Fred Wescott, better known as Fred Karno, transformed the music hall by creating a riot of laughter out of chaos, originating the custard pie in the face.
The poor lad who left Nottingham for a tough apprenticeship as an acrobat in Victorian showbusiness rose through flair and persistence to be one of the greatest impresarios and showmen in the world.
The British Army sang songs about him and his name was often mentioned in the House of Commons to describe a muddle somewhere. Fred Karno's Army meaning a chaotic outfit, became enshrined in the English language.
Running thirty or more companies at one time that travelled to Africa, South America and the USA, he also trained, or gave an early chance, to many famous names in entertainment including Charlie Chaplin and Stan Laurel.
Despite endlessly providing successful, hilarious sketches, the man himself was an enigma. Squandering money on luxury enterprises, he was astonishingly mean to his first wife before and after they separated, and so blindly mean to his actors that they were easily tempted by Hollywood.
As a womaniser he practically invented the casting couch. He was a hard taskmaster with a sarcastic cough, precise over endless rehearsals when it came to running shows and training artists in raising laughs.
For those he helped to fame he was 'the perfect Guv'nor' while others just could not get on with him. Some of the women who knew him said he was 'an angel', others muttered 'that he was a dirty old devil'.
Trusting nobody and nothing except his own theatrical judgement, he became a great showman who, despite a tarnished image, made millions laugh and left behind a legacy of humour that still lives on today.
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