Charlie Chester's most successful television series ran for 11 years on BBC television from 1949, but ended just as perhaps TV's first golden age was about to start. Born in Eastbourne on 26 April 1913 or 1914 depending on which source you use, Charlie Chester was the son of a cinema sign-painter and a singing mother. At the age of seven Charlie sang at a children's competition at the Eastbourne Winter Gardens. He won, and this success set him on the road to a life in showbiz but not before he won another 82 talent competitions. Charlie 's versatility and likeability would eventually lead to Royal Variety performances at the Palladium and his crowning as King Rat. Charlie won his first radio audition in 1937 and was hired by the BBC. But it was with the Second world War that he won his way into the nation's heart.
As a sergeant in the Royal Irish Fusiliers he was seconded into the army entertainment unit, Stars in Battledress. Sergeant Chester was ordered to write and perform "A successful radio series!" He came up with the originally titled Studio Stand Easy, it was announced as "Look out for laughs in the next half-hour with Cheerful Charlie Chester and his Crazy Gang of other cranks!" Charlie moved into television in 1952 devising a show called Pot Luck (see review on this site).
The Charlie Chester Show was by far the most successful of his series. Many of his crazy gang (including Arthur Haynes) appeared in this stand-up sketch show which also featured Edwina Carroll, Eric 'Jeeves' Grier, Len Lowe, Deryck Guyler, Len Marten, and Frederick Ferrari. The series finished in 1960 but Chester was back the next year with 13 more episodes entitled Charlie Chester On Laughter.
For all of Charlie's success, the one medium that failed him was the big screen. After a gag-packed debut with his radio Crazy Gang only three films featured him in the whole of his 65-year career. He appeared as himself giving a show in Holiday Camp (1947). Twenty-four years later he appeared as the late Max Miller in a small semi-documentary, Top of the Bill. In later days he returned to radio with his own listener question-and-request series, Sunday Soapbox. This started in 1969 and ran continuously until he was rushed to hospital following a stroke. A staunch member of the showbusiness charity the Water Rats, Charlie was voted King Rat in 1952. He wrote the history of the charity in 1984, and was appointed their Poet Laureate. Whenever a fellow Rat died, Charlie wrote a short poem in their memory. Those so honoured include Robb Wilton, Wee Georgie Wood, David Nixon, Sid Field and Sandy Powell. Charlie Chester passed away on 26 June 1997.
(The header picture shows Eric Grier, Charlie Chester and Pat Laurence).
Published on December 3rd, 2018. Written by Laurence Marcus for Television Heaven.