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Drake, Charlie (1925-2006)

Comedian, Actor, Writer

Main image of Drake, Charlie (1925-2006)

With his diminutive (5ft 1in) stature, blond curly hair, childlike manner and penchant for knockabout slapstick, Charlie Drake (born Charles Springall in London on 19 June 1925) was, particularly in the early years of his career, a popular comedian with children. However, upon broadening his appeal and finding a wider and more adult audience, he became one of the most popular entertainers on British television in the late 1950s and 1960s.

Drake appears to have made his television debut in an episode of The Centre Show (BBC) on 7 July 1953, in the period when he was an aspiring stand-up comic. In 1954, however, having failed to progress in this venture, he teamed up with lanky 6ft 4in comedian Jack Edwardes to form a double-act (they had first met during war service).

Following their 1954 appearance in the talent show Showcase (BBC), the distinctive-looking pair refashioned their act to appeal more to children, adopting the stage names 'Mick and Montmorency' (Drake was the latter). As such they made appearances in the children's magazine series Jigsaw (BBC, 1954-55), followed by Mick and Montmorency (ITV, 1955-58), occasionally billed under the title Jobstoppers.

Eager to break away from being seen as purely a children's entertainer, Drake had begun to appear as a solo act in guest spots on the BBC from 1956, and dissolved his partnership with Edwardes shortly after their last ITV series.

Co-writing all his material (which he did throughout his comedy career), he began to establish himself as a comedy star appealing to all age groups with Laughter in Store (BBC, tx. 3/1/1957), followed by such BBC series as Drake's Progress (1957-58), Charlie Drake In... (1958-60), and The Charlie Drake Show (1960-61).

This television fame led to four disappointing attempts at film stardom between 1960 and 1967: Sands of the Desert (d. John Paddy Carstairs, 1960), Petticoat Pirates (d. David MacDonald, 1961), The Cracksman (d. Peter Graham Scott, 1963) and Mr. Ten Per Cent (d. Peter Graham Scott, 1967).

In 1963, he returned to ITV, where he was to remain for the rest of his comedy career, apart from the one BBC series, The Charlie Drake Show (1967-68), from which a compilation of sketches won him the Charles Chaplin Award for Best Comedy at the 1968 Montreux Television Festival.

His ITV series included The Charlie Drake Show (1963), Who Is Sylvia? (1967) and Slapstick and Old Lace (1971), but it was The Worker (1965-70), with Drake as the proverbial little man who is unable to hold down a job, which enjoyed the greatest popularity. With what proved to be his last regular spot on television, in the variety show Bruce Forsyth's Big Night (ITV, 1978), he reprised the Worker format in a series of ten-minute sketches.

Although he was to make the occasional comic guest appearance on television after 1978, Drake largely concentrated on straight drama, with Shakespeare and Pinter on stage and well-received performances on television as the unscrupulous moneylender Smallweed in Bleak House (BBC, 1985), one of a party of Welshmen on a wife-hunting mission in Filipina Dreamgirls (BBC, tx. 15/9/1991) and, stretching credibility to its limits, as a crime boss in an episode of the thriller series 99-1 (ITV, 1994-95).

Drake suffered a serious stroke in 1995 and did not work since, classing himself as 'semi-retired'. He died on 24 December 2006.

John Oliver

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Thumbnail image of Worker, The (1965, 1969-70)Worker, The (1965, 1969-70)

Sitcom about Charlie Drake's employment prospects

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