Entertainer was a big favourite – with help of Lord Charles
Born: 18 September, 1930, in Greenwich, London.
Died: 24 May, 2010, in Reigate, Surrey, aged 79.
WITH his handsome good looks and artistry, Ray Alan was a television favourite for almost half a century. With his upper-class dummy Lord Charles – who always seemed to be sloshed – he appeared on countless variety shows: indeed, he made the most appearances on the BBC's hugely popular The Good Old Days.
In 1954, Alan had worked on the farewell UK tour of the famous American comedians Laurel and Hardy after Harry Worth (the future comedian but then working as a ventriloquist) was forced to pull out.
During that tour, Alan got the idea of the dummy Lord Charles and spent some years developing the character of the humorous rogue with an eye for the ladies, who used the famous catch-phrase "you silly arse" at the most inconvenient moments. Technically, Alan was an outstanding ventriloquist and much admired by colleagues. He put in hours of practice and perfected a stage presence that not only let him perform hugely demanding vocal feats but also gave him free range to change accents and add extra colour to a character.
Ray Alan was educated at Morden Terrace School, in south London, and set his heart on a career in showbusiness. He entered many local talent competitions from the age of five and at 13 became a call-boy at the Lewisham Hippodrome Theatre, where he started to do magic tricks between acts. It was in his late teens that he started to perfect his ventriloquist act and concluded it with a song on the ukulele.
It was the fortuitous date with Laurel and Hardy that inspired Alan to base Lord Charles on the features of Stan Laurel. The boozy toff's mannerisms and slurred delivery, however, came from a character Alan spotted at a table during a cabaret show. "He was wearing a dinner suit, drinking champagne and had a delightful young lady with him." Alan recalled. "He kept patting her on the knee and saying, 'By Jove, you're a lovely little thing, have another glass of champers'." Lord Charles the tipsy aristo was born there and then.
Alan introduced Lord Charles at a charity show at Wormwood Scrubs prison in 1954 and later that year to a wider public on The Good Old Days.
The two became popular and were soon household names. Alan made regular appearances on television in shows such as David Nixon's Comedy Bandbox, Sunday Night at the London Palladium, the Billy Cotton Band Show, The Two Ronnies and The Liberace Show. In 1985, he was a special guest for Bob Hope's birthday show at the Lyric Theatre in London.
Alan was the consummate ventriloquist/comedian. He often delighted in sending up his act, with Lord Charles being wildly irreverent. He had an routine which has now become a classic in which, as Alan worked the toffee nosed dummy, Lord Charles gave the appearance of working a second dummy named "John". The complexities and vocal hurdles were immensely challenging, but Alan performed the sketch with a refined ease. While his manipulation throughout the sketch remained perfect, Lord Charles slurred his way through it. Alan cleverly let Lord Charles make mistakes with certain phrases that are well-known ventriloquist's nightmares. Ladies and Gentlemen became one continuous word with a hiccup; hospital became hoskital and bottles of beer just a hotchpotch of nonsense. It was a tremendous performance and is remembered as a real comic tour-de-force. The art, in any performance by Alan, was to make it all look easy.
Alan had his own children's series in the Sixties on television. Tich And Quackers was set in a school, with Alan and Tony Hart (who played Quackers) having much fun trying to outdo each other for sheer naughtiness.
Alan was also a guest on game shows such as Celebrity Squares, Give Us A Clue and 3-2-1. He continued performing in cabaret, clubs and at corporate events. In 1998-99, he had a successful spot in the cabaret on the QE2.
He was always the real professional. While many ventriloquists allowed their dummy to take on an almost human persona, Alan would have none of it. He and Lord Charles may have been inseparable in the eyes of the public but not when the show was over. Alan once said: "I am not one of those ventriloquists who thinks he's real. When I finish my work, I put it back in the tool box and I don't take it out again until the next job."
Alan also wrote some of the scripts for the TV sitcom Bootsie and Snudge and published three crime novels, He is survived by his wife Jane.