Charlie Drake: Hero of Prog Rock

charlie drake

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.

Share This Post

About Author Profile: Nige

Cravat-Wearer of the Year Nige, who, like Mr Kenneth Horne, prefers to remain anonymous, is a founder blogger of The Dabbler and has been a co-blogger on the Bryan Appleyard Thought Experiments blog. He is the sole blogger on Nigeness, and (for now) a wholly owned subsidiary of NigeCorp. His principal aim is to share various of life's pleasures.

4 thoughts on “Charlie Drake: Hero of Prog Rock

  1. June 19, 2014 at 08:18

    I thought I was a connoisseur of bad taste, but this song has eluded me. It’s a rare gem, reaching a new level of awfulness that Jess Conrad could only dream of. The song itself is quite catchy, but Wanker Drake’s utterly hideous, high-pitched whine completely ruins it. I hope I never hear it again.

    If, in the unlikely event that I am responsible for extracting vital information from an enemy prisoner, I now have the perfect instrument of torture.

      June 19, 2014 at 10:58

      The tactic of music as torture may have begun with the movie “One,Two, Three”, though I understand that the Stasi had to play “Ittsy, Bitsy, Teeny, Weeny Yellow Polka Dot Bikini” drilled off center before they finally broke their man. The US forces played loud rock-and-roll continually over a few days to flush Manuel Noriega out of the papal nunio’s residence, where he had holed up after the US invasion in 1989. I think that the playlist ran more to Guns and Roses than to prog rock, but it has been a while.

    June 19, 2014 at 10:49

    Los Angeles is full of actors and recording studios, and sometimes the downtime of the two overlaps. Rhino Records spotted this and in 1988 brought out the album “Golden Throats”, with such items as William Shatner singing “Proud Mary” and Joel Grey singing “White Room”. This apparently led to three more albumjs: .

    June 19, 2014 at 12:26

    It was the beads that I remember most, of sweat that is, Drake extruded perspiration like a power shower on reheat. He was neither humorous nor entertaining, a sad reflection of post-war austerity, we lacked, amongst other stuff: bacon, sweeties, toys and ipads. Today we have the lot, or do we….

    When first my way to fair I took
    Few pence in purse had I,
    And long I used to stand and look
    At things I could not buy

    Now times are altered: if I care
    To buy a thing, I can;
    The pence are here and here’s the fair,
    But where’s the lost young man?

    – To think that two and two are four
    And neither five nor three
    The heart of man has long been sore
    And long ’tis like to be.

    Talking of Mick Hucknall. Junior, over in the UK for a meeting, reports thus…”how can you bollock a bloke, when he is sitting opposite, acting like a West Midlands Luddite and is the double of Mick Hucknall.”


Comments are closed.