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About Arthur Askey

A veteran of the classic British vaudeville scene would no doubt build up pretty thick skin, thus explaining comedian and songwriter Arthur Askey's courage in taking on as potentially menacing an adversary as the world's population of bees; accusing the sting-capable creatures of such faults as "building up the honey-comb that looks like tripe" or "stinging all the cows upon the parson's nose." The final insult in his frequently covered "Bee Song" is this couplet: "Bees are allright when alive you see/but when bees die you really should see 'em/pinned on a card in a dirty museum."

Perhaps Askey was just looking for someone smaller than he was to pick on. He was a short fellow who right from the beginning of his professional career was said to have compensated for his lack of height with a surfeit of manic energy. His career lasted a good four decades, overlapping the worlds of radio, television, variety, and pantomime, and he also did quite well writing songs for a newly developing market of children's' records in the '50s. Askey did not begin performing professionally until his early 20s, when his first job was as a kind of wandering goof in a concert hall, coming up with jokes, songs, and dances; all of them "really really silly" according to Askey's biographical notes. The radio comedy and variety show Band Waggon was the first ride he caught to a higher profile career, even though it originally was canceled after the third broadcast. Askey and fellow cast member Richard Murdoch nabbed a hold of the replacement time slot, coming up with a show based on their own wild sense of humor. This new version of Band Waggon was a big hit, one of the first shows satirizing the actual production of itself, leading to a film adaptation that was Askey's welcome mat into the film industry.

He worked in movies through the Second World War. The animosity toward buzzing insects perhaps began with his first flop, a film entitled Bees in Paradise. As a result, he retreated back to radio and live shows, inching toward television as that medium developed and coming up with his own program, entitled Before Your Very Eyes. This clicked with the audience, once again leading to a renewed interest in film roles, although this second stage of his movie career was marked by a milder, less surrealistic form of yucks. While his career wound down as he got older, Askey continued performing pantomime even in the '70s, halting these shows only because bad circulation led to the amputation of his legs. ~ Eugene Chadbourne

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