You just don’t seem to see many ventriloquists on TV any more, do you? Â The main reason for this I suppose is the complete lack of variety TV shows, where you’d be entertained by a plethora of different acts including singers, comedians and magicians. Â A really popular ventriloquist could even be given their own primetime TV show, but I think those days are well and truly gone!
So, if you were in charge of putting together a variety show line up in the 1980’s and you were after a ventriloquist, chances are you’d end up with Keith Harris. Â Of course there were others, such as Ray Allen and Lord Charles, or Roger De Courcey and Nookie Bear, but they were more popular during the 1970’s. Â Keith’s act tended to be a bit more child friendly (perhaps even too child friendly) so he was presumably often chosen as the safe bet.
Keith is best known for his puppet Orville, a green duck wearing a nappy who had a high pitched, screachy sort of voice. Â As well as having moving eyes and beak, Orville could also flap his wings, although he was unable to fly, as we were too often reminded by the rather awful single “Orville’s Song“. Â You know the one – I wish I could fly, right up to the sky, but I can’t. Â You can. Â I can’t. Â Somehow this song made it to number four in the UK charts…
Orville was a duck with a lack of self confidence, so most of the act involving Orville involved Keith trying to cheer Orville up about something that he thought he was unable to do. Â As such, Orville appealed very much to younger children.
Keith is also well known for his orange monkey Cuddles (presumably an Orangutan?) who for my money was far more entertaining than Orville. Â Cuddles wore a shirt collar (just the collar) and tie, and was far more fast paced and cheeky that Orville. Â He had a habit of sniffing like he needed to blow his nose, and his catchphrase was “I hate that duck“, which I secretly suspect was Keith Harris venting a little steam in public, as I’m sure he was fed up with the Orville side of his act as well.
During his hay day, Keith had his own TV show, called unsurprisingly “The Keith Harris Show“, and he was a regular guest on chat shows and kids favourite Crackerjack. Â These days Keith still performs with Orville, although he generally targets a more adult audience these days, playing to the same people who enjoyed him when they were kids. Â He appears in panto most years, and still appears on TV from time to time, most notably in the channel five reality TV show The Farm.