Keith Harris- An Obituary
Keith Shenton Harris was born in Hampshire on September 21st, 1947.
One of the most high-profile acts of the 1980’s, Harris appeared on Saturday evening prime time television shows, before finding his way into the pop charts with a hit song that sold more than 400,000 copies.
During his childhood, Harris began his stage career rather ironically as a living ventriloquist’s dummy on his comedian father’s knee.
In 1964, when aged just 16, he was performing in summer season in Rhyl before making his television debut just after in Let’s Laugh.
Record breaking summer seasons followed, alongside his two best known companions, Orville, a nappy wearing duck and Cuddles, a cheeky monkey with an acerbic line in chat. Paradoxically Harris disliked the finished product of Orville. However this melancholy duck became a huge hit with audiences and Keith Harris became the most popular ventriloquist of his generation.
Harris’s financial problems followed him around for most of his professional life. The entertainer blamed his failures with money on a combination of his dyslexia and unsound advice.
Harris holds the record for the longest ever pantomime run. This was a 22 week season of Aladdin at The Theatre Royal Nottingham.
After the cancellation of The Keith Harris Show and The Quack Chat Show by BBC Television, Harris all but faded from sight.
Well publicised battles against alcoholism, depression and failed marriages were leavened somewhat by successful and lucrative work in holiday centres and pantomime. Harris wrote 17 pantomimes and appeared in many more. He was also skilled as a stage director.
However unsuccessful attempts to open variety clubs in Blackpool and Portugal, along with his life– long friend the comedian Billy Pearce, were both costly and damaging.
A revealing documentary by Louis Theroux, within the When Louis Met … series ,coloured Harris as a highly reflective man.
During the noughties Keith Harris popped up regularly on television with appearances on Never Mind The Buzzcocks, 8 Out of 10 Cats and Ant and Dec’ Saturday Night Takeaway.
Harris also found a new audience for a show featuring Orville and Cuddles called Duck Off, which was aimed very much at the adult only comedy market. The student union venues in particular lapped the show up.
Diagnosed with a rare form of cancer in 2013, Harris showed guts and determination by performing during long spells of painful stem-cell replacement therapy. Sadly his cancer spread to his liver and earlier this year it was deemed inoperable.
Keith Harris died on April 28th 2015 aged 67. He is survived by his fourth wife, the former model Sarah Metcalf and their two children, and by his first wife, the singer and actress Jacqui Scott, and their daughter.