, not weekly, owing to the technical problems involved in manipulating Archie's wooden body in a convincing fashion. Regulars on this series included Irene Handl, Dick Emery in two roles (and different make-ups) as the gardener named George and a conniver named Monty, and Freddie Sales as the lodger. Although nominally a children's series (it aired before 7.00pm), 'Educating Archie' featured some sophisticated humour that adults could appreciate ... and the Dads in the audience enjoyed watching Sheena Marshe, a very sexy (and stacked) blonde who helped wooden-headed Archie get his education (and some more wood, too).
Whereas Charlie McCarthy rather improbably wore a top hat, tailcoat and monocle, Archie Andrews was dressed much more plausibly for a schoolboy, with a striped public-school scarf draped across his throat to conceal the join between his neck and his body. From a technical viewpoint, Peter Borough was an even less competent ventriloquist than Edgar Bergen: Borough's lips moved frequently (one reason why he preferred to stay in the background), and there were the inevitable "gottle of geer" jokes due to Borough's (Andrew's) inability to pronounce the plosive letters B and P whilst ventriloquising. By the way: ventriloquists dislike the word 'dummy': the preferred term for the puppet is the 'figure'.
Most of the comedy material in the TV version of 'Educating Archie' was written by Marty Feldman, in collaboration with several other scripters ... and Feldman's bizarre surrealistic humour was already solidly in place at this early date. Marty Feldman was not yet an on screen performer; his physical appearance was deemed too grotesque for sensitive viewers. It would be nice to see a face-to-face confrontation between wooden Archie and pop-eyed Marty (who resembled Mr Punch, the most famous puppet of them all), but this was not to be.
Peter Borough had never shown any great love for show business, and he hung up the dummy in 1961 in order to take over his family business, leaving the field clear for younger and better ventriloquists such as Arthur Worsley and his dummy Charlie Brown. (Why do so many English ventriloquists' dummies have the same names as American comic-book characters?) But Archie and Borough continued to make occasional TV appearances until Borough's death.
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