Blackpool ventriloquist Keith Harris created his own TV stardom with Orville the Duck, but managed to extinguish the showbuzz


The A to Z of stars who appeared in Blackpool is parked at the letter H and we highlight another great actor who came to the Grand Theatre.

Rex Harrison (1908-1990, knighted 1989) may be remembered for his Oscar-winning role in 1964’s My Fair Lady, but the film that made his name was the 1940 drama Night Train to Munich.

Only a few months earlier, he had been at the Grand in Noel Coward’s comedy Threesome, Design for Living, with Anton Walbrook and Diana Wynyard.

Keith Harris and Orville, 1986

Rex and Diana repeated the box office success with Christmas week 1940, the Grand premiere of another comedy of manners, No Time for Comedy, by American writer SN Behrman. He wants to spend a year in London.

In 1930, Liverpool-born Rex Harrison was stepping into Ben Travers’ farce A Cup of Kindness, at the Opera House.

Anita Harris (1942 -) performed here as a singer and actress. Readers who were lucky enough to have been in the audience at the Royal Performance which officially reopened the Grand Theater in May 1981, will remember her classy number as Burlington Bertie in which she added a line to the original lyrics.

“I ate a banana with Lady Diana…”

Anita Harris

Prince Charles, in the royal box, was seen laughing. He was to marry Lady Diana Spencer a few weeks later.

Anita also appeared on two of the ABC Theater’s Blackpool Night television shows, in August 1966 and July 1967.

As an actress, she played at the Grand Théâtre in April 1992, in the romantic thriller Ma cousine Rachel by Daphné du Maurier.

Young ventriloquist Keith Harris was in the 1974 ABC Theater summer show, Larry Grayson’s Scandals, and returned with bigger billing in the 1977 Les Dawson season show.

Rex Harrison with his movie star wife Kay Kendall

Keith had created two characters who were to bring him television stardom: Orville the green duck and Cuddles, the monkey with attitude.

After reaching number four on the charts with Orville’s Song at Christmas, 1982, the time was right for a Keith Harris summer show and it was the Grand Theater that got it, in 1983.

Keith had become a local resident after marrying Blackpool singer Jacqui Scott, who joined him in the summer show. They then divorced.

In the 1980s I went bowling with Keith several times at the old Central Drive bowl in Blackpool and found he was able to turn off the showbuzz.

Keith’s next season in Blackpool was with Les Dawson and Frank Carson at the Opera in 1988, after which he spent five summers at Keith and Orville’s Magic Castle at the Sandcastle.

Keith achieved the ambition of being a circus ringmaster with a season at Blackpool Tower Circus in 1999 and had another local season in 2001, at the Grand Theatre.

Next week: another handful of Blackpool theater stars. More H-stars

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