Dick Emery Sings,
Pye NSPL 18411,
Dick Emery seemed destined to become an entertainer from the moment in 1915 when his mother went into labour after staggering off the stage of the London Palladium. His parents Laurie Emery and Bertha Callen performed together in a music hall double act and Bertha’s advanced pregnancy had not been considered a sufficient enough reason to stop the daily performances of their routine. As soon as young Dick was safely delivered, his parents resumed their show business career, their son spending his first few years living an itinerant lifestyle as they toured the music halls of Britain.
Success in show business was slow to come though despite those auspicious beginnings. Dick held off from following the family trade for a number of years before entering a teenage talent contest. Following his success in that contest and with the encouragement of his indomitable mother he trained as a singer and a dancer. In fact, his singing progressed so well that in 1938 he was offered operatic coaching in Milan by the legendary soprano Luisa Tetrazzini. Sadly for Dick though, Benito Mussolini and his various right wing friends seemed keen that the world should be denied the operatic warblings of Dick Emery and so the little matter of the Second World War was organised, thereby curtailing Dick Emery’s potential operatic career.
By the time his military call up papers arrived, Dick was appearing in the musical Land of Smiles with Richard Tauber. He reluctantly left the show and headed for RAF Northolt and what he hoped would be a time spent zooming through the air in Spitfires, defending the skies of Britain. His days on the road touring around variety halls had denied Dick a formal education and his lack of ability at basic mathematics ruled him out as a potential pilot. His frustration at being denied the chance to fly and his yearning to pursue a showbiz career proved disastrous. In 1942 Dick Emery decided to desert.
That might very well have been the end of his career. Pursued by military policemen, Emery was eventually tracked down to His Majesty’s Theatre in London where he was appearing in the chorus line of The Merry Widow. Not a very inconspicuous place to hide… When he was eventually released from prison, Emery was rather generously offered a place in the famous Gang Show, presided over by the overgrown ebullient scoutmaster, Ralph Reader.
Dick Emery’s career progressed very slowly after that. After the war, he was not an immediate star like so many of his forces colleagues. Bit parts, walk-ons and supporting roles in a large number of radio and TV programmes as well as films followed. The hard work and small roles paid off eventually though. Appearances in Educating Archie on the radio and TV appearances with Michael Bentine in his innovative comedy series It’s a Square World brought him to the attention of Tom Sloan, head of light entertainment at the BBC. Offered the chance to front his own comedy series, Dick Emery leapt at the chance like a Rottweiler at a chump steak and never looked back.
The Dick Emery Show launched in July 1963 and was a massive hit, running for an impressive 18 years. Dick Emery remained an odd contradiction though, despite that success. He was a bundle of nerves and neuroses, unsure of his talents and constantly seeking assurances. Five marriages and numerous affairs bear testimony to those insecurities and doubts. Uncomfortable being himself, like many comedians he sought refuge in playing characters and The Dick Emery Show provided him with more than his fair share of grotesque aliases and disguises.
Dick had released an album in 1969 entitled Dick Emery Sings, in an attempt to grab a slice of the lucrative crooning industry. Rather like Ken Dodd before him, none of the songs were comedic and relied more on his ability as a tenor than as a jester. A single from the album If You Love Her nudged into the nether reaches of the top 40 and only Dick’s absence from the UK while on a tour of Australia denied him a place on Top of The Pops.
In 1972 Dick Emery released the film Ooh… You Are Awful, in effect it was a film spin-off of his TV series with many of the characters from the small screen. The plot is a fairly baffling and unlikely tale of tattooed bottoms and bungling gangsters which seemed to make some sort of sense at the time, but which has baffled every film critic who has watched it ever since.
Riding on the crest of a wave after his first starring role in a film, Dick saw fit to release a second album, also called Dick Emery Sings. Perhaps like Peter Gabriel or Led Zeppelin, he was intent in releasing several albums all with the same title, but this second release was to be his last so we may never know.
It’s an odd affair, but then what 1970s comedy album isn’t? Dick still maintains his efforts at singing syrupy ballads on tracks such as The Better The Sweet and If I Only Had One More Song to Sing. The songs he sings as Dick Emery are predictably mawkish and sentimental and engineered for his tenor crooning. The album really belongs to Dick’s outlandish characters though, who between them provide a much more entertaining set of songs than those Dick tackles.
The usual eccentric suspects are all present and appear on the front and back covers of the album, should anyone be in any doubt of what they are listening to. Clarence, the comedy homosexual, minces through the opener Party Time replete with fairy cakes and various ‘honky tonk’ companions. The frustrated spinster Hettie delivers a high-kicking piano-led shout along on The Reddest Sports Car, while Dick’s other dragged up character Mandy delivers a spoken word confessional to an understanding psychiatrist over a funky backing track on the aptly named track Willy. Also managing to get a look in are the Bovver Boy and The Vicar, devoid of names they may be but they remain more than able to deliver silly songs with aplomb.
There are also a couple of tracks such as Pamela and the hymn to the particularly unlovely London district of Bermondsey on which no immediately identifiable character sings. All of the songs are written and produced by the Canadian singer and TV presenter Jackie Rae, most of them with the input of Emery.
The comedy numbers are covered in several layers of innuendo, so thick and creamy it is hard to know where an innocent phrase ends and a deliberately rude bit of banter begins. In truth many of the jokes and silliness are baffling to a modern ear. Emery’s material is hard to track down now and seldom seen on major TV channels. The 166 editions of his BBC show seem to have been archived away and forgotten about since Emery’s death, possibly to protect us from innuendo, possibly just to save us from being baffled.
I though, consider myself a learned student of the double entendre and Dick Emery was a master at delivering double meanings and unsubtle innuendoes. So if you want a double entendre, I’ll gladly give you one: