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Stop Putting Words in My Mouth!

STOP PUTTING WORDS IN MY MOUTH!Somewhere in England, there is a ventriloquist buried with his puppet.  I'm not sure of the exact location, and obviously neither of them is going to tell me now.  Do they still speak to one another, I wonder?

Ventriloquism was originally a religious practice.  Ancient Greeks 'threw' their voices to counterfeit the prophecies and advice of oracles.  ("Vote for Democritus!")  The philosopher Pythagoras liked to scare his students by pretending to hold a conversation with a river.  He also amused himself by inventing right-angled triangles, or so I'm told. 

In the Middle Ages, ventriloquism was considered spiritualism, and its practitioners to be in league with the devil, owing to their seeming ability to give life to inanimate objects.  It is the ventriloquists themselves, of course, who must remain partly inanimate, not moving their lips when their puppet is speaking - well, it would be rude to interrupt, I suppose.

David AitkenLoose lips didn't hinder Peter Brough, whose puppet Archie Andrews starred in a radio show where his tailored blazers and manic eyes were also unseen by listeners.  Archie's fan club had half a million members, who sound as if they were the real dummies.  When Brough moved to television, it was obvious he should have stuck to radio, either that or kept his mouth shut.

Many artists develop a fondness for their props.  The puppet Charlie McCarthy had his own room in puppeteer Edgar Bergen's house, complete with bed, wardrobe and writing desk, proving conclusively that any dummy can write.  When blues singer Sally Osman filed for divorce, she named her husband's puppet as co-respondent.  And when Jay Johnson travelled with Squeaky and Bob, he disconnected their heads for convenience: "A suitcase with two heads in it gets a lot of attention at the airport."

Other ventriloquists have given voice to an indolent vulture, a morose tennis ball - no need to ask why - Terry Hall's Lenny the Lion and Shari Lewis's sock puppets Lamb Chop and Hush Puppy -- a strange name for a talking dog, but then you don't often come across a talking lamb chop either.  Hollywood likes to scare cinema-goers - are there any of them left? - with evil puppets, perhaps because they are cheaper than wooden actors, and certainly easier to work with.  Believe it or not, one 'ventriloquist's assistant' even claims to be able to lip-read -- did he once work with Peter Brough? - a skill other puppets would presumably envy.

Let's face it, when you get right down to it, a ventriloquist without a puppet is just a tight-lipped man muttering to himself - we've all seen them - and a puppet without a ventriloquist is similarly bereft, a mere painted doll.  We've all probably met a few of them as well.  Symbiosis, is that the word I am groping for, a mutually beneficial relationship?  Until one of you loses your voice, in most cases that would be the ventriloquist.

Talking of which, modesty has thus far prevented me from revealing that I am actually quite a proficient ventriloquist.  Even if I do say so myself.  I'm off to the fridge to get a gottle o' geer.



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