Dickie Henderson

I’m Brian, He’s Dickie

Dickie Henderson is something of a forgotten figure in show business these days, but between the end of the Second World War and his death in 1985, he was a big star. Truly an all-round entertainer, he sang and danced well, and had a great eye for visual comedy. He undermined his outwardly suave manner constantly with slapstick routines, the most famous of which involved a microphone cable and a clueless stage hand.

In 1957, Brian Tesler, the BBC’s brightest young light entertainment producer, was wooed away to join the commercial television company ATV. However, for his first show at the new place, a Val Parnell Saturday Spectacular, he was offered a lacklustre bill of Harry Worth and a ditzy panellist from the game show Yakety Yak, with Lew Grade protesting that everybody else was busy in pantomime. Tesler knew who he wanted, and decided to mark his territory by refusing to budge. When I interviewed him in 2005 for my book Turned Out Nice Again, he told me the story:

“I went away so miserable. I didn’t want to do a variety bill. Two of the last things I’d done at the BBC had been with Dickie Henderson Jr. One was a Billy Cotton show in which I had Bill and young Bill with young Dick and old Dick. The two old men and the two young men, with a very good script written by Jimmy Grafton. It had gone very well, and I had great admiration for Dickie. He was in the American idiom. He sang, he danced, he had a great sense of humour. The microphone routine was terrific, just a terrific routine. And he’d also been the guest on the last Pet Clark show at Riverside studios. They’d done a duet, and I thought if I can get the chance, I want to do a show with Dickie. I phoned him, I phoned Jimmy, and I said ‘Look, I’ve got a date and I don’t like what they’ve given me, I’d like the three of us to do a show’. They said terrific idea, so we met for lunch, and it was obvious it was going to be great.

“I went back to the office and I phoned Lew. I said ‘Lew, I know it was very nice of you to offer me Harry Worth, but I really want my first show to be my show. I’d like to do the Dickie Henderson show’. He said ‘Val won’t like it’. Dickie had been the star of a series that Dickie Leeman had produced for ATV, called Young at Heart, that hadn’t been at all successful. So I went to Bill Ward, who was head of department, told him what had happened. He said ‘I’ll have a word with Val’. He came back and said ‘Val says all right, but it’s not going to be called The Dickie Henderson Show, it’s just going to be a Saturday Spectacular with Dickie Henderson.’

“So I was very naughty, we were all very naughty. The side of Wood Green had the stage, and down where the orchestra pit had been there was just a hole. Down the other side, the side of the wall, there was an area, it was very narrow, but you could use it. I put black material with stars on it with beautiful showgirls in glossy dresses in front of it, and had the camera crabbing along the line. Terrific music, the first caption, star-studded, said ‘Val Parnell presents Val Parnell’s Saturday Spectacular’ And there was Dickie standing by a hat rack, with a clapped out piece of cardboard that said ‘The Dickie Henderson Show?’. So we didn’t really call it the Dickie Henderson Show, and it wasn’t spectacular, because it had a question mark, but we got away with it. It was a very good show, it had some very good things in it, and bless his heart, Val sent me a telegram, and said ‘It was a terrific show, you can do more Dickie Henderson shows in future, and they can be called The Dickie Henderson Show’.

“That established me at ATV better than I could have expected, because I hadn’t done what was expected and taken what I was given. So from then on I was able to do what I wanted to do. If they gave me stars, and they very often did, I never turned another show down, and I never had any problem with budgets.”

Billy Cotton Eric Sykes Hattie Jacques Wakey wakey

The LE Confidential advent calendar – day 24

For the last day of Advent, let’s have an old favourite. From the Christmas Eve 1961 Billy Cotton Band Show, here’s old Bill with Eric and Hattie, miming to the Beverley Sisters’ recording of I Saw Mummy Kissing Santa Claus. Such a simple comic idea, but done so gleefully. Merry Christmas to you all.

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The LE Confidential advent calendar – day 23

Another clip from the Philip Jones Silver Jubilee Show, in which Mike Yarwood does a lovely take-off of his boss, the head of light entertainment at Thames Television, Philip Jones.
 

Tinsel king on a Dansette

The LE Confidential Advent Calendar – day 22

A bit of regionalia for today, marking the move of Anglia’s news operation back from the converted bowling alley in Magdalen Road to Anglia House in 2005.

Severn Sound

The LE Confidential Advent Calendar 2013 – day 21

I was thrilled to receive an early Christmas present in the post today from Office Pest. It’s a tea towel promoting what would have been my local ILR station had I been living in my part of Gloucestershire in the 1980s. Severn Sound launched in 1980, becoming Heart Gloucestershire in 2008. A far cry from the days when Kenith Trodd presented a weekend show of 78 rpm records.

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The LE Confidential Advent Calendar – day 20

A picture taken in 2002 from the nearby Funkturm of the Sender Freies Berlin studios (now Rundfunk Berlin Brandenburg). Believe it or not, Les Dawson made a show here in 1974 with Kenny Ball and his Jazzmen.

Stan Tracey

The LE Confidential Advent Calendar – day 19

More Stan Tracey? More Stan Tracey. This number comes from the 1969 BBC2 special Love You Madly, mounted to mark the 70th birthday of Duke Ellington. Made and transmitted in colour, it survives only as a monochrome telerecording. However, I’m sure I can see chroma dots, so maybe it would be possible to restore the colour signal. Whatever the hue of the visuals, the music is peerless, and the soloist is Ian Carr, biographer of Miles Davis and a much-missed gentleman.

Gewgaws

The LE Confidential Advent Calendar – day 18

One of the grand traditions of this calendar is featuring publicity gewgaws. We’ve had ITV pedometers and jute bags. Here we have a wind-up mobile phone charger, promoting ITV’s Big Clean Up. For the full promotional effect, I’ve placed the items on my Daybreak mouse mat.

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The LE Confidential Advent Calendar – day 17

For day 17, we head way out west. To Plymouth, to be precise, to meet up with the VT department at TSW for their 1984 Christmas tape. Naturally, Gus Honeybun figures heavily, and I’m sure I spot the Devonian comedian Jethro (real name: Jeff Rowe) at one point.  Never let anybody tell you that the old federal, regional ITV wasn’t better than the corporate monolith we have now. It was, even when it was rubbish.

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The LE Confidential Advent Calendar – day 16

Back to the 1930s for day 16, in the company of Sandy Powell. Best known for portraying a rotten ventriloquist while dressed as a Chelsea Pensioner, here he plays an inept magistrate.