(1930 – 2010)
English ventriloquist Ray Alan was born in Greenwich, London on the 18th of September, 1930. He grew up in south east London and attended the Morden Terrace School in nearby Lewisham until the age of 14.
At age 5, Alan entered a talent contest. It was this performance at the Gaumont cinema, a local spot, that introduced him to the world of entertainment.
At the age of 13, Alan got a job as a call-boy at the Lewisham Hippodrome Theatre. A budding magician, he started to do magic sets on stage between the other acts. Shortly thereafter he started to entertain at private functions. In addition to his magic, he also did impressions and played the ukulele.
During this time, he learned and introduced ventriloquism into his act. He pretended voices were coming from boxes and wanted them to be heard.
Alan didn’t perform his first official show as a ventriloquist until he was 19.
In 1954, Ray had the chance to perform with the comedy legends Laurel and Hardy. Stan Laurel provided inspiration for the look of Alan’s most famous creation, Lord Charles.
The monocled Lord Charles was originally inspired by a “boozy toff” Alan spotted at a table during a cabaret show.
According to Alan: “I looked at Stan Laurel’s face and I thought, Good God, that’s the face I want – just change the hair and put a monocle on it.”
So Allen played around with some photographs of Stan to find the face he wanted. Then he went to the man who made his ventriloquist figures and showed him what he wanted. The results were the famous Lord Charles.
Lord Charles’ catchphrases “You silly arse” and “Blurry fool,” caught on. He would often be distracted by glamorous women in the audience, much to Ray’s chagrin.
Lord Charles first appeared in a charity show at Wormwood Scrubs Prison, London.
Alan realized the damage television could do to ventriloquists. It was obvious they were “throwing” their voices into a dummy. The close up nature of the medium made any lip movement visible.
“Ten rows back at the Woolwich Empire it didn’t matter if the vent’s mouth was moving or not. But when TV came along, I knew I wasn’t going to be able to make a living doing ‘gottle of geer’ and ‘grown gread and gutter’ for the rest of my life.”
The fact that Lord Charles spoke with drunken slur allowed Alan to speak with a minimum of mouth movement. This served him well under the scrutiny of the television cameras.
Technically, Ray Alan had lips of stone. You couldn’t see his mouth moving. He was regarded as the top ventriloquist in Britain.
Alan made his television debut with Lord Charles on the BBC programme “The Good Old Days” in the 1960s. The pair became regular guests on the show.
The 1960s also found Ray appearing on a children’s programme, Tich and Quackers. Tich was a small boy with Quackers being his pet duck.
Alan began making many television appearances in addition to his international touring schedule. Ray was a guest on game shows such as Celebrity Squares, Give Us A Clue, Family Fortunes, Bullseye, 3-2-1 and The Bob Monkhouse Show. He also appeared on Sunday Night At The London Palladium.
Ray became the host/presenter of two game shows, Where in the World and the children’s quiz show It’s Your Word.
He also hosted Cartoon Carnival and appeared on The Des O’Connor Show and Blue Peter.
He was host of the BBC’s Ice Show in both 1969 and 1970.
In 1974 and 1975, Alan appeared on the popular radio series The Impressionists for Radio 2. He guested several times, and then hosted the show from 1980 to 1988.
In 1977, Alan created the character Ali Cat for the HTV series Magic Circle.
When Bob Hope hosted his 82nd birthday show at London’s Lyric Theatre in 1985, Ray Alan was invited to peform. In 1986, Ray presented a show about ventriloquism on Channel 4, called A Gottle of Geer.
Alan continued to perform into his seventies. In the 1990s, he still appeared on television in both Britain and the U.S. Much of his work during this period was on cruise ships. In 1996 and 1997, he did shows on the P&O Canberra and Oriana world cruises and on the QE2. In 1998, he worked on the Royal Caribbean. When not at sea, he would perform at conferences and corporate events.
Ray Alan was also a prolific author. He wrote for artists Tony Hancock and Dave Allen. He also wrote for the shows Morecambe and Wise, The Two Ronnies, and Bootsie and Snudge. These were sometimes penned under the name Ray Whyberd.
Alan also wrote four novels, the first being Death and Deception which was published in 2007. This was followed by A Game of Murder in 2008, A Fear of Vengeance in 2010, and Retribution, which was published posthumously in 2011.
Alan’s last stage appearance was at a special charity concert
in November of 2008. At the end of his performance he received a standing ovation.
He then took a break from stage work due to ill health. Old age had made it difficult for Ray to manipulate Lord Charles. Alan did not rule out a return to the stage if his health permitted. Unfortunately that was not to be.
Alan passed away suddenly at his home in Reigate, Surrey, on the 24th of May, 2010 at the age of 79. He was survived by his wife, Jane.
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