Obituary: Ken Platt

" 'ALLO, I won't take me coat off, I'm not stoppin'!" One of the great comedy catchphrases of yesteryear and, like all great catchphrases, one that immediately conjures up in the mind's television screen the comedian who coined it. Ken Platt opened his every appearance with the same saying, and it will be remembered by all who heard or saw him say those 10 wonderful words.

Kenneth Platt was born in Leigh in Lancashire in 1921. His working-class parents found him funny from the start, and at the age of 12 so did the audiences for his Sunday School concerts. Sent to work at the age of 14, he was soon augmenting his wages as a weaver of cables by earning 10 shillings (50 pence) a show at the local Working Men's Club.

By now he had taught himself the ukelele and was plucking away singing selections from the latest George Formby films. In fact he was now billing himself as "George Formby the Second", something that it was a good job Formby the First never knew about.

Called into the Army early in the Second World War, Platt spent a full five years in service, but his natural flair for comedy performances eventually won him a transfer to CSE, the Combined Services Entertainment Unit. The rest of his war service was spent touring North Africa, Corsica, Scandinavia, Italy and Greece, and even after demobilisation he could be found entertaining the Armed Forces in Austria and Germany.

His parents now bought themselves a grocery shop, and Platt found himself a steady job serving behind the counter. His joking with the customers impressed Ronnie Taylor, the famous producer and scriptwriter then working for the BBC's powerful Northern Variety Department. He offered Platt a radio audition, a chance the comedian jumped at.

This was in July 1950, but unhappily he had to wait six months for the result. Then in January 1951 came the call: at three days' notice he was offered the position of resident comedian on Variety Fanfare.

This hugely popular series, billed in Radio Times as "heralding variety in the North", had begun in April 1949 with the popular "shaggy dog" comedian Michael Howard as the resident. Later came Douglas "Cardew" Robinson, the six-foot skinny schoolboy, so clearly Platt was following in famous funny footsteps. During this run of a year he added another catchphrase to his repertoire: "Daft as a brush!"

In 1956 came that great accolade in the world of radio comedy when Platt was cast as a regular character in the BBC's top sitcom series, Educating Archie. This show, starring the ventriloquist Peter Brough and his dummy Archie Andrews, had begun in June 1950 as a six-week try-out and wound up 10 years later in 1960.

The original cast seems star-studded today, but in fact was made up of newcomers to the comedy scene. Max Bygraves was the cheery cockney announcing himself with "I've arrived and to prove it I'm here!" Hattie Jacques played Agatha Dinglebody, Robert Moreton read from his Bumper Fun Book, capping each gag with "Oh, get in there Moreton!" and the teenage Julie Andrews sang stunning soprano songs. Star after star was virtually born in this series: Harry Secombe, Tony Hancock, Alfred Marks, Bernard Miles, Beryl Reid and Dick Emery, to name but a few. And, of course, in 1956 Ken Platt.

Having securely planted his catchphrase, Platt launched into a series of weekly variations, such as "I won't take me coat off, I've still got me pyjamas on underneath!" A typical gag, plucked from a 1957 radio tape recently released by the BBC, had Peter Brough asking Platt if he had ever come into contact with livestock. "I once had some scruffy digs in Bootle," replies Platt, his thick northern accent undimmed by his weekly trip down to Broadcasting House.

The same year television beckoned, and Platt was made presenter of Granada's Spot the Tune. This quiz series had contestants trying to identify popular songs from a few brief notes played by the Peter Knight Orchestra. Marion Ryan sang a ditty now and then, and the series ran a whopping 209 half- hours.

Platt did not, of course, host them all: he was replaced by the American pop singer Jackie Rae. The prizes of the period are interesting: the jackpot was pounds 300 and the grand total of all the cash given away over the four years was pounds 5,471. The series was later revived by Thames Television as Name That Tune.

The Fifties proved a profitable period for Platt. At Christmas 1952 he starred in his first pantomime at the Lyceum Theatre, Sheffield. In 1954 the impresarios George and Alfred Black put him into their summer season show at Blackpool, and in 1955 he toured the music halls in All Star Variety with that bouncy but ill-fated croonette Alma Cogan.

In 1960 he starred in his first straight play, Love Locked Out, at the Alhambra Theatre, Morecambe, and in 1962 he returned to television to star in his own series, Saturday Bandbox. Now and then he popped up in several sitcoms, including The Liver Birds in 1971, where he played a Liverpool deliveryman. His best-remembered spot of television fun may be on the BBC's The Good Old Days in 1969, when he shared the period stage with perhaps the greatest of all the northern comics, Albert Modley.

Not seen or heard for some years due to a severe stroke which he suffered in 1990, Platt is fondly remembered by his old friend from the theatre world Duggie Chapman. "Ken was an old-fashioned comedian with a soft touch," he said.

Kenneth Platt, comedian and broadcaster: born Leigh, Lancashire 17 February 1921; died Blackpool 2 October 1998.

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Stewart Lee (Gavin Evans)


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