Educating Archie Andrews, the radio ventriloquist

Educating Archie Andrews, the radio ventriloquist
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This is an exclusive feature from the now sold-out Issue 2 of Yours Retro. For more nostalgia, check out the latest Retro at www.greatmagazines.co.uk

A ventriloquist on radio? We remember the surprise hit show that launched the careers of the cream of British showbiz

He was dressed by Savile Row, had a fan club of 250,000 and when he went missing crowds gathered outside the police station waiting for news. Archie Andrews was the star of one of the most unlikely radio hits of the Fifties – Educating Archie.

Unlikely because, of course, Archie was a 4ft wooden dummy, voiced by ventriloquist Peter Brough. From 1950 to 1958, up to 15 million listeners tuned in each week to laugh at Archie's schoolboy cheekiness with Peter, as well as his tutor Tony Hancock, housekeeper Hattie Jacques, girlfriend Julie Andrews and handyman chum Max Bygraves.

Archie's fans went right to the top, as Peter and Archie hosted the staff Christmas party at Windsor Castle for 25 years from 1948. When George VI removed Archie's head to see how it worked, the dummy quipped, “Sir I'm the only fellow you've ever beheaded in your reign”.

Archie's cheeky ways were skillfully scripted by one Eric Sykes, and future members of the Archie gang included Benny Hill, Harry Secombe, Beryl Reid and Dick Emery. Soon there was an Archie comic strip in Radio Fun, mugs, soap, lollipops and numerous interviews and photographs.

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But home life for Peter was not so successful. His marriage broke up and his children felt second-best to the demands of Archie, who seemed like an unwanted (and more popular) extra brother.

Archie's magic didn't survive a switch to television in 1958 – probably because Peter had never been the world's best ventriloquist. When he asked Dora Bryan if she could see his lips move, she was said to have replied, “Only when Archie speaks”.

The show only lasted a year and, in 1961, Archie was put away for good (apart from royal requests) and Peter retired from showbiz to run the family textile business. He went on to have a much happier second marriage and family – so perhaps he’d realised that Archie and family life just didn't go together.

After Peter's death, Archie was finally sold to fan and collector Colin Burnett-Dick, for £34,000 – who, the family said, could look after him properly. Archie would have something to say about it if he wasn't.