Today would be the 89th birthday of comic actor Charlie Drake. But did you know he once appeared alongside Peter Gabriel, Sandy Denny, Robert Fripp and Phil Collins in one of the weirdest prog rock line-ups ever?…
Born on this day in 1925 was the diminutive comic Charlie Drake, who was, incredibly, a considerable star in the Fifties and Sixties. Even in an era that abounded in deeply unfunny comedians, he stood out as quite singularly tiresome – though he was very popular with children, including, I blush to recall, my boyhood self. I’m pretty sure I even watched (and presumably enjoyed) at least one of his feature films – Sands of the Desert?
Drake’s catchphrase ‘Hello my darlings!’ was originally addressed to the breasts of any of the tall, big-busted starlets with whose poitrine he found himself eye to eye, as it were, in the course of duty. Later, he adapted it to all situations, to unfailingly irksome effect.
Apart from the catchphrase, Drake’s stock in trade was slapstick – and it was nearly the end of him when a live TV sketch went wrong in 1961. The little chap was to be hauled through a bookcase that had been specially set up to fall apart as he emerged – but an over-diligent workman (or friend of British comedy) had mended it, with the result that it put up a considerable resistance. Unaware of what had happened, Drake’s fellow actors proceeded with the rest of the sketch, which involved picking him up and throwing him through a window. Drake was unconscious for three days, with a fractured skull, and didn’t return to the screen for two years.
Like many a comedian in those days, Drake made several records (mostly produced by George Martin, who has had to live with the shame ever since) – but his most startling contribution to music history was a 1975 single titled You Never Know, the first post-Genesis solo project of prog rock / world music legend Peter Gabriel (who had himself recorded the song as a demo).
The performing line-up for Drake’s recording of You Never Know is surely one of the most bizarre ever: lead vocal Charlie Drake, backing vocal Sandy Denny, Robert Fripp on guitar, Percy Jones on bass, Keith Tippett on keyboards and Phil Collins on drums.You can, if you must, listen to it here (though I must warn you, it’s pretty terrifying):
Drake – whose last stage role was as Baron Hardon in Jim Davidson’s ‘adult’ pantomime Sinderella – was a notorious womaniser. However, there is no truth in the rumour that flame-haired Simply Red frontman Mick Hucknall was his love child.
To his credit, Drake did put in a fine performance as Smallweed in the BBC’s 1985 Bleak House. This too was pretty terrifying, but in a better way.