The son of a famous music hall (vaudeville) comedian, Fred Emney is probably best known to people of my generation not for his countless appearances in British film comedies or for his long-running TV show but for being one of the staples of many a TV impressionist’s act in the 1970s.
Born in Lancashire in 1900, Fred grew up in London and began his career on the stage there: his sisters Doris and Joan also trod the boards. He made his (uncredited) film debut in 1931, in the musical comedy A Man of Mayfair, and went on to appear in dozens of British and International movies, including Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines, the original and far superior version of the Italian Job and the Magic Christian. Fred also appeared in Fun at St Fanny’s, described by one critic as having the worst comedy script in the history of the cinema.
Starting in 1955, Fred had his own television show, Emney Enterprises which, typically of the day, featured guest stars, comedic sketches and usually a spot where Fred would sit at the piano and play a popular melody or, often, a piece he had composed himself. Apparently he also had a short spell as straight man to piggy puppets Pinky and Perky. He was perpetually cast in the role of ‘posh fat bloke’ (he weighed in at over 22 stone), invariably wearing a monocle and puffing on a fat cigar; when he appeared on the popular radio show Desert Island Discs in 1952 his one luxury item was a box of cigars.
His prowess as a pianist persuaded Decca to drag Fred into the studio in 1958 to record the tracks for this EP release. Three of the songs, If I Should Cry Over You, Whispering and The One I Love are pretty typical examples of Fred’s piano style: accompanied by an over-eager cinema organist he plinks his way perfectly acceptably through the songs. But the final track, Roses of Picardy, is the pip. We’re almost half way through the song when Fred, unwisely, decides to let his vocal chords loose: although Fred recites the lyrics rather than sings them his delivery is about as warm and sincere as Criswell’s. He really should have stuck to tickling the ivories.
Fred Emney died in Bognor Regis, on Christmas Day 1980.
You can hear the whole EP at the rather wonderful Lord of the Boot Sale - where the cover image (above) came from.