BBC Homepage World Service Education
BBC Homepagelow graphics version | feedback | help
BBC News Online
 You are in: Entertainment
Front Page 
UK Politics 
TV and Radio 
New Media 
Talking Point 
In Depth 

The BBC's Arts Correspondent, Nick Higham
"Beneath the clowning was a man of great determination"
 real 56k

Sunday, 24 December, 2000, 11:52 GMT
Victor Borge: The Great Dane
Borge receives award in Denmark
Borge was showered with awards throughout his life
Victor Borge built a career by delighting audiences with virtuoso piano-playing and paralysing them with laughter at his irreverence towards the pomposity of classical music.

A typical performance would start, not with the opening bars of a classical composition, but with a minute inspection of the piano from all angles

Musicians look and act absolutely ridiculous

Victor Borge

Pages of sheet music would get mixed up, hair and clothing would be checked and then the pianist would turn on the audience and scold imaginary latecomers.

It was Borge's opinion that the conventions and trappings of classical music were intrinsically hilarious.

Victor Borge
Borge combined virtuoso playing and a sharp wit
"Look at a symphony concert on TV and turn off the sound. If you have the slightest sense of humour, you will laugh yourself silly - the musicians look and act absolutely ridiculous."

Much of his repetoire was developed from real concert situations, for instance falling off a piano stool or falling out with his page turner.

"Everybody who has ever tried to have a page turner knows it is terribly dangerous," he said.

"So, when I do that routine, the orchestra members just fall off their seats. They all know.

If I have to play something straight, without deviation, I still get very nervous

Victor Borge
But one famous occasion could not be replicated, when a large fly flew on to Borge's nose while he was playing - with side-splitting consequences.

When he was asked how he had arranged such a brilliant piece of comedy, Borge explained with a straight face: "Well, we train flies."

Highs and lows

He began has career at the age of 17 as a concert pianist in his native Denmark, becoming one of the country's most popular cabaret performers in the 1930s.

Churchill and I were the only ones who saw what was happening - He saved Europe and I saved myself

Victor Borge
His lampooning of Adolf Hitler provoked the ire of Germany long before the Nazis invaded Denmark in April 1940.

Fortunately, the young Victor, whose Jewish faith compounded the danger he would have been in, was performing in Sweden at the time.

"Churchill and I were the only ones who saw what was happening," he said in later years. "He saved Europe and I saved myself."

Borge sharing a joke with Sean Connery
With fellow Kennedy Center award-winner Sean Connery in 1999
He fled to the US with just $20, but enjoyed a rapid rise in popularity after an appearance on the Bing Crosby radio show.

In the 1950s, he went on to beat the Broadway record for a solo show - 849 performances of his Comedy in Music.

As well as his commercial success - including his three million-selling Best of Victor Borge - he was honoured many times, most notably receiving a Kennedy Center award for his outstanding contribution to American cultural life in 1999 from President Bill Clinton.

Insecure funny man

In spite of his skills as a musician, Borge insisted that he got very nervous if he had to play anything "straight".

Victor Borge 1909 - 2000
"It's the fact that you want to do your best, but you are not at your best because you are nervous and knowing that makes you even more nervous," he said.

Indeed, at his 80th birthday concert at Copenhagen's Tivoli gardens, Borge played variations on the theme of Happy Birthday to You in the styles of Mozart, Brahms, Wagner and Beethoven.

These were executed with such wit that the orchestra was convulsed with laughter - and a woman performing a piccolo solo was unable to draw breath to play.

Search BBC News Online

Advanced search options
Launch console
See also:

24 Dec 00 | Entertainment
Comedian Victor Borge dies
Internet links:

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Links to more Entertainment stories are at the foot of the page.

E-mail this story to a friend

Links to more Entertainment stories