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Evans, Joe (1891-1967)

Director, Actor, Writer

Main image of Evans, Joe (1891-1967)

Fred Evans was a talented comedian whose 200 or so films were immensely popular before and during the First World War. Unlike his childhood friend Charles Chaplin, Fred, with the able support of his brother Joe, relied less on observational comedy, but drew more heavily on theatrical burlesque. Deriving from the world of Victorian entertainment, their films abounded with punning intertitles and the relentless substitution of ludicrous for dramatic themes. As the anarchic Pimple, Fred rivalled Chaplin's early popularity in Britain, but changing circumstances were to leave him, and Joe, to pursue less exalted careers. Joe scripted the films and provided jokey intertitles, while Fred acted as director.

Fred and Joe's grandfather was a popular clown, while their uncle Will Evans was a leading comedian and founder of the Sunny South film company. Following a circus apprenticeship Fred and Joe performed with their parents in a pantomime act, the Florador Quartet. Joining Cricks and Martin in 1910, Fred's early screen appearances were as Charlie Smiler, a disaster prone 'dude'. When his uncles, the music-hall performers Seth and Albert Jee, combined with Will Kellino to launch Ec-Ko in 1912, Fred began to appear as Pimple, a clown-like character with tight clothes and lank strands of hair framing a whitened face.

By 1913, Fred and Joe had moved to Folly Films where their knockabout comedies began to be replaced by send-ups of films, plays and novels. The humour of Pimple films derived from theatrical burlesque, music-hall satire and from a tradition of buffoonery that embraced such infantilised characters as Silly Billy. The more sensational an original production, the more their power of ridicule was engaged. Pimple's Battle of Waterloo (1913) set the pattern for many farcical pastiches, mercilessly satirising an early film epic The Battle of Waterloo (d. C. Weston, 1913). In Pimple in The Whip (1917) a famous melodrama inspired them to re-enact its thrilling race scene with pantomime horses. A series of Lieutenant Pimple films poked fun at the screen exploits of the swashbuckling Lieutenant Daring (1911-13). In keeping with such broad caricature, Pimple was liable to extreme character change, appearing equally as a criminal or a law-enforcer. Occasionally, Pimple would be portrayed as a woman or a child.

In private life Fred resembled Pimple, skilfully evading a succession of creditors until bankruptcy caught up with him in 1920. A period in which he provided an army recruiting entertainment ended with a medical discharge in 1916 and coincided with the decline of his film career. Fred and Joe abandoned filmmaking and returned to the music-hall stage. Joe toured the United States; Fred appeared in revues with his wife and two daughters. The brothers reunited during the Second World War to present a puppet show and, after Fred died working in a circus, Joe continued to appear in a concert party.

Hammond, Michael, 'Cultivating Pimple: Performance Traditions and the Film Comedy of Fred and Joe Evans' in Pimple, Pranks and Pratfalls, Burton, Alan and Porter, Laraine (eds) (Trowbridge: Flicks Books, 2000)

Barry Anthony, Reference Guide to British and Irish Film Directors

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Selected credits

Thumbnail image of How Pimple Saved Kissing Cup (1913)How Pimple Saved Kissing Cup (1913)

Pimple saves a kidnapped racehorse

Thumbnail image of Lieut. Pimple and the Stolen Submarine (1914)Lieut. Pimple and the Stolen Submarine (1914)

A comic take on the spy boom

Thumbnail image of Lieutenant Pimple's Dash for the Pole (1914)Lieutenant Pimple's Dash for the Pole (1914)

Lt. Pimple visits the North Pole

Thumbnail image of Pimple Has One (1915)Pimple Has One (1915)

Pimple is drunk and disorderly

Thumbnail image of Pimple's Charge of the Light Brigade (1914)Pimple's Charge of the Light Brigade (1914)

Pimple recreates England's notorious military defeat

Thumbnail image of Pimple's Complaint (1913)Pimple's Complaint (1913)

Pimple falls victim to a pair of pranksters

Thumbnail image of Pimple's Motor Bike (1913)Pimple's Motor Bike (1913)

More chaos on two wheels

Thumbnail image of Pimple's New Job (1913)Pimple's New Job (1913)

Pimple causes chaos again as a bill-sticker

Thumbnail image of Pimple's Part (1916)Pimple's Part (1916)

Pimple takes up the acting profession

Thumbnail image of Pimple's Uncle (1915)Pimple's Uncle (1915)

Pimple comedy of family rivalries

Thumbnail image of Pimple's Wonderful Gramaphone (1913)Pimple's Wonderful Gramaphone (1913)

Pimple invents a novel moneymaking scheme

Related collections

Thumbnail image of The 'Pimple' FilmsThe 'Pimple' Films

Hugely popular silent comic character created by Fred Evans

Related people and organisations

Thumbnail image of Evans, Fred (1889-1951)Evans, Fred (1889-1951)

Actor, Director