10:23 am September 7, 2022
“Stand in front of the mirror and see if you can say the alphabet without moving your lips.”
That was the challenge Brian Chamberlin’s father, Eric, gave him when he was 11 years old.
Not only did he, but he continued to hone his skills and eventually went on to a fulfilling career as a ventriloquist for the next 80 years.
Brian Peter Chamberlin was born in Norwich on December 22, 1923.
His father and mother, Olive, had been music hall performers and had taken him to shows as a child where he “caught the bug”. Her father also presented Punch and Judy shows on Lowestoft Pier.
Mr Chamberlin’s first foray into show business came when he won the Norwich Hippodrome Talent Show held at the Grand Opera House, now St Giles car park, for his impersonations of bird calls at the age of 14.
After serving in the Royal Navy in World War II, he worked as an artist in his spare time, taking jobs ranging from school janitor and British Rail worker to sugar beet farmer.
He married Betty (née Banham) in Norwich in 1953, and they celebrated their 68th wedding anniversary before Mr Chamberlin’s death.
In the 1970s, Mr Chamberlin turned professional and began visiting holiday parks and theaters, before entertaining people at residences and performing until the early 1990s.
He started by making a puppet or two, including his most famous character Humphrey the Mole of Norfolk – who would honor the audience by singing “Hev Yew Gotta Loight, Boy?”
As well as using foreign languages as part of his act, he gradually expanded his line of animal dolls to include Henry the nose-picking gorilla and Vilhelm the Austrian mountain goat, with eyes made from a bottle. of Jif lemon cut in half.
His son, Mark Chamberlin, said: “All his ideas came from his own head. He came up with the ideas himself, and he spent a good few weeks making his puppets, which also included characters from Star Wars and ET.
“He had this incredible talent for getting raw materials like foam, rubber and washed leather and creating something amazing.”
Mr Chamberlin also played twice for the Queen at Dersingham School, near the Sandringham estate. And he appeared on the TV show Opportunity Knocks when it was hosted by Bob Monkhouse. As a result, he was offered a tour by Monkhouse but turned it down as he was already committed to touring East Anglia.
To cap off his acting career, he had a biography about him – The Life and Times of One Brian Chamberlin: Norfolk Comedy Ventriloquist and Entertainer – written by friend and former Hemsby entertainment executive, Del Firman.
Mark added: “Dad was so fun and so sweet; kind to everyone. We miss him a lot.
“He was always very, very positive and loving, but deep down he also had a serious side, although he rarely showed it.
“He was generous and didn’t care about anything. Every morning, rain or shine, he would say “today is a beautiful day”. His positivity was contagious.
His other talents included piano, accordion and watercolor painting.
Mr Chamberlin died at Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital on June 8. He leaves behind his wife, their children Chris, Teresa, Simon, Mark, Ann and Johnny, and their granddaughters Amy and Hannah.
His funeral was held at Our Lady and St Walstan Catholic Church in Costessey on July 7. Donations in his memory have been made to the British Heart Foundation and the Norfolk Renal Fund through Allcock Family Funeral Services in Norwich.