Page last updated at 16:04 GMT, Sunday, 20 September 2009 17:04 UK

Ventriloquist given blue plaque

Ventriloquist's dummy
Fred Russell introduced the single dummy act

A Victorian-era entertainer known as the father of modern ventriloquism has been honoured with a blue plaque.

Thomas Frederick Parnell, who was born in Poplar, east London, was known by his stage name Fred Russell and began as an amateur ventriloquist in 1879.

He was credited with popularising the use of a single dummy. His most popular dummy was the Cockney 'Coster Joe'.

The plaque was installed at the house in Lower Richmond Road, Putney, where Russell lived for 12 years until 1926.

'Good at everything'

Russell, originally a journalist, turned semi-professional in 1886 and went on to tour the US, Australia, New Zealand, Sri Lanka and South Africa, and his shows featured on television until 1952.

He is also credited with popularising the fast-paced verbal interplay between the ventriloquist and dummy where it is the dummy who cracks the jokes.

In 1906 Russell helped set up the Variety Artistes Federation trade union, which was behind improving the terms and conditions for performers.

Actor Roy Hudd, who was present at the unveiling of the plaque, said: "He was a great man in so many ways - the Victorian man who was good at everything he did.

"He was a huge top-of-the-bill star and that rare thing, an entertainer who was interested in politics.

"It's very exciting for all of us - we've been trying to get a blue plaque for him for 25 years."

Russell was awarded the OBE in 1948. He died in 1957 at the age of 95 years.



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