Sunday, November 22, 2015

Beakyobit: Keith Mitchell

He'll be remembered for his acting rather than his strange pop career, of course: Keith Mitchell has died.

The story of Captain Beaky is probably more interesting than the tale of Captain Beaky as sung by Mitchell.

On the long-lost Captain Beaky website, Jeremy Lloyd tells how Keith, a freak accident and Start The Week came together in 1977 to give Beaky wings:

"Keith and I met when we were working together in Robert and Elizabeth at The Lyric. He being the leading man while I clanked on and off stage in Household Cavalry armour, as a dotty lover of his girlfriend's sister. To pass the time I would scribble about the trials and tribulations of a lonely frog or a penniless French mouse (both situations closely akin to my circumstances at the time) and Keith, an excellent artist with a great sense of humour, illustrated them. Our collaboration ceased abruptly when the Management allowed me to appear in a film, on the condition I would be back for the evening performance. All my part required was that I should stand in front of a
cannon and be shot. The explosion blew me across the studio, resulting in a lot of surgery and a get well slowly card from my understudy. I convalesced for part of the time in Jamaica and wrote Dilys the Dachshund on the back of an old record cover, which I received intact, minus Joe Loss's Greatest Hits, 12 years later.

"The reason I was suddenly trying to recover the poems was due to Lance Percival reading one on the radio show 'Start the Week'. A publisher expressed interest, but I was told that at least 30 would be required to make up a book. About this time I got a call from Keith: could he read some on a TV show? Delighted, and please could I have them back? Fate was obviously taking a hand, for a few days later I met Jonathan Rowlands, whom I had known in LA when I was writing 'Laugh In'. I discovered that together with his partner, Hugh Murphy, his company had produced the Sir John Betjeman albums, of which he gave me copies. I was enchanted by Jim Parker's music, to which the poems were read, and showed him mine. In between writing 'Are You Being Served?', Jim, Hugh and I worked together for a year, with me writing new poems, Jim composing the music and Hugh producing the album. I still find it hard to believe that these characters have come to life as a book and a record album, but they have and I'm delighted as they are."
For younger readers: in case it's not obvious, Start The Week was a very different sort of programme in 1977.

The album didn't set the world alight; but in 1980, it was to get a second wind from Radio 1. Which was also a different sort of place in those days.

Tony Blackburn played it first on Radio One - in his internal exile on Junior Choice era; Noel Edmonds then grabbed the record and played it on his Sunday morning proto-House Party show. This snowballed into a Hissing Sid Is Innocent campaign - borrowing both from the George Davis Is Innocent graffiti protests, and the Who Shot JR tropes of the same era. It was enough to catapult Beaky - and with it, Keith Mitchell - into the Top Five.