Best of British takes centre stage at the Opera House

Freddie Davies
Freddie Davies
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Who says variety is dead?

Certainly not Keith Harris or Freddie Davies, stars of a show coming to Blackpool’s Opera House on Thursday which is likely to be a reminder of just how good the old days were.

Harris will appear with trusty sidekick Orville in a show called The Best of British: Strictly Variety – and he’s also ticking off a first ... appearing on stage for the first time with his daughter Kitty.

“She’s 12 and part of the Langley Dance School, which is providing the dancers for the show,” said Keith, who lives in Poulton.

“It will be smashing performing in the same show as her and I couldn’t think of anywhere better to do it than the Opera House.”

Harris has history with the venue, though it is the first time he’s played there for a while.

“It was back in the early 80s I was last at the Winter Gardens, when I did a summer season there with Les Dawson,” he recalled.

“I am really looking forward to going back on Thursday, not least because it’s a variety show and I think variety shows are so much fun.”

For the benefit of younger readers, Harris was at the peak of his fame in the 80s, a regular on TV with a ventriloquist act involving Orville The Duck (who can forget 1982 top 10 single Orville’s Song?) and Cuddles The Monkey.

He still works regularly – he’s just filmed a Christmas edition of BBC quiz show Pointless (along with the likes of The Chuckle Brothers and Linda Lusardi), stars in pantomime in Hull over the festive season, and has 58 dates at 
Haven holiday camps lined up for next year.

“It’s a case of starting from scratch again now at all the places I work,” said Harris, 65. “You can’t live off the laurels of what you did years ago, you have to prove yourself once again.

“But I love what I do and I can’t see a day when I don’t do it. Maybe if I get to a stage where people are saying ‘oh look at him, bless him, he used to be good’ then I’ll stop.

“But at the moment the act still works and there are a lot of youngsters who haven’t seen it before and love it.”

As well as Harris, the line up on Thursday contains 60s icon Jess Conrad, multi-instrumentalist Pete Lindup, jugglers Van Buren and Allyson, and West End singing star Maggie O’Hara.

Then there’s Freddie Davies, the man known as Parrot Face, who has been an entertainer since 1958 and rose to national prominence after a memorable appearance on Opportunity Knocks.

Davies has been making audiences laugh for years but had the nous, when variety started to go out of fashion due to the rise of the television, to become a straight actor and over the last two decades has appeared in the likes of Heartbeat, Casualty and Preston Front.

“Most comedians make good straight actors because they’re always acting anyway,” said Davies. “But my first love has always been variety and performing on stage and this week in Blackpool will be wonderful, especially as I’ve such a rich history with Blackpool.

“I performed there for years, and I lived there as well. A lot of old mates will be in the audience on Thursday.

“For my spot, I’m going to recreate what I used to do in early days because I think there is a great deal of nostalgia for how entertainment was in years gone by and people do still want to see it.”

Produced by Blackpool’s Duggie Chapman, tickets are available from www.blackpoollive.com or 0844 8561111 priced £15 (£12 seniors).