1 9 5 3 – 1 9 5 8 (UK)
The first three series’ of Arthur Askey’s Before Your Very Eyes were broadcast on BBC between 1952 and 1955, after which the show transferred to ITV for three more years.
Each episode of the show began with a straight-to-camera routine featuring Askey as himself, followed by a short sketch, a commercial break and then a single long sketch (usually some sort of film or TV parody) taking up the entirety of part two.
Askey later claimed that the show pioneered the now standard television techniques of addressing the home audience, fluffing lines, corpsing and stepping out of character to acknowledge the presence of cameras and walk off the edge of the set.
Like Eric Morecambe, Askey relied hugely on asides to camera and intertextual comment for his laughs.
Jerry Desmonde provided a splendid comic foil and one of the best straight men in the business, best remembered for his work with Sid Field and Norman Wisdom – appearing in most of the latter’s films.
Before Your Very Eyes introduced the busty ‘dumb blonde’ Sabrina (real name Norma Sykes, pictured above left) to British television. She had once (believe it or not) been the junior breast-stroke champion of Manchester.
Endearingly unprofessional and, according to Askey, deliberately chosen because “she had a lovely face and figure but could not act, sing, dance or even walk properly”, she did little more than giggle at the endless jokes about her physique. But the show made her a celebrity, and she developed a successful cabaret act before marrying and retiring to America.
Other episodes featured June Whitfield and Askey’s daughter Anthea (pictured at right).
Before Your Very Eyes was named from one of Askey’s many catchphrases. Others included “Ay thang yew!”, “Hello, playmates!” and “Doesn’t it make you want to spit!”