Archive for the ‘children’s music’ Tag
With the unlikely combination of budgies, bowler hats and an incurable speech impediment, Freddie Davies created his alter ego Samuel Tweet.
A Day In The Life Of Samuel Tweet,
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Samuel Tweet was not born. Like some end of the pier comic Frankenstein, Freddie Davies would have to create him from discarded props and unwanted speech defects, gradually constructing Tweet until he was ready to be unleashed into the world, to wreak havoc and spray unsuspecting passers-by with litres of superfluous spittle. Containing the monster and killing him off would take a lot longer…
Freddie Davies though was born, in this case in 1937 in Brixton. It was not long before the outbreak of World War 2 saw Freddie evacuated away from South London in order to stay with relatives in Salford. He soon became a regular at the Salford Hippodrome, watching from the wings as his grandfather (the comedian Jack Herbert) performed his act. After leaving school and inspired to follow his own path in showbiz, Freddie took to performing in charity shows while working at the local Co-op. It wasn’t until after he finished his National Service in 1958 that Freddie finally resolved to follow in his grandfather’s footsteps and pursue a career as a comedian.
Freddie received sound counsel from no less than Des O’Connor, eagerly pouncing on him as Des exited from a stage door. Des’s advice was simple, and was the same advice as Max Bygraves had given Des some years before, namely become a Butlins Redcoat. So off Freddie went to Skegness, performing in weekly shows alongside fellow redcoat Dave Allen at the resort’s Gaiety Theatre. All well and good, but Freddie had set in motion a chain of events that would cause a monster to be created.
Outside of the weekly show, a Redcoat’s duty largely consisted of amusing the campers and falling in swimming pools. And as you can imagine, that duty is quite a strain after a while. The need to be funny all the time, spending every waking minute of the day as the epitome of hilarity, would tax some of the most adept and quick-witted of comedians. Freddie’s solution was simple, rather than rely on his wits, he would simply adopt a silly voice. A daft over-pronounced lisp solved all of his problems. Suddenly announcements for knobbly knees competitions or glamorous granny pageants could be delivered to crowds of suitably amused campers, doubled up with laughter at Freddie’s newly found speech impediment. What a simpler carefree age it must have been back then.
The next steps in Freddie’s gradual mutation into Samuel Tweet came in 1963 after his stint at Butlins and while he was trying to make a name for himself on the northern club circuit. After accidentally buying a homburg hat that was a few sizes too big, Freddie decided that he was best off keeping it and ramming it down over his ears. Cue further instant hilarity. The final jigsaw piece came when an unsuspecting heckler challenged Freddie to tell a joke about a budgerigar. By chance he knew one, and as the joke involved two voices, he reused the lisping idiot voice from his Butlins day. The combination of an oversized bowler hat, a ridiculous lisp and an obsession with budgies had finally resulted in the creation of Samuel Tweet. The following year in August 1964, an appearance on Opportunity Knocks exposed Samuel Tweet to the nation and suddenly Freddie ‘Parrotface’ Davies was a household name. Like Trill.
TV and radio work followed, including in 1968 his own radio show The Golden Parrot Club which saw Freddie and the BBC Northern Dance Orchestra hosting an hour of variety with aspiring comedians like Les Dawson and musical acts such The Wurzels or Clinton Ford. Later in 1974, Freddie earned his own TV show The Small World of Samuel Tweet. The plot was minimal and revolved around the business machinations of Freddie’s pet shop in the village of Chumpton Green, a settlement which owed its ancient feudal allegiance to the eponymous Lord Chumpton, played by Cardew Robinson. Needless to say a large number of parrots and budgies were involved. So popular was the series amongst children that a second series in 1975 was launched along with a novelty spinoff record.
For those of you unable or unwilling to remember what Samuel Tweet sounded like in his heyday, this LP is the perfect aide memoire. If you have been in therapy to try and forget, then it’s probably worth giving it a miss. The songs themselves are, it must always be remembered, aimed squarely at the children’s market, but even with that caveat they are exceedingly annoying. From the first track Keep Smiling onwards, Freddie is lisping and spraying saliva for all he is worth. The sentiments in Keep Smiling are admirable enough, encouraging children to keep grinning even if they are being smacked around. The song would be bearable if not for that lisp. Why Freddie why?
Even more unbearable is the lisp combined with deliberate mispronunciations as occurs on the last track on side one, Kindness To Animals. Again the sentiments are fine but Freddie’s insistence on pronouncing ‘animals’ as ‘aminals’ would make the most ardent vegan want to punch a hamster. The children’s chorus singing along with the Parrotfaced vocals don’t seem to have seen the script and insist not only on pronouncing every ‘s’ without a lisp, they also manage to pronounce ‘animals’ without sounding like they have suffered some terrible mass brain injury. The song clearly intends to teach children about animal care, and not about the joys of proper diction.
The album’s crowning glory is of course side two, the conceptual masterpiece that is A Day In The Life Of Samuel Tweet. Set initially at least in Freddie’s fictional Chumpton Green pet shop and featuring Damaris Hayman and Colin Edwyn from the TV series, the tale is a strange tale of parrots and drugged hallucinations, combining elements of The Wizard of Oz and Ogdens’ Nut Gone Flake. Freddie is met and harassed by a Norfolk postman, Jock MacTavish (an angry Scottish policeman) and Mrs Higginbottom, a cleaner so posh you wonder who is dusting her Jacobean manor house while she is scraping layers of dried parrot guano and rat droppings off of Freddie’s floor.
Due to a state of advance dental decay caused by excessive consumption of dog treats (I might have made that up) Freddie has to be rushed to see his dentist Mr Oppenheimer, who is also, like many dentists, a mad German scientist. Mr Oppenheimer may be the same scientist who worked on the Manhattan project, he certainly sounds and behaves as if is suffering from advanced radiation sickness. Under sedation at the dentist and succumbing to the powerful anaesthesia, Freddie meets up with canine incarnations of his friends, all of whom are jolly racial and regional stereotypes ready to amuse with daft accents and unlikely cravings for sausages and a little amorous ‘woof and tickle’. Then just like Dorothy in Oz, Freddie manages to return, in this case by biting his dentist while in dog form. The dentist is then sensibly carried off for rabies shots. I hope at least some of that made sense, I gave it my best shot…
In the sleeve notes for his 1970 album Mr Parrot Face, Freddie Davies dropped some fairly unsubtle hints as to how he felt about his alter ego, Samuel Tweet. Comparing Tweet to Frankenstein’s monster and bemoaning the indestructibility of both creations, the frustration is palpable. It would take another ten years or so before Freddie Davies managed to finally and irrevocably kill off his monstrous avian obsessed creature by escaping to the relative safety of cruise ship cabaret, a floating sanctuary where no one on board had ever seen or heard of Samuel Tweet. A further career as a straight actor has brought some semblance of order and peace to Freddie Davies’ life, and he continues acting and performing to this day. Just don’t mention budgies.
If the horror films of Hammer and Universal teach anything though, it is that nothing as grotesque and as gruesome as Samuel Tweet can be relied on to stay dead forever. Let’s hope for the sake of humanity that he is safely spluttering away in some far off dimension under an irrevocable curse, never to return to trouble our world again. Keep smiling!
More Parrotfaced squawkings at Freddie’s official site: