24 August 2014

It all started in Slough - no, make that Walthamstow ...

It's a little-known fact that comedian Freddie "Parrotface" Davies made his debut in Walthamstow's Crooked Billet pub (above) - so little known that Freddie himself was unaware of it until recently.

He had believed it was the pub of the same name near Slough. After the recent publication of his autobiography Funny Bones: My Life in Comedy, however, a relative corrected him about the location.

In Freddie's defence, there are mitigating circumstances. Although he was born in London (Brixton), Freddie was brought up in Salford, and when he made his start in comedy he was ten, on a month-long visit to London, dazzled at being taken around all the variety theatres by his grandad, comedian Jack Herbert. He can only assume that at some point they must have passed the Slough pub and it later became fixed in his mind as the lifechanging venue. The geographical location certainly wasn't as exciting a detail to retain from the trip as meeting Danny Kaye and Sid Field at the Prince of Wales Theatre, for example - and there is a story attached to that in the book.

Anyway, wherever the pub was, Freddie does clearly remember being hoisted onto a chair in the back room, and running through his grandad's entire act. "Afterwards," he says, "they passed a hat round so you could say that was my first professional gig!"

Sadly there is no chance of a blue plaque to commemorate Freddie's debut. Walthamstow's Crooked Billet was demolished to make way for the A406, although there is a roundabout named after it. Fittingly, Freddie launched his autobiography in the back room of a pub - but in Yorkshire, where he now lives. "I thought it might be safer than the roundabout!"

Below is the area as it looks now - both pictures come from the Walthamstow Then and Now site here.

Buy Freddie Davies's autobiography Funny Bones from amazon (paperback) or direct from Scratching Shed Publishing (paperback or limited edition hardback). Read an extract, which includes a mention of the Crooked Billet, here.