Martin Kelner Went in Search of a Sad-Old-End-of-the-Pier-Comic Story. but When He Found It, He Discovered Freddie 'Parrot Face' Davies Had Rewritten the Script
Kelner, Martin, The Independent (London, England)
Frinton is one of those places, like Tunbridge Wells, whose name conveys far more than a simple geographical location. Harwich for the Continent, Frinton for the incontinent, as the old joke goes. It is just the sort of town you might expect to end up in when you embark on one of showbusiness's more arcane quests - to find out whatever happened to Freddie "Mr Parrot Face" Davies.
Back in the 1960s and early 1970s, Freddie was a contender. With his saucer eyes, Homburg hat pulled down over his ears, and comic lisp, he was rarely off the telly. At the height of his semi-fame, Freddie's catchphrase, "Fair dos" (said with a lisp), was on the lips of the nation, he was presented with a budgie in a gold-plated cage by the Budgerigar Information Society, he advertised Trill on television.
The Daily Mirror was confident that Freddie would take his place alongside Tony Hancock, Frankie Howerd and Ken Dodd as one of Britain's comic greats. But, as is often the way with such predictions, it didn't quite happen. And now we are in Frinton High Street, Mr Parrot Face and I, watching an elderly gent staring abstractedly at the gloves in one of those genteel clothes shops you only ever see in Ealing comedies or English seaside towns. "They come here to die," says Freddie. "And then they forget why they've come here."
Freddie is doing summer season at nearby Clacton. Francis Golightly presents his Spectacular Cascade at the West Cliff Theatre, starring Freddie "Mr Parrot Face" Davies and Bernie Clifton, plus singers and dancing girls. It's one of only two surviving traditional summer revues in Britain.
So far so sad, but this is not one of those where-are-they-now tales that ends with the tragic former star straightening his toupee and shedding a tear for the death of variety. Freddie arrives in Frinton via film festivals in San Francisco and Berlin, where his performance in a new British film, Funny Bones, has been lavishly praised.
This news is particularly surprising to those of us who remember Freddie's dead budgie routine on Opportunity Knocks: it did not - he would be the first to agree - exactly guarantee his place on any list of comedians most likely to succeed on the art-house circuit.
The new film, directed by Peter Chelsom (who made Hear My Song), opens in Britain next month, and was chosen for last night's Edinburgh Film Festival finale, an inspired choice in a city full of comedians, since one of the themes of Funny Bones is that there are two types of comedian - those who are funny because they say funny things, and those, like Tommy Cooper, with so-called funny bones.
Freddie plays one of the latter kind, a sad-faced comic whose act was stolen by big-time American star Jerry Lewis. His son is a seriously unhinged clown and small-time crook played by Lee Evans. Freddie's wife is played by Leslie Caron. (Again, there was nothing in the actress's charming performance in Gigi to suggest her as a future screen wife of Freddie "Mr Parrot Face" Davies.)
"That Opportunity Knocks appearance in 1964, which happened entirely by chance, started everything for me," says Freddie. "I was dying on my arse in Dunoon, where I was supposed to spend the summer, so I escaped from that to the Candlelight Club, Oldham. As it happens, that was dead handy for Opportunity Knocks, which I stepped into when someone dropped out.
"I remember I turned up there at the last minute with my own music and they said, 'These are tatty music-hall arrangements.' I said, 'What do you want? I'm a tatty music-hall comic.' "
Freddie has a typical …
Questia, a part of Gale, Cengage Learning. www.questia.com
Publication information: Article title: Martin Kelner Went in Search of a Sad-Old-End-of-the-Pier-Comic Story. but When He Found It, He Discovered Freddie 'Parrot Face' Davies Had Rewritten the Script. Contributors: Kelner, Martin - Author. Newspaper title: The Independent (London, England). Publication date: August 28, 1995. Page number: 10. © 2009 The Independent - London. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All Rights Reserved.
This material is protected by copyright and, with the exception of fair use, may not be further copied, distributed or transmitted in any form or by any means.