Peter Brough was born in Shepherds Bush, London, on February 6th 1916.
Peter’s father, and his Grandfather, had both spent their lives with two careers. His father ran a very successful textile business by day, (he was the first to introduce Jaeger to the UK), and by night he was a ventriloquist working the music halls of London. His most famous dummy was Tim, known to millions as Hugo Fitch, the star of the film Dead of Night starring Michael Redgrave.
Peter’s Grandfather was a farmer who delighted in giving his animals not only names but speech as well! He would perform to anyone who would listen and whenever the opportunity arose.
So Peter was exposed to the art of ventriloquism from a very early age! Peter was fascinated by the art and whenever possible would practise in front of the mirror using one of his father’s dummies.
Peter was determined that one day he would become a professional ventriloquist but his father insisted that he learn the family business first. He knew how fickle the world of entertainment could be.
Peter worked hard at every aspect of the family business but at the same time honing his art as a ventriloquist. Eventually, spurned on by a friend of his who was a budding comedian, Peter made his first appearance in 1938. He was soon regularly playing the local halls by night but continued with his apprenticeship during the day.
The second world war put an end to all this! Peter was called up and dutifully went off to war. By this time Peter was quite an accomplished performer. In his act he used a walking stick with a talking head called John. Recognising his skills the military asked Peter to appear for them as a morale boosting exercise for the troops! British Pathe made a film called “Mum’s the word” featuring Peter and “John” the walking stick! The film ends with a song that has a wartime theme, “You’re a little chap with big ideas”. Peter was then offered a position with “Stars in battledress”, the war time entertainment organisation, but was unfortunately invalided out of the army with a lung disorder before he could take up his new post.
Back in “civvy” street Peter resumed his career working in textiles during the day and performing by night. He was now using a dummy called “Jimmy” or “lucky Jim”. Jim was not a very charismatic dummy and following a performance one very well known theatre critic told Peter what everyone else was thinking. “Peter you dummy is atrocious your act is old fashioned and your patter is weak!” the critic was the well-known and highly respected Wally Ridley! Peter was shattered. He went away to lick his wounds seriously considering giving it all up!
Several weeks later Peter bumped into Wally again. Wally, thinking maybe he had been a little hard on the lad, went on to say, “Look Peter if you are really determined to stay in this business get yourself a new dummy, start again with a completely new act and keep it modern!” Wally suggested Peter visit “Davenports” the famous magic shop in London. Any ventriloquist or magician worth their salt would go to Davenports for their props! Spurred on by this advice Peter went straight to Davenports and was eventually introduced to Len Insull, the most famous ventriloquist dummy maker in the world. Len advised Peter to go away and think hard about the voice for his new dummy and the character and to then come back with his ideas.
The next few weeks saw Peter practising all sorts of voices at every opportunity. Then, whilst on a business trip to Bora in Scotland he was taking a stroll on the beach one evening. The gulls were screeching and Peter was once again practising voices when suddenly he hit on a voice. He kept repeating it over and over again. It was the voice of a boy of about fourteen years old. A high falsetto voice! That’s it thought Peter! He fixed the voice in his head and kept rehearsing it all the way home.
At the first opportunity Peter headed back to Davenports to see Len Insull. Len agreed the voice suited a young boy, a schoolboy. Sketches were hastily put together, mock-ups made and eventually the final look of the new figure was agreed! Months passed but eventually the new figure was presented to Peter. The new head alone cost over £250, a fortune in those days but it was worth it. This was the finest ventriloquist dummy ever made! So, Peter had his new dummy and now he needed a name! He tried lots but none of them seemed to fit. Then one day during a visit with Peter’s friend Ted Kavanagh, Ted, whilst admiring the new dummy suddenly said, “Peter, he is Archie Andrews!” It fitted perfectly! Ted has often said since he had no idea where the name came from, “it just popped out!”
Peter dressed Archie in the finest Saville Row clothes and began to work on his new act. Slowly Archie and Peter grew more and more popular. Appearing all over the country and touring with the great acts of the day. However, the BBC kept turning Peter down. They did not believe a ventriloquist act could make it on the radio. They were missing the point that Archie was by now such a strong character people forgot he was not a real boy! Eventually Peter and Archie got a slot on “Music Hall” and that led to appearances on ”Navy Mixture”. Archie was so popular on the show that he got a regular slot within the show called ”Archie takes the helm”. More radio appearances followed and then, once again on the advice of Wally Ridley, Peter presented the BBC with a complete show backed and supported by a number of stars of the day! The BBC relented. Peter and Archie had their own series. It was based on a young lad who needed educating. “Educating Archie” it was decided to privately tutor Archie as recording costs would not cover a whole room full of other children. The first show went out on the 6th June 1950. It was initially given a six-week run with a further six weeks if it was successful.
The first four weeks saw an audience of four million listeners and twelve million by the end of the six weeks. It was a success!
By October the show had been voted top variety series by the BBC radio awards and awarded the prestigious silver mike. One of three to come to the show over the next ten years. Peter Brough became the highest paid performer of his time and a household name!
Educating Archie was the launch pad for so many up and coming young stars. Max Bygraves, Julie Andrews, Harry Secombe, Tony Hancock, Eric Sykes, Hattie Jacques, Dick Emery, Beryl Read and Benny Hill to name but a few.
Despite his success Peter Brough remained a down to earth gentleman through out his career, always prepared to listen to the ideas of others! He was loved and respected by all who worked with him.
Peter retired from show business in 1961 following the death of his father. He continued to run the family textile business for another twenty years.
Peter Brough died on June 3rd 1999
Archie was present at Peter’s funeral and his memorial service.