Arthur Askey

Arthur Bowden Askey, CBE (6 June 1900  16 November 1982) was an English comedian and actor. Askey's humour owed much to the playfulness of the characters he portrayed, his improvisation, and his use of catchphrases, which included "Hello playmates!", "I thank you" (pronounced "Ay-Thang-Yaw"), and "Before your very eyes". He was short (5' 2", 1.58 m), with a breezy, smiling personality, and wore distinctive horn-rimmed glasses.

Arthur Askey
Birth nameArthur Bowden Askey
Born(1900-06-06)6 June 1900
Dingle, Liverpool, Lancashire, England
Died16 November 1982(1982-11-16) (aged 82)
St Thomas's Hospital, London, England
GenresStand-up, comedic acting
SpouseElizabeth May Swash (m.1925–1974, her death)
ChildrenAnthea Askey
Parent(s)Samuel Askey
Betsy Bowden

Early life and education

Askey was born at 29 Moses Street, Dingle, Liverpool, the eldest child and only son of Betsy (née Bowden, d. 1949), originally from Knutsford, Cheshire, and Samuel Askey (d. 1958), company secretary of Sugar Products of Liverpool. Six months after his birth the family moved to 90 Rosslyn Street, Liverpool. It was here that a sister, Irene Dorothy, was born in 1908 (according to the 1911 UK Census).

Askey was educated at St. Michael's Council School (1905–11) and the Liverpool Institute for Boys (1911–16).[1]


Askey served in the armed forces in World War I and performed in army entertainments.

After working as a clerk for Liverpool Corporation, Education Department, he was in a touring concert party and the music halls, but he rose to stardom in 1938 through his role in the first regular radio comedy series, Band Waggon on the BBC.

Band Waggon began as a variety show, but had been unsuccessful until Askey and his partner, Richard Murdoch, took on a larger role in the writing.[2]

Film roles

During the Second World War Askey starred in several Gainsborough Pictures comedy films, including Band Waggon (1940), based on the radio show; Charley's (Big-Hearted) Aunt (1940); The Ghost Train (1941); I Thank You (1941); Back Room Boy (1942);[3] King Arthur Was a Gentleman (1942); Miss London Ltd. (1943); Bees in Paradise (1944); The Love Match (1955) and Make Mine a Million (1959). His last film was Rosie Dixon - Night Nurse (1978), starring Debbie Ash.[4]


In the early 1930s Askey appeared on an early form of BBC television—the spinning disc invented by John Logie Baird that scanned vertically and had only thirty lines. Askey had to be heavily made up for his face to be recognisable at such low resolution. When television became electronic, with 405 horizontal lines, Askey was a regular performer in variety shows.

When television returned after World War II, his first TV series was Before Your Very Eyes! (1952), named after his catchphrase. On 3 May 1956 Askey presented Meet The People, a launch night programme for Granada Television. In 1957 writers Sid Colin and Talbot Rothwell revived the Band Waggon format for Living It Up, a series that reunited Askey and Murdoch after 18 years. He continued to appear frequently on television in the 1970s, such as being a panellist on the ITV talent show New Faces, where his usually sympathetic comments would offset the harsher judgments of fellow judges Tony Hatch and Mickie Most. He also appeared on the comedy panel game Jokers Wild. He made many TV appearances in variety, including BBC TV's long running show, The Good Old Days.

During the 1950s and 60s, he appeared in many sitcoms, including Love and Kisses, Arthur's Treasured Volumes and The Arthur Askey Show. He was the subject of This Is Your Life on two occasions, in December 1959 when he was surprised by Eamonn Andrews, and in December 1974, when Andrews, dressed as Humpty Dumpty, surprised him on a television show while discussing the art of pantomime.


Askey appeared in the West End musical Follow the Girls.[5] He also made many stage appearances as a pantomime dame.


Askey's recording career included "The Bee Song", which was an integral part of his stage and television act for many years, "The Thing-Ummy Bob"[6] and his theme tune, "Big-Hearted Arthur" (which was also his nickname). In 1941 a song he intended to record, "It's Really Nice to See You Mr Hess"[Note 1] (after Hitler's deputy Rudolf Hess fled to Scotland), was banned by the War Office. A collection of Askey's wartime recordings appear on the CD album Band Waggon/Big Hearted Arthur Goes To War.

Private Eye

Private Eye magazine in the 1970s regularly made the comment that he and the Queen Mother had "never been seen in the same room together", referring to the fact that they were about the same age and height and suggesting that the Queen Mother was Askey in drag.


Askey was awarded the OBE in 1969 and the CBE in 1981.

Personal life

Askey was married to Elizabeth May Swash in 1925 until her death in 1974; he was the father of actress Anthea Askey (1933–1999).[7]


Askey carried on working on his comedy career until just before he was hospitalised in July 1982 due to poor circulation which resulted in gangrene and the amputation of both legs.[8] He died in London's St Thomas's Hospital on 16 November 1982 and is buried in Putney Vale Cemetery.



Year Title Role Notes
1937 Calling All Stars Waiter
1940 Band Waggon Arthur Askey credited as Big Hearted Arthur
1940 Charley's (Big-Hearted) Aunt Arthur Linden
1941 The Ghost Train Tommy Gander
I Thank You Arthur
1942 Back-Room Boy Arthur Pilbeam
King Arthur Was a Gentleman Arthur King
1943 Miss London Ltd. Arthur Bowman
1944 Bees in Paradise Arthur Tucker
1955 The Love Match Bill Brown
1956 Ramsbottom Rides Again Bill Ramsbottom
1959 Make Mine a Million Arthur Ashton
Friends and Neighbours Albert Grimshaw
1972 The Alf Garnett Saga Himself
1978 Rosie Dixon - Night Nurse Mr Arkwright


'Before Your Very Eyes' 1952-1958 31 episodes.

Year Title Role Notes
1952 Bet Your Life Arthur Golightly TV movie
1953 The Love Match Bill Brown TV movie
1955 Love and Kisses Bill Brown 5 episodes
1957 A Santa for Christmas TV movie
1960 Arthur's Treasured Volumes Various 6 episodes
1961 The Arthur Askey Show Arthur Pilbeam 6 episodes
1964 Ninety Years On Billy Merson TV movie
1966 Second Honeymoon Arthur Bowden TV movie
1966 Aladdin and His Wonderful Lamp Widow Twankey TV movie
1967 No Strings Arthur Anders TV film

See also


  1. The song is alternatively known as "Thanks for Dropping in Mr Hess"


  1. Arthur Askey, Before Your Very Eyes (London: The Woburn Press, 1975), p. 22.
  2. The Bandwaggon Show Guide (
  3. Murphy, 2005, p. 271
  4. Arthur Askey IMDB.|]
  5. Adrian Wright, West End Broadway: The Golden Age of the American Musical in London (Boydell Press, 2012), p. 23. (
  6. Craig Gerrard, The Foreign Office and Finland, 1938–1940
  7. Denis Gifford (5 March 1999). "Obituary: Anthea Askey". The Independent. Retrieved 7 September 2015.
  8. Arthur Askey New York Times Obituary. Retrieved 20 April 2014


  • Arthur Askey (autobiography). Before Your Very Eyes (London: Woburn Press, 1975) ISBN 0-7130-0134-8
  • Kurt Ganzl. The Encyclopedia of the Musical Theatre (New York: Shirmer Books, 2001) pp. 75 ISBN 0-02-864970-2
  • Murphy, Robert. (2005). British Cinema and the Second World War. A&C Black
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