Charlie Drake - Rotten Tomatoes

Charlie Drake

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Monty Python and Benny Hill aside, a number of English comics acquire a rabid following in their native Britain but never cross over to full-fledged stateside infamy. Peter Cook was one -- likewise Lenny Henry and Ruby Wax -- but none more so than the writer/director/performer Charlie Drake, who did much of his work in theater but frequently crossed over into television and film. Often described as "the second coming of Charles Chaplin," Drake shared fellow Brit Chaplin's disturbing, almost obsessive-compulsive fixation on perfecting individual gags and bits of comic schtick, and a willingness to rework any particular scene 10, 12, 15, or 20 times until it came out right. But unlike Chaplin, Drake specialized in waxing bawdy. One of his frequent bits -- standing beside a big-bosomed woman and greeting her with "Hello, my darlings!" -- would have fallen perfectly into place on stages occupied by Benny Hill or Mel Brooks.Born Charles Edward Springall in the South London borough of Elephant and Castle, on June 19, 1925, to a newspaper salesman father and a charwoman mother, Drake quickly grasped how much he could earn from show business in comparison to hard labor. He thus dropped out of school at 14 and headed straight for London's nightclubs and dancehalls, performing as a singer, but World War II interrupted his ascent to the top. Drake was first shuttled to the country and plugged into a series of random occupations (lumberjack, builder, baker, etc.) but then drafted and (because of his diminutive height) temporarily appointed tail gunner -- an assignment that ended when military leaders reassigned Drake to drive a truck in India, pulling him away from active duty.Heading back to Britain at the tail end of the war, Drake (who adopted his mother's maiden surname as his own stage name) worked on theatrical pieces with the celebrated comics Dick Emery and Jack Edwardes before being cast in a popular televised children's show, Mick and Montmorency, in the fall of 1955. The series was a massive hit, but Drake -- fearing that he would be typecast, permanently, as a children's performer -- withdrew from the gig after a few years. He then landed a regular comedy series with the BBC, Drake's Progress. Unfortunately, that program flopped with critics and the public.In the early '60s, Drake moved into feature films, headlining such farces as Sands of the Desert (1960), Petticoat Pirates (1961), and The Cracksman (1963), all of which he also scripted. His success crept over into the States with a few appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show and the international release of the Rolf Harris-like novelty tunes "My Boomerang Won't Come Back" and "Splish, Splash." Drake had another go at series television with 1965's The Worker -- a sitcom about a hapless handyman that culled inspiration from many of Drake's odd jobs just prior to the war. It became a smashing success.The '60s thus represented Drake's most lucrative decade. He began the '70s with like success but drifted into massive fiscal problems -- and tottered on the edge of bankruptcy -- when he defied Equity's orders (in 1974) to remove a non-unionized actress from a local production. In response, the union banned him from all regional productions. Years of impoverishment and obscurity followed.In film and on television, Drake bounced back in the '80s, with several productions: he played Smallweed in the BBC's 1985 adaptation of Bleak House; Lionel, a bride-hunting adventurer, in the theatrical feature Filipina Dreamgirls (1991); and the lasciviously named Baron Hardon in Jim Davidson's adult cabaret piece Sinderella (1994), originally done as a live theatrical pantomime but released on home video shortly thereafter.In 1995, Drake suffered from a stroke that forced him to retire permanently. He spent the last 11 years of his life in a period of inactivity and died on Christmas Eve, 2006, of unspecified causes. He was survived by three sons. ~ Nathan Southern, Rovi

Filmography

MOVIES

RATING TITLE CREDIT BOX OFFICE YEAR
No Score Yet To See Such Fun
  • Actor
1977
No Score Yet The Cracksman
  • Actor
1963

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