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Before Your Very Eyes (1956-58)

Courtesy of Dr. Julian Hilton

Main image of Before Your Very Eyes (1956-58)
ITV, tx. 10/2/1956-21/4/1958
14 x 30 min editions in 4 series, black & white
WritersKavanagh Productions Ltd
 Sid Colin
 Talbot Rothwell
DirectorsKenneth Carter
 Bill Hitchcock
ProducersKenneth Carter
 Bill Hitchcock

Cast: Arthur Askey, Anthea Askey, Sabrina, June Whitfield

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A fortnightly revue show featuring comedian Arthur Askey and guests.

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One of Britain's most popular radio, film and stage comedians, Arthur Askey transferred with equal success to television for this long-running series, which took its title from one of his many catchphrases. (Others included "Ay thang yew!", "Hello, playmates!" and "Doesn't it make you want to spit!") The first three series were broadcast on BBC between 1952 and 1955, after which the show transferred to ITV for three more and a special at the invitation of impresario Jack Hylton, who had been enlisted by ITV to supervise its variety output.

In his autobiography, Askey complained that the ITV shows failed to match the standard set by the first three series, but they closely follow the same format and have the same deliberately unrehearsed atmosphere. Each show begins with a straight-to-camera routine featuring Askey as himself, followed by a short sketch, a commercial break and then a single long sketch (usually some sort of film or TV parody) taking up the entirety of part two. Askey later claimed that the show pioneered the now standard television techniques of addressing the home audience, fluffing lines, corpsing and stepping out of character to acknowledge the presence of cameras and walk off the edge of the set. Like Eric Morecambe, Askey relies hugely on asides to camera and intertextual comment for his laughs.

Mention should be made of his supporting cast. Jerry Desmonde was a splendid comic foil and one of the best straight men in the business, best remembered for his work with Sid Field and Norman Wisdom - appearing in most of the latter's films. Sabrina, real name Norma Sykes, was a protégée of Askey's who had transferred with the format from the final BBC series. Endearingly unprofessional and, according to Askey, deliberately chosen because "she had a lovely face and figure but could not act, sing, dance or even walk properly", she does little more than giggle at the endless jokes about her physique. But the show made her a celebrity, and she developed a successful cabaret act before marrying and retiring to America. Other episodes featured June Whitfield and Askey's daughter Anthea.

Matthew Coniam

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Video Clips
1. Selling a washing machine (4:38)
2. MOT (5:02)
Complete film (25:18)
Friday Night with the Crazy Gang (1956)
Tony Hancock Show, The (1956-57)
Hylton, Jack (1892-1965)
Rothwell, Talbot (1916-1981)
Whitfield, June (1925-)